Bad Moon Rising?

After the Sun set…

A reader has pointed out to me, privately, something that I and others have overlooked in our initial reactions to the shock news of the sudden demise of the Bermuda Sun.

As the Sun sets, there's a bad moon rising...

As the Sun sets, there’s a bad moon rising…

If one looks at the RG article on the demise of the Sun, one comes across the following:

Jonathan Howes, chief executive of Bermuda Press (Holdings) Limited (BPHL), parent company of The Royal Gazette, said:

“The Royal Gazette takes no pleasure in the news that the Bermuda Sun is to cease publication.  In the news business we thrive on competition and over the years the Sun has certainly proved a worthy rival as well as providing a valuable alternative media voice in the community.”

“The closure is another reminder of the challenges facing newspapers worldwide as the industry grapples with the impact of the recent recession, declining revenue and increased competition from digital sources.”

“As Bermuda’s only print newspaper, The Royal Gazette now has an even greater responsibility to provide the community with the balanced, accurate and inclusive news coverage that it deserves.  It’s a responsibility our editors and reporters take very seriously and we’re ready for the challenge.”

Now, the first few statements from Mr Howes are alright – they speak to the general business situation for the news media, which, in light of his position I can understand him speaking about.

It’s the last part which is concerning.

Editorial Independence Is Vital

There is supposed to be a clear separation between the owner and the editor when it comes to news media.

Editorial independence is, by definition, the freedom of editors to make decisions without interference from the owners of publications.

Editors and owners do share, in theory, the common goal of producing a reliable and readable newspaper produced in respect of the stated aims of the paper and cost.  However they have different roles, and it is extremely worrying when the latter encroaches on the former.

Owners have the right to appoint and dismiss editors (within reason, due process, etc) and to make key business decisions with the involvement of editors to the fullest extent possible.

However, editors must have full authority (independence) in determining the editorial content, place, tone  and positioning.

Owners should not interfere in the evaluation, selection or editing of individual articles, either directly or by creating an environment that strongly influences decisions.

Editors should be basing editorial decisions on the basis of the validity of the work, importance to the public interest and not on the commercial success of the paper.

Editors, and editorial content (stories, etc), should be free to express critical, but responsible, views on any subject, even if these may conflict with the commercial goals (or financial interests) of the owner.

This concept of editorial freedom needs to be robustly defended by editors, even at the risk of their jobs.

It is not Mr Howes place, as representing owner interests*, to intrude on editorial issues, which is exactly what his last statement does.  While what he said may sound okay, it should have been for their acting editor to express such a position.

That Mr Howes did so gives, at the very least, the impression that editorial independence at the RG has been fundamentally compromised.

And, seen in the context of:

  1. Editorial instability at the RG since the 2012 election  where we’ve gone from an acting editor to a consulting editor, which remains the case today.
  2. The general failure of the RG to follow-up on the #JetGate story.
  3. The key reporter** engaged in following up on #JetGate for the RG being dismissed from the RG and truly breaking the seriousness of #JetGate as an independent journalist freed of RG discipline.
  4. Question marks over further dismissals at the RG, leading to questions about editorial independence.

This would indicate a worrying and systematic internal coup by the owner, with editorial independence wholly undermined.

It also gives the appearance that the RG is, at best, failing to investigate stories which may question the OBA narrative.

At worst, it gives the appearance of actively suppressing such reporting.

And, with long-standing perceptions of the RG’s ownership being dominated by pro-UBP (and now OBA) interests, such a pattern reinforces such a perception.

Lack of media diversity & editorial independence

With the sudden demise of Bermuda’s only alternative print media, we have a print media monopoly where editorial independence would appear to be lacking.

This should concern us all.

Just losing the Sun itself should concern us all, but having to rely on a compromised newspaper from now on is extremely concerning.

Democracies rely on an informed population to hold their elected officials accountable.

The various news media are the primary way that ‘the people’ get their information – the ‘one percenters’ have sufficient access through their power to get all the information they need to run the world as they see fit; the issue is whether ‘everyone else’  will have the information they need to participate effectively in democracy.

We do still have alternative news media sources, in Bernews, Politica and the various radio and television channels, but it’s questionable whether they have the full resources to allow one to say that Bermuda has a strong and vibrant journalism.

From my perspective, with the demise of the Sun and the undermining of editorial independence at the RG, I am of the belief that journalism in Bermuda, as an institution, is in freefall collapse.

The Sun is setting.

And there’s a bad moon rising.

*Mr Howes is not ‘the owner’ of the RG, but as CEO of BPHL, of which the RG is a subsidiary.  However, in a functional sense, I see him as representing the collective interests of the ‘owners’, which are essentially commercial interests.  He may not be the ‘owner’ in the strictest, literal sense, but for the purposes of discussing the undermining of editorial independence at the RG, I think it is legitimate to view him as representing the interests of the collective ‘ownership’ of the RG.

**I believe Mr Gary Moreno initially broke the JetGate story, but Mr Ayo Johnson was no doubt key in developing the story further, especially with the RG.

Serving Two Masters?

In all the hullabaloo surrounding the revelations by Mr DeCosta about the ‘underground election campaign’, the PRC question, Thad Hollis’ resignation and now the end of the Bermuda Sun, it may have been missed that MP Susan Jackson is the acting Chair of the OBA.

Now, I don’t have anything bad to say about Ms Jackson.

Taken from her OBA bio.

Taken from her OBA bio.

I ran against her in the 2012 election in Constituency 20, an OBA stronghold she essentially inherited from her mother, but our differences are essentially ideological – as an individual I think she’s quite nice and we had quite a few conversations at the polling station.

However, there are two points that need to be considered here:

1) The role of Party Chair is to represent the collective membership and ensure the party is not essentially hijacked by the parliamentary caucus.  The interests of the MPs do not always gel with the interests of wider party, and the Chair has the rather unenviable role of standing up for the membership.  This is easier when in Opposition as the temptations of power are not so great.  However it is critically important when in government due to the greater risk of power corrupting interests.

2) A Party MP is subject to the Party Whip and, within our system, under orders from the Leader.  There are strong disincentives in going against the Leader.  It’s easier to dissent from the Leader when in Opposition, as the consequences are lesser.  Similarly, it is all the more important when in power that MPs do not fully become automatons under the direction of the Leader, although this is all too often the case.

So, now we have an MP serving as acting Chair of the party which forms the government.

It is hard to not wonder if the acting Chair is able to fulfill the role of Chair, or whether she is compromised.

Does this represent a greater centralisation of power within the OBA, under the control of the Leader?  After all, as an MP she’s subject to pressures that the previous Chair was freed from.

Of course, MP Jackson may do a perfectly fine job as Chair.  However, in light of the way the former Chair appears to have been ousted (officially he resigned, but it seems he had little choice), I think it’s valid to question how independent she can be as Chair.

Effectively, can one serve two masters?  The Leader/Premier or the wider membership?

I wish MP Jackson well in her new post.

I just hope that she can emulate the example that Mr Hollis tried to set, in standing up for the membership and ensuring their voices are heard and not sidelined by the parliamentary caucus – or, rather, the Cabinet and Leadership.

From the official OBA page.

From the official OBA page.

I also hope that she seeks to take pro-active steps to restoring credibility to the OBA, including building on the limited #JetGate report that Mr Hollis released shortly before his departure.

Despite the ideological differences I have with the OBA, their current trajectory is hurting us all, and barring a sudden change of government – and questions remain about the PLP’s viability, whether they’re time in purgatory is enough yet – they risk further damaging our democracy and reputation.

The Sun Sets…

I’m shocked by this news. 

The Sun sets - Are we in for a stormy night?

The Sun sets – Are we in for a stormy night?

I’ll hopefully write a fuller piece later, but I just wanted to say a few words here.

I’m concerned for the people at the Sun, they’ve been excellent journalists and I consider quite a few of them friends.

I’m extremely saddened that there’s more people unemployed – 23 in this case I believe.

I’m extremely concerned about what this means for media diversity in Bermuda.

We now have just the RG, which is widely perceived (rightly or wrongly) as if not pro-OBA, then at least unable to engage in the type of journalism required to hold the Government accountable.

A clear case in point is that the investigative journalist who pretty much single-handedly broke the biggest political scandal of our times would appear to have been obstructed from pursuing his investigations while at the RG and, in fact, was kicked from the RG in late 2013.

While I’m not privy to the reasons for his departure, it does seem odd that the RG kicked him, and to many on the outside, his kicking looked like an attempt to silence the principal journalist that was actively seeking to hold the Government accountable (and he did the same under the PLP, but apparently that was okay…).

And with the revelations of #JetGate – which keep on coming – it seems that the RG either made a massive error in kicking him, or hoped that kicking him would silence the revelations.  Again, whether that’s right or not is immaterial, that’s how it is increasingly being seen.

And while Mr Johnson pioneered the #JetGate story, the contributions of the Bermuda Sun cannot be denied.

Indeed, in some ways they were crucial, both helping give Mr Johnson a partial platform, and for reporting Mr Landow’s confirmation of sending funds, which provided at least partial evidence for Mr Johnson’s allegations.  Mr Johnson provided the gunpowder, but the Sun helped with the spark.

Quite frankly, #JetGate would not have been revealed if left to the RG alone.

And now, all we have is the RG. newspaper-273525-m

The Sun also provided a platform for diverse voices that have enriched our collective discourse, providing unique perspectives that the dominant narrative – which the RG was and is – largely omitted.

Our discourse is poorer now without the Sun.  And more worryingly, our democracy is weaker.

We may have a stronger RG, but the power of the media is reduced with the loss of the Sun.  It will be harder to hold our Government accountable, and with the dominant narrative of the RG strengthened, alternative voices are diminished.

This may end up a Pyrrhic victory for the RG though.

A Pyrrhic victory is a hollow victory – it is an illusion of victory that ultimately will be looked back as actually a defeat; or a victory where the costs are too great in hindsight.

The RG is strengthened, initially, as it has no competitor.  But with no competitor it loses what dynamism it had.  It has nothing to spur it to innovate or compete for readers with investigative journalism.

The Sun is setting after fifty years.

The question to me is whether this is symbolic of the sun setting on our democracy more generally?

I fear we may be in for a long and stormy night.

I have faith that the new dawn will come.  I’m just not sure when, or what the night will bring.

See also Bermuda Blue’s initial reaction.

We All Fall Down – Corruption, Conspiracy & Casinos

The last 48hrs has been one of those moments in our political history when so much is condensed in so short of time that it’s quite hard to really comprehend it all.

bribe

And certainly the revelations of today, particularly in the Bermuda Sun, have been nothing short of explosive.

It’s all really quite a lot to take in.

I’ll try and summarise some of the key points about the ‘underground election campaign’:

  • The OBA hired people to post on blogs, on media articles, on Facebook and to call radio talk-shows (and likely LTTEs too), presumably to (a) spread disinformation about the PLP; and (b) big-up the OBA.
  • The OBA exploited unemployed, ex-con, Blacks in order to: (a) see above; (b) provide cheap labour to hand out campaign material and erect OBA signs around the island.
  • The $350k donations wasn’t enough, so the OBA proper, with the OBA receiving invoices.
  • The funds were transferred in large amounts out of the BPAC account to Mr DeCosta’s private business to give him more flexibility in paying himself and his workers.
  • Mr DeCosta made a profit out of this underground election campaign.

Some key quotes from the article:

On blogging:

“But we were in full swing blogging, Facebook, Bernews, the RG and radio talk shows.”

“At this time we probably had six people blogging 24 hours a day.”

“There are pseudonyms when you are in the social media – there was an element of the unknown that was deliberate with that process.”

On selecting his workers…

The ‘stealth team’ were recruited from jobless Bermudians and paid between $20 and $25 per hour, often in cash.

“What I did was I went to people who did not have jobs and I went to the Black community.  I employed them and I paid them by the hour around $25 maybe $20 an hour dropping flyers.”

“Some of them have police records but they are good people.”

On paying himself…

“There were bonuses paid to practically everyone in the whole team [after the OBA won the election] and we deserved it too.”

Asked if he made a profit from the operation Mr DeCosta said “Yes, I did well.”

Some quick points:

  1. It’s not ‘grassroots’ if you pay people to spread disinformation or pretend to be supporters. That’s Astroturfing.
  2. From now on, any pro-OBA commentators anywhere will be regarded with suspicion and considered hired help.
  3. The image of the OBA, and the UBP before it, cynically exploiting Blacks, partly as a way to gain access to Black communities or otherwise manufacture the appearance of Black support, is reinforced.
  4. Rumours which had been going around for some time now about some sort of unholy alliance between the OBA and the Parkside gang will be reinforced (including allegations that the OBA’s opposition to decriminalisation/legalisation of cannabis directly benefits criminal elements in our society…).
  5. The OBA cannot reasonably deny having no knowledge of the BPAC account, it’s funding and purpose, if it was receiving invoices from them and paying them on top of it. “The OBA still paid us more on top of that [the $350k] to do what we were doing.  We were submitting invoices to them as well.”
  6. That Mr DeCosta (and presumably key OBAers and OBA supporters) still see no problem with all of this speaks to their lacking a moral compass and are not fit to govern.

Final Points

In the 2012 Election I was the only candidate to call for campaign finance reform, with my election platform calling for:

“Commission a Green Paper on campaign financing to investigate the pros and cons of placing caps on campaign financing or the abolition of private campaign financing, replacing it with set and equitable public financing for all candidates.”

At the time I was somewhat ridiculed for such a position (I was also ridiculed for pushing for sewage treatment plants before crap-balls began washing up on our beaches…), however I feel somewhat vindicated now.

I’m just sorry that, like my call for sewage treatment, it’s only quite literally when the crap washes up into our faces that finally people begin to adopt these things.

We’ve needed campaign finance laws for decades now, and it’s my hope that from this sorry state of affairs we may actually see a real push for it now.  If we don’t then we’re simply legitimising this, and worse, for the future (and mind you, there’s no reason not to suspect there weren’t other BPACs…).

The Fake Party?

The Fake Party?

 

The OBA is increasingly being seen as a fake party, with fake supporters and fake promises.

And it’s impossible to separate this ongoing Jet Gate scandal from the ditching of the referendum on casino gambling and the RFP for the Club Med site.

The stench is real, and it is growing.

And we’re all collateral damage – we’re all falling down due to the lies and lack of ethics by those involved in the OBA today.

 

Some Questions

  1. Can the OBA survive this?
  2. Is the OBA even a viable party to contest the next election?  Or the election after that even?
  3. If the OBA isn’t a viable party anymore, is the PLP?
  4. If neither are, then what? A new party, or general apathy?
  5. Will this lead to campaign finance reform?
  6. Will Jet Gate claim more scalps?
  7. How damaged is Bermuda by this scandal?
  8. Can anyone trust the OBA on anything anymore?
  9. Can anyone trust any pro-OBAers to be genuine?
  10. Is the OBA now a toxic brand?

See also Beachlime and Bermuda Blue for their initial posts on these matters.

Jet Gate & Casinos

I’m a little busy right now, however I figured even a small post was better than no posts!

Casino Legislation

I continue to be amazed at how farcical the entire handling of casino gambling by the OBA has been.

Quite frankly, if they’d focused on moving forward with a referendum on casino gambling like they promised in their election platform, rather than getting involved in scandals and using public monies to devise a strategy to ditch the referendum, well, we’d likely:

Gambling

  1. Have a clear idea of what casino gambling in Bermuda would look like and operate.
  2. We’d have a clear idea of the full pros and cons of casino gambling, including the negative social costs.
  3. We’d likely already have had the referendum on the issue and, if it was a yes vote, be much further along than we are right now.

Moral of the story?  Do what you said you’d do rather than mess around and end up further behind than if you’d just did what you said you’d do in the first place…

Also, I’m disappointed that the Minister, who says the draft legislation is ready, just being tweaked, hasn’t sought to make it publicly available at this moment in time so that the public – a key stakeholder – can review it.

Jet Gate

Despite the desire of Premier Dunkley and various OBAers to spin this as ‘Dead Gate’ this scandal is turning into a ‘gift that just keeps giving’.

OBA logo

It’s far from ‘dead gate’, that’s for sure.

My initial thoughts on reading the OBA Chairs report:

  1. The report doesn’t go as far or as in-depth as was/is needed to restore credibility to the party and remove the stench of scandal and/or corruption.
  2. Minister/Senator Fahy is a central figure in this scandal and his involvement calls into question his very character.  As it stands, he may not have done anything illegal.  Unethical, perhaps.  And in Bermuda today, well, we’re tired of ‘unethical but not illegal’.  In my opinion he needs to resign.  Which is a pity as he’s actually one of the more effective OBA Ministers.  However, the longer he stays on the front line, or is seen not to be reprimanded for this scandal, the more he becomes a liability for the OBA.  He (and the OBA) would be best served by his removal now, and perhaps his rehabilitation in the future.
  3. The report leaves more questions unanswered than not.
  4. It also asks more questions than it answers.  Seriously, as if this is just going to ‘this too shall pass’? “I discovered in the course of this investigation other matters of equal concern.  However, I have been instructed by Resolution to stay within the original statement of 14th May, 2014…”
  5. It’s not clear what the actual consequences of these findings will be.

Ultimately, it’s a rather unsatisfactory ‘conclusion’ to this scandal which I doubt will please anyone.

To give credit where it’s due though, I do commend Mr Hollis for at least trying, and I hope this sets a new standard for our political parties going forward.  Hopefully though it’s a standard to be improved upon…

Beachlime has a piece up about the further delay in casino gambling legilsation.

Bermuda Blue has a piece up about the Jet Gate report ‘can-of-worms’.

 

Solidarity with Gaza

I’ve been somewhat swamped with work of late, so apologies for the lack of posts.

There’s quite a few things going on locally and internationally, and I haven’t had the opportunity to cover them.

Perhaps the main thing politically here is the Governor effectively killing off a motion of parliament to form a Commission of Inquiry on historic theft of property – which has led to the Opposition PLP effectively going on strike from parliament and they will be marching on Government House tomorrow.

Palestine

One of the main things internationally though is the latest war on Gaza by Israel – and for that I’ve had the opportunity to write an OpEd which you can read here on Bernews.

I’ll try and write about the local politics soon – but I’ll summarise my immediate thoughts now:

  • I think the HoA motion to set up a Commission of Inquiry was sufficient for the Governor to launch the Commission;
  • As such, I think the Governor has acted inappropriately;
  • While the Governor has the power to not act on such a motion, it’s highly unprecedented;
  • I always support any peaceful demonstration, especially ones that help highlight and educate certain aspects of our politics and colonial situation;
  • I don’t necessarily agree with an indefinite ‘strike’ by the Opposition, although I have no issue with a symbolic strike by them until parliament resumes in the fall (it should end for summer recess this Friday);
  • I expect some sort of compromise to be arranged.

Murder on Our Roads?

I’ve been a tad busy of late, so apologies for the lack of postings…

Bermuda Blue posed the question the other day about whether the number of road fatalities was essentially murder on our roads.

In particular, he asked why there’s no outcry about it – with essentially one ‘murder on our roads’ per month, with this being the sixth road fatality this year alone.

I think these are both good questions.

I guess we’re just desensitised to these road fatalities.  And as they often seem to be due to solo drivers being involved, despite the pain for their immediate friends and family, they don’t seem to have the sensational impact that a more conventional murder – where one person directly kills another – has.

Arguably though, some of these fatalities are indeed murder.

Indirect murder though.

But if they are murder, then one has to ask who the murderer is.

Some will say it’s indirect suicide.

Or just plain accident.

As a number of these (I think the statistics are 50%) are understood to have an over the limit blood alcohol level, is it suicide by alcohol, or murder by alcohol?

And if it’s murder by alcohol, who’s the murderer?

Is it all of us, in as much as a culture is all too often enabling of alcohol abuse and driving under the influence?

Is it the alcohol companies who advertise and glamorize alcohol consumption?

Drunk driving

Is it the establishments that sell the alcohol (bars, clubs)?

Is it the police for not enforcing the laws we currently have regarding alcohol and driving?

Is it our parliamentarians who have not introduced better laws or provided the legislative structure for better approaches to alcohol and driving under the influence?

CADA has campaigned for improvements, but it’s not enough, obviously.

So, if it is murder, then who’s the murderers, and who’s going to hold them responsible?