Daily-Express-Editorial

One might be inclined to excuse the privileging of State-owned TTT by Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga as the impulse of a political neophyte. However, when it is consistent with a pattern in the Government’s relationship with the independent media, it cannot be passed off as a joke.

The time has come for the Government to lift the restrictions imposed on the media in the name of the pandemic. Having reached the point where public policy is on the side of learning to live with Covid-19, the Government, too, must recognise that the time has come for living with the free press. In the same way that public health regulations are being lifted, the restrictions imposed on the media in the name of Covid-19 must now be dismantled. This newspaper, for one, has no intention of allowing its journalism to be supplanted by curated photos from the Office of the Prime Minister or video news coverage selected from State-owned TTT or the Government’s Division of Information.

Given the Covid-19 emergency, the media made some difficult concessions, including limiting physical attendance at news events as well as the number of questions to be asked at news conferences. However, with the high level of vaccinated staff and continued observance of public health protocols, we feel confident about a full return to the norms of press freedom in a democracy.

The ease with which junior minister de Nobriga defended limiting media access to TTT during Saturday’s repatriation of 680 Venezuelan nationals is disturbing. Government officials are clearly getting too comfortable with their perceived power over the media under a pandemic information regime.

Over the past 16 months, the Government has had an almost unfettered run with its ability to commandeer media time at will, dictate which media are allowed to attend its news conferences, and the number of questions to be asked. The weekly post-Cabinet news conference which started off as an opportunity for the Government to brief the public on decisions taken by the Cabinet and for the media to question Government decisions and actions has degenerated into ad hoc opportunities for ministerial posturing.

The Health Ministry’s Covid-19 regular updates have been reduced to repetition of day-old data and exercises in deflection by the medical team to the beat of ministerial chest-pounding.

From the outset we challenged the Ministry of Health’s media blackout on matters related to patient care and management of the pandemic. Patient confidentiality became the blanket that covered up the lack of transparency. In attempting to establish itself as the sole source of information, the Health Ministry may well have played a significant role in the public’s lack of understanding of Covid-19. It was not until deaths began escalating and families took their pain to social media that the population grasped the danger confronting them.

Meanwhile, Parliament, the centrepiece of our democracy, is yet to re-open its doors to the media. We remind the authorities there that Parliament TV, with its numerous rules determining how parliamentary proceedings are to be broadcast, is no substitute for the coverage provided to the public by free and independent media.

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As it prepares to ramp up its communications to counteract vaccine hesitancy, the Ministry of Health’s best chance for success lies in aligning its messaging to the concerns of its target audience.

With the race now on to get vaccines into arms before the more transmissible Delta variant arrives, it might be too late for crafting a scientifically sound public awareness campaign. Nonetheless, a willingness to listen and learn will go a long way in erasing lingering doubts and changing minds.

I have termed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Finance Minister Colm Imbert the “Diego Martin dinosaurs”, politicians “intellectually fossilised by fossil fuels” who failed to see the global energy revolution threatening the nation’s economy, about which I warned repeatedly for five years.

I got vaccinated last week. I received the first of two doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine. I chose the drive-through option at the Ato Boldon Stadium because it is close to my home and I didn’t have to leave the privacy or comfort of my car to queue up at any stage of the proceedings, which is helpful to people who suffer with Parkinson’s and similar neurological disorders.

There is a story about a Samaritan called “good” in the Bible because he did not walk past a suffering Jew. He had no prior relationship with the man lying beaten on the roadside, was not part of his community, yet he acted out of compassion. Giving up his rights and freedom, he helped the man recover and get on with life.

“By the rivers of Babylon/Where we sat down/And there we wept/When we remembered Zion. But the wicked carried us away in captivity/Required from us a song/How can we sing King Alpha song/In a strange land?”

I cannot pretend to know or fully understand how it feels to be a young person in 2021.

Growing up in 1960s and ’70s Britain as a young black woman was, despite my loving family, often incredibly hard, but it seems staggeringly harder now for the current generation. I cannot imagine waking up at 18 to the news that my entire country, seemingly the whole world, has been shut down, wondering what will happen next and realising that the world has changed beyond recognition and I need to readjust my education and my career pathways.