Yesterday Bermuda experienced a rather surreal and worrying incident involving the media.
The Premier called a press conference, billed as a ‘National Address’, where he spoke to the media, flanked by pretty much his entire Cabinet or parliamentary team (wasn’t clear from the footage).
However, one member of the media was barred from entering.
Regimental Guards & Weak Explanations
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the picture of this incident isn’t exactly something many would expect for the democracy we like to think we have; it shows the journalist in question being barred entry to the press conference by Regimental soldier.
It’s not a good look.
The Government has since offered an official explanation of the mix up, released by the Cabinet Secretary. While the full statement may be seen here, I’ll quote what I consider to be the key points:
“…as the public can appreciate with any organisation, Government must ensure that any representative attending a scheduled press event is legitimate and genuine.
Recognized members of Bermuda’s media are registered to and/or governed by one of two entities, either the Bermuda Media Council or the Broadcast Commission.
As Think Media is an unknown organization to us, we had undertaken to understand its origins by ensuring that it was a legitimate media outfit. Hence we sought clarification from Mr. Johnson as to whether he was a member of the Media Council.”
This ‘explanation’ doesn’t make much sense.
The Media Council is not a membership organisation, in the sense that one has to register with it in order to practice journalism.
Rather, it is a representative body which seeks to deal with media complaints.
Looking at their website, their FAQs and other pages there, I see nothing stating that journalists have to be registered with it.
It does say that media outlets can become members of the Media Working Group if they want to, or contribute to it, but it doesn’t say – from my reading – that one has to be a member or contribute. Regardless of your relationship with it, the Media Council can still investigate media complaints related to you.
Additionally, if one wants to be listed on the site, and if one wants to adopt the Media Council’s ‘Code of Practice’, you can do so.
But you don’t have to.
The Media Council exists simply to ‘hear complaints against the media‘.
Indeed, there is nothing on the Media Council page which specifies that journalists need to be members or associated, or even signed up in agreement with the Code of Practice in order to practice journalism.
Nor is there any statutory law saying that journalists have to be registered or whatnot with the Media Council.
In fact, the Media Council is a wholly voluntary organisation which was set up by the media themselves in order to ‘self-regulate’ and prevent statutory legislation of the media in the first place (the PLP under Dr Brown had proposed a Media Council Act 2010, which served as the catalyst for the Media Council, with the Act being retired).
Now, it’s true that freelance journalists (and this actually includes myself as a ‘citizen journalist), when submitting to media outlets that ‘subscribe to the code’ (see FAQ 9 from that link) do have to conform with the Code of Practice (or, rather, it is the responsibility of that media outlet to ensure that).
That’s fine. But no where does it say that freelance or citizen journalists have to be associated with the Media Council.
The Code of Practice also lets members to be politically partisan – see FAQ 11 here.
No Need to be an MC ‘Member’
So, just to underline the point, there is nothing in the Media Council’s own literature (that I can see) that states journalists need to be registered or associated with the Media Council in order to practice journalism.
Rather, at most, the Media Council may have oversight (‘governed’) by the Media Council and its Code of Practice.
Nor is it evident that the role of the Broadcast Commission is relevant here (Mr Johnson being associated with the written media and not radio or television), with the Cabinet Secretary’s own statement making it clear that only the Media Council was relevant (in his opinion) to Mr Johnson.
It’s possible that the Government has a policy in place, but in this case it needs to publish the policy clearly online and/or in a public place – and it needs to justify that position also.
And after reviewing the website of the Department of Communication & Information, there is nothing there stating that journalists need to be ‘members’ of the Media Council in order to attend press conferences. Nothing. Nor is there anything I can find on the Cabinet Office’s website.
Perhaps they’ll hastily add something now, or it’s hidden in a near impossible location, but as it stands, the explanation by the Government holds absolutely no water and comes across as simply a panicked reaction trying to justify media discrimination and intimidation.
Otherwise, the Government has acted her to bar a known reporter seemingly out of discrimination – in this case it seems because the Premier has had run-ins with the journalist before, in as much as the journalist in question has a reputation of properly interviewing politicians and not letting them off the hook during an interview.
That history, along with the Premier storming out of this press conference and refusing to answer any question, well, to me it makes him look like a coward or someone who has something to hide. And a bully to boot.
Questions Needing Answered
Even if the Premier wants to hide behind the legal defense regarding allegations, there are plenty of questions he needs to answer regarding confirmed facts, namely:
- Why did he threaten the Opposition Leader with the existence of the Nandi Davis tape?
- Why won’t he release the Nandi Davis tape?
- What’s so ‘damaging’ about the tape to justify not releasing it now?
- Why was the business manager for the Premier’s private gas station business (a) on the Jet Gate jet; (b) provided with hospitality by the private developer along with the Premier, AG and Minister Crockwell; (c) attending business meetings with the three MPs and the private developer, all in contravention of the Ministerial Code of Conduct?
- Has the Premier or the other two Ministers or his business manager had future interactions with the private developer, and if so, when, where, and what about?
- Did the private developer offer the Premier or others in that entourage a bribe, or did the Premier or members of the entourage suggest a bribe?
- Why did the Premier neglect to inform parliament (and subsequently mislead parliament) about the nature of the fourth member of Jet Gate?
- What role does the Premier’s business manager have with Government business?