Columns

A good time to bury bad news; cash, politics, media and corruption

Franklin JOHNSTON

Sunday, March 10, 2013    

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A few weeks ago while the nation was preoccupied with the IMF, Parliament seized the opportunity to pass legislation rewarding cronies with better pensions. When parliamentarians agree, politicians gain, and when parliamentarians disagree, we the people always lose. Our biggest national crisis, declining lifestyle, our existence under threat, and it takes timeout to pass laws rewarding MPs who had been councillors with big pensions. And don't be confused; Senator Montague benefits from this bill despite his filibuster about similar benefits for others. Some people give 25 or 30 years public service with no pay and they get no pension or even recognition. Yet senators and MPs get full pension after a measly eight well-paid years. Unfair! If the IMF wants to help the poor, it must mandate that national sacrifice be across the board so that ordinary citizens do not suffer while politicians live free of pain.

Parliament is behind in its legislative agenda, as it sits infrequently and takes too many holidays. This must change. There are dozens of major bills pending -DNA, campaign finance, anti-gang, CCJ, the Queen- they said 30-odd would be passed, but who knew one was on politician's pensions? While JLP and PNP MPs (Mair and Phillips) want pensions for their pals, they threaten other people's pensions.

The IMF requires public sector pension reform and Government and Her Majesty's Opposition agree, so how did they work it so that their pension was not in it? Imagine, a one-term MP who was a councillor will now get a pension? Pensions were designed for people who worked all their lives to get a few years of ease from drudgery before they die. Of course we humans fooled the actuaries. In our 19th century British model, women retire at 60 and die by 63; men at 65 and die by 68, but health care and evolution outfoxed them and women now live into their 90s, men 80s. The problem is that no pension scheme was designed to pay out for 30 years so they are going broke except for MPs' who have us to keep them.

Do the PSOJ or trade unions think this is fair? Imagine, while we were preoccupied with the IMF they "screechy" and give politicians a pension bonus. To which higher power can we take our case when Parliament acts unfairly? The Governor, the Queen? President Obama? MP Holness gets a Prime Minister's pension for his few months in office. Change the law now! Pensions are for long service. MPs' pensions must abide by the same principles as workers. Does the church care? the Socialist PNP? JLP? Why cuss the JPS and things we cannot change when we do nothing about the things we can change?

MEDIA CORRUPTION: Friends, if I use the stuff you send they will arrest me. The media is important as it makes opinions but it also breaks people. Despite this power, many media firms are fragile as they are in need and near bankrupt.

Financing media is important to our democracy, as is financing political parties. And the best way to finance both is by a broad base of citizens, not a few big fish. The "big man dem" who own media were once a problem, but more serious today is "bruk pocket" media moguls. They ditched high-minded principles for scandal, prurient personal gossip, pique and serving political masters under the guise of investigative journalism. Why? They need to make payroll every week.

We coped with big-man media owners for almost two centuries, but our media pirates are a new breed. Big-man media survived by smart deals, trust and deep pockets, but a media firm that can't pay staff is a willing tool of abuse and corruption. The first casualty is truth. The unseen "Boops" who pays the bills calls the tune. If they check the other side of the story, next week's payroll is toast.

Some media firms struggle, employees are "scrunting"; and with shrinking adspend expect closures, layoffs, redundancies; they can't fight "demand and supply". The market rules, so expect more media corruption in hard times.

New media firms are crucial to change, but none has a divine right to survive. When income dries up, they rationalise bad behaviour as survival instinct and put our febrile nation into spasms by embracing false goals. It is never acceptable to win with no concern for the greater good. We are never far from "Lord of the Flies" and we cannot sacrifice good conduct just to make political capital or cash.

The alignment of some civil servants with politics and the financially febrile media is a crime. I applaud whistleblowing of corruption, but betraying programme information and research is the pits. The corrupt PAYOLA and PAYATA are alive; the mindless politician, rogue journalist, the febrile media firm and the venal civil servant.

Old media demonstrate resilience, conscience and corporate social responsibility. Once you control for capitalist dogma, you can live, as they support all sides to mitigate risk. The Observer, Gleaner, RJR and TVJ groups are big pro-bono supporters of education and good causes. Some new firms are into scandal, slackness, sensation, and what passes for news is the prurient and petty.

Investigative journalism is fixated on party agenda, not national benefit - get the person, forget the issue! Cash, favours determine the headlines and they do not care one jot if the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

The unholy collusion is evident in the leaks of programme material from ministries. The agenda of the venal media seems "get the strong, most effective minister, flaunt your brutishness and cash will flow". A weak minister is never a target as to "drop him" carries no media kudos or increased ad spend.

One technique is to support an opponent. Look how politics and venal media created a cause celebre of a madcap professional — interviews, gorgeous airbrushed photos by his media executive live-in guy make him a star and his boss a villain. Then media dropped him "braps!" as it emerged he was "touched". King Lear said, or should have "madness will out!" You can't win against truth! "No Fear" is a mantra of he who has nothing to hide.

Another technique was the "termites of pre-emption" used many times in past months. What? The corrupt civil servant leaks work-in-process to politicians and media pals so they ask questions, make statements to build media presence or seem erudite. Ever wondered how questions in Parliament are so detailed? Does the Opposition have top researchers? Questions on CAP, ASTEP, NCEL were as if they were reading ministry data. Media questions from one radio station were so nuanced you knew they had the document which the minister got "For Your Eyes Only" two days before. The OCG should take on the civil service, as its termites undermine the state. Over to you, Dirk Harrison!

There is a moral crisis in our nation, a crisis of trust in our politics, civil service and the media. This is one-eyed man land, but with education, people will learn to see the hidden agenda in the news. The renaissance of the Education Broadcasting Service is crucial as free-to-air media is the way to reach 750,000 students, 1.5m parents, the 25 per cent who are illiterate and thousands with exam certificates and degrees — I see many every day — who are not competent in English and uneducated. PBS must become ETV now. Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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