Updated: September 23, 2018

The current status of governance in many Caribbean Countries leaves well-intention, civic-minded individuals disheartened and disenchanted. For those individuals (community leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs) wishing to contribute to development of their respective countries, the path forward seems cluttered with precipices created by the combined effects of government misinformation and Press reticence that has inadvertently engendered public apathy. In some countries, like Venezuela, the confluence of these seemingly unrelated socio-political factors has lead to the emergence of more repressive government practices with devastating consequences on Press Freedom and Free Speech.  

The Commonwealth of Dominica (Dominica) has not been spared this malady. In Dominica, the aforementioned synergism may have generated what is a modern-day pseudo czardom masquerading as a Democracy.  In current system, the rules of parliament, the constitution, rule of law do not apply to an Administration that has been in government for almost 19 years. Unfortunately, the state-of-affairs as it currently exists in Dominica, has been fostered and cultivated by deliberate misinformation and outright mischief emanating out of the Dominica Broadcasting Corporation (DBS) and the Government Information Service (GIS). The People’s Station DBS, paid for and maintained on taxpayers dollars, only presents news favorable to the governing Labor Administration and GIS serves as the propaganda arm of the Dominica Labor Party.  DBS is particularly hostile to persons or groups which holds view that are opposite to that of the governing Executive. DBS,  which is capable of reaching every corner of Dominica, has to bear the brunt of responsibility for the suffering inflected on Dominicans by the Labor Party Administration and its henchmen and henchwomen. Of course, Dominicans should not be surprised as many of the managers at DBS are not worthy of that title. The primary qualification required to be a manager is allegiance to Dominica Labor Party. So, why the surprise?

The Press in Dominica 

Unlike some other Democracies, the Press is not expressly included in the Constitution of Dominica and other Eastern Caribbean Countries. However, 'Freedom of Expression' is a fundamental right protected under the constitution of many of these island states. This right is explicitly detailed in Dominica's constitution as follows:

"Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his correspondence". 

So, why have some administrations, including that in Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines attempted to enact legislation to abridge these fundamental rights?  The reason is simple - the survival of these insecure Administrations depends on stifling the Free Press. Notwithstanding, the Press needs to push back against this bad behavior.  In Dominica, except for a lone radio station, and a weekly newspaper, all other mass communication media are either under the control of the governing administration and its sympathizers or afraid to speak for fear of losing advertising dollars.  This is not unlike the situation that currently exist in countries like Turkey or the Russian Federation. However, the reality is, if a Free Press is able to muster the courage to challenge those oppressing society, this will ensure survival of the Press and society. Think about this, a Free Press stands between Dictatorial Rulers and the masses who dictators wish to keep ignorant. The only way to maintain dictatorial rule is either control or crush the Press.

The Press as a Medium to promote Misinformation

In many dictatorial countries, the press dutifully reports whatever is supplied to them, through government information services or other governmental commiunication vehicles, with little investigative or analytic efforts. Of course, the public hears or reads this information, trust the press and accepts government propaganda. At present, this is ongoing in Turkey, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba,Saudi Arabia and several countries around the globe. In Turkey, for instance, Erdogan and his sympathizers control all means of communication; same for the Russian Federation where Putin and his goons wield power over everything. Hence, in the most recent elections in Turkey and the Russian Federation, people learned of the ruling party and heard nothing about the opposition.  In Dominica, many faithfully trust whatever is heard on the nation's station (DBS) or GIS. To site a recent example, The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a Civil Society Organization in Dominica, recently staged a protest action in front of the Parliament.  The purpose of their protest was proposed Amendment to the Electors Act, which has been extensively covered on this Blog. Disappointingly, CCM's protest was essentially ignored by DBS. So, for persons listening to DBS in the far north or east of the island, who were unable to get their information from other sources, this CCM activity never occurred. Why would something so important be suppressed in a Democracy?

 Of course, incomplete information may be just as misleading as complete fabrication. A Case study is the fabricated coupe attempt reported in Dominica in 2017. Though the information was fabricated by Roosevelt Skerritt, who has a persistently uncomfortable relationship with the truth, it was picked up by news organizations through the Caribbean. This misinformation was reinforced by a public address to nation by PM Skerritt. We now know it was a lie, but none of these papers have apologized to their readers.   The press in Dominica and throughout the region did not do their work.

Bad Behavior in Public Office has been allowed to Fester without Consequence!

In Dominica, the current administration has repeatedly violated the constitution or disregarded existing laws to promote its agenda. The list of infractions is so expansive to the point that it is 'unbelievable'.  The current rogue administration got its way because of a weak press corps that has not being doing its duty to inform the public. The consequence of this is that the administration takes its cues from past experience. For instance, Charles Savarin was illegally installed as President, on a technicality, when the Miserable speaker (Alix Boyd  Knight) was overwhelming rejected. The press allowed this to pass. Now, Skerrit and his goons are at it again and want Savarin to have another 5 years to serve them rather than Dominica. This should not be allowed to happen. The Press should confront governing Executive, like that in Dominica, which abuse the Public by repeated lying and manipulating of information. For instance, every year for the past 15 years, the Labor Administration has had changing versions and timelines regarding construction of an International Airport in Dominica. DBS has never confronted these lies. Why? Is it because, undeserving managers and senior Executive are scared of the 'gravy train' running dry? Likely! As there are no other explanations. DBS belongs to the people and should be serving the people; not Labor Party.

Independent  Press in a Democracy

The press is supposed to be an independent force in a Democracy. They should not share the objectives of government business or religion. It is the duty of the press, to shine a light on a problem and report the facts accurately, whether it is obtained by investigation or through a whistle-blower. Their report must be unbiased in order to inform the general public  A free press helps keep the government in check. It is not the work of the free press to make life "comfortable" for an Administration.  If the Press allows itself to be manipulated, by those who wish to control the story to their advantage, then they will abdicate the significant role they play in promoting good governance. In fact,  journalists must refuse to participate in selected news conferences where questions seem to have been rehearsed. No professional journalist should allow themselves to be used  as pawns to promote anyone's agenda.

A more Courageous Press Core: Lessons to be Learnt.

Dominica and the Caribbean can look to a few examples of how a Free Press should function. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC, is primarily funded by the government of Canada (Canadian Tax Payers) and is responsive to the People of Canada. It is not a Liberal, Conservative or New Democratic Party Organ. As such everyone is entitled to equal coverage and equal 'blows'.  Same for the BBC in the UK and to lesser extent National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA.  In the Caribbean, the Government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados is an admirable model which DBS could follow. CBC (Barbados) is state-controlled, but free of censorship and spares no one or Party.

Public Awareness

The case study of the Current Dominica Labor Party should have not happened. In a different time, Dominicans would have been less tolerant of a political party that has repeatedly skirted the law for its own advantages, whether to install a President, maintain a partisan, biased speaker of the house, use public funds for political advancement. Above all, Dominicans would not have tolerated an Administration which demonstrated no accountability in maintaining public records. Now is the time to alter this malaise. No more manipulation!  No more abuse of the Public Burse for political advancement!. It is time for the Press to standup and fulfill its role as a guardian of the Constitution against tyrannical rule. If the Press will not stand, then  Civil Society should....!!!