Termites Eating Our Democracy

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Distrust of politicians and public figures is a mainstay of democratic politics. Trust and distrust go hand-in-hand. We have institutions as a check on untrammelled forays by politicians, but we also use public opinion as a brake. The savage lampooning (which we call ‘fatigue’) of the unfortunate George Chambers (Done see/Duncy) signalled that his days were numbered.

BC Pires became the gold standard of using satire to embarrass public officials in the pages of our newspapers. In recent times, with the constant battering of our institutions from within and without, we have had to rely on public commentary to speak on our behalf.

Did Dr Terrence Farrell’s contribution re the terms of the Central Bank governor stir public opinion more than Senator Wade Mark’s?

Public reaction importantly encourages politicians to get closer to a place of common good.

Commentary provides resources for understanding information, encouraging both the expression and crystallisation of attitudes. It can encourage collective action. We have a long tradition of allowing politicians and their lackeys to voice their competitive views. The eloquent Overand Padmore, on the People’s National Movement (PNM) side was an early fixture. We are in debt to the evergreen Raffique Shah, who some would remind us was a former mutineer. But their affiliations are known, allowing us to evaluate their comments. To oppose a government action does not threaten the nation.

The use of parody, as a means to express political and social views, has a long history but came into its own with folk like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who connect with and galvanise the young into political action. No mere comics, they influence the course of the national debate. Jon Stewart skewered both George Bush and Barack Obama. Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah savage politicians, pundits and journalists, who repeat lies. The young would call them equal opportunity ‘dissers’.

Darryn Boodan, ‘a freelance writer’, is not of this tradition. Not disclosing his political agenda, in recent months he focused solely on the Dr Keith Rowley-led administration. He clothed himself with the power of the ‘independent’ newspaper, selfishly bruising its brand. When did we move from critical debate to a game of personal prestige?

Who bestows a person with the right to be a spin doctor while being disguised as an independent?

This deception was seen in another media vehicle where a present senator promoted his persona as an independent before running as an electoral candidate. This is the action of termites, eating at an institution (the media) of our democracy. This is not funny. It destroys trust. Are these guys different from the unfortunate woman coached to lie to gain public sympathy against her hapless Member of Parliament?

The irony of clamouring for transparency, while themselves not being transparent, escapes them. These commentaries, in prime placement in both media vehicles, raise the spectre of ‘who or what you can trust’.

Editors must now be doubly on guard to ensure that their internal processes work. Failure to do so implies that they are complicit. The newsrooms have to be properly resourced to enable the public to contextualise the opinions. To do otherwise is to allow termites to eat away at our democracy.

Noble Philip