Media as social advocates
with Clare Forrester
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
It is not only the political leaders who have come under the public microscope in recent weeks following exaggerated and/or misleading claims, usually against their opponents. The media have also been subjected to relentless criticisms albeit by some politicians themselves and their supporters who seem to be forever in a love-hate relationship with the media. It is, however, pleasing that in the most recent cases, the media practitioners involved have emerged with their credibility intact.
I especially want to commend those from the fraternity responsible for two recent interventions associated with the election campaign. One is the three-part political debate and the other is the "fact check" series being run independently by both Television Jamaica and the Gleaner. As is widely known, the political debate is a long-running media production. The only difference now is that, unlike in earlier years when arranged by the Press Association of Jamaica, the series is currently being run by a specially convened media commission headed by the very capable managing director of the RJR Group of Companies, Gary Allen. Although there are two more debates to come, the Commission deserves praise for a good start to the series. While there have been some close calls in past years, I don't believe that getting both political sides to buy into the debate has ever been more challenging than it seemed this time around.
I was fortunate to catch a repeat of the first "youth" debate carried live last Saturday night, having missed it the previous night. The popular view was that that Team PNP carried off the prize for this one. More than that, Lisa Hanna clearly stole the show. Just goes to show that beauty and brains sometimes come in the same package.
There can't have been very many political observers who would not have sensed that this young lady is going places in terms of a political career. Last Saturday night she confirmed her potential. I share the view of the majority of analysts that all three debaters on the PNP's team did well, despite some of the comments I've seen and read, and a lot has already been written and said about that debate. I do think that some of these young analysts to whom the station gave a forum for their views need to ask themselves whether their expectations of an exercise like last Saturday night's production were realistic.
By tomorrow, the talk will be about the confrontation involving the colourful Audley Shaw and the erudite Dr Peter Phillips. Given their experience and contrasting styles, this should be an even more interesting contest. We can hope.
While most would have been watching the performance of the teams on Saturday night, or the repeat on Sunday night, I was equally impressed with the panel of journalists who quizzed them - Ingrid Brown of the Jamaica Observer, Nadine McLeod of Television Jamaica and Garfield Burford of CVM; also the moderator, Archibald Gordon of Television Jamaica. I have not seen any comments about their performance, which is a pity, because with the possible exception of Burford, who seemed to have been the most relaxed, this was a young and inexperienced team and it would be understandable if they wanted to get feedback from viewers.
True, some of the questions could have been tighter, but generally speaking there were no catastrophes on the panel. In fact, I sought the response of some similarly young viewers as well as from some more mature ones and the response was a bit contrasting. The younger viewers seemed to think that the questions, although general, were fairly well constructed and delivered and were questions that they wanted to be posed. The more mature viewers tended to think that the questions were not sufficiently probing and lacking in specifics. While I got no comments about the moderator, I do believe that that was not a bad thing. In fact, in my view, he acquitted himself in the best tradition of our more veteran moderators.
My main criticism was the format of the debate. Regrettably, after so many years of doing political debates, we can't seem to get it right, or maybe it is that the politicians won't agree to a more sensible format. I remain unconvinced that the best use is made of the 90 minutes allotted. But the time allowed for rebuttals is ridiculous and may explain some of the reasons why many of the younger analysts, in particular, expressed so much dissatisfaction with the discussion. Presumably the debate between the heavyweights, Phillips and Shaw, and the two party leaders, that are still to come, will produce more satisfying results all around.
Despite some criticisms, the fact-check series being run in the print and electronic media by the Gleaner and TVJ is also serving as a useful exercise in consumer advocacy and should be retained on the agenda indefinitely. I have yet to see a TVJ report explaining the method they use to check the veracity of statements uttered by politicians. However, I suspect their method is along similarly credible lines to the Gleaner's. Generally, I feel that the TVJ features that I have seen to date vary slightly from the version produced by the US television network where the focus seems to be more on a straight analysis of the statement highlighted. The TVJ analyses that I have seen of statements by both political leaders - Andrew Holness and Portia Simpson Miller, provided more opinions than concrete information, which may eventually open the series to criticisms of bias, if it has not happened as yet.
Regardless, I think that this is one of the best media series in a long time and should not be confined to analysing statements by politicians during election campaigns. Clearly, it is not only our politicians who need to be kept honest. Statements by several personalities in the public sphere could do with some placement under the microscope of investigation.
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