Today’s Opinion: Garbage

POSTED: 04/15/11 12:30 PM

Blaming the messenger is an old trick and also an old story so we would be lying if we said that we are surprised that it even surfaces in St. Maarten. We expected something like this.

Because that’s what happens if news reports are, say, critical, or unfavorable. If you have no arguments, you simply state that the reporter is biased, or that (s)he has a personal interest, or, short of using  the D-word, that the writer thinks islanders are dummies, fools, or corrupt.

Put it like this, anybody will be able to make anybody else believe that there must be at least some truth in it. “People are paying for the garbage they receive from the written press.”

That statement, and all of the above, is derived from a radio-rant by Justice Minister Roland Duncan that aired yesterday on the Lloyd Richardson show.

We realize that there has been a lot of criticism towards not only the government, but also towards the parliament lately. There has also been critical reporting about, for instance, the dismissal of the head of the finance department, Bas Roorda.

That story is not over yet, not by a long shot, yet Minister Duncan made it sound, and we quote that “there was an issue with Bas Roorda.”

We know for a fact that this “issue” is not something of the past, it’s something that will come back to haunt the government in the very near future in the courthouse in Philipsburg.

So we were also not surprised that the Minister quickly glossed over the “Roorda issue” and moved on to another hot potato: the visa restrictions.

We think the Minister has a point when he says that announcing such measures way in advance would trigger something the country wants to avoid by implementing the measure, namely, an influx of foreigners.

But let’s not fall into the trap of focusing on the visa-story, and return to Duncan’s charge that the written press is extremely biased and practices deliberate incorrect reporting. The Minister did not mention any particular newspaper by name, but since there are only two local papers on the island – The Daily Herald and the Today – it should come as no surprise that both papers feel offended by the statements.

We do not feel free to speak for our colleagues on Bush Road (also because they’re quite capable of fending for themselves), so we’ll say this for ourselves.

Journalists, like politicians are not perfect. They make mistakes. At today, we have a truly honorable tradition. If we make a mistake, and somebody points it out to us, we will correct it. If we write, say, an editorial, or a piece on our opinion page, and readers completely disagree with its content, out letters to the editor page is open to them.

We certainly do not engage in “deliberate incorrect reporting” as the Minister seems to think, not are we biased one way or the other. We reserve the right to be critical, extremely critical if the situation warrants it, of anything our government does or does not do. That’s the role of the free press in a constitutional democracy. We are not always right, nor do we have to be. Especially the opinions on this page are, of course, the opinion of the writer and to a larger extent the opinion of this newspaper. These opinions are written as a contribution to the public debate about issues that matter to the people who live on our island.

Minister Duncan once told us that he welcomes the debate – we think that was in relation to the gun law. And that’s how it should be.

Public debate, if conducted properly, will always contribute to a better society, to better decisions.

Against this background, we are more than slightly taken aback by the Minister’s sudden outburst. Like every other newspaper reader on the island, he has the right to demand corrections of factual mistakes. At today, we will always honor such demands, providing that the mistake is real.

By dismissing the written press as garbage, Minister Duncan does the public debate a huge disservice. We have no problem with his opinion about the written press, because he is fully entitled to that opinion.

But we had expected a cooler approach, one whereby the Minister would have put his finger on the inaccuracies in reporting and on elements where he feels journalists are extremely biased. That would have created a basis for a fruitful public debate about the role of the written press in our community.

It is however, never too late for such a move. We gladly invite the Minister to point out where the Today Newspaper has practiced “deliberate incorrect reporting,” where it has been “extremely biased” and on exactly which occasion we have characterized the people on our island, who are also our readers, as corrupt dummies and fools.

Like the Minister, we welcome the debate, but without the Rush Limbaugh-rants.


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