You are here
Well, if it weren’t clear before, “Turtlegate” has made it transparent. A contractor destroyed a few hundred or thousand turtle eggs and hatchlings, and triggered off a furor that made its way, astonishingly, into the British press. The evident thing, from the screams of agony, is that the hysteria has less to do with the environment than the relentless search for anything to hurl at the Government—a pattern of behaviour that’s been dominant in the media’s news and opinion col-umns for some time now.
Many people making the noise are opportunists who fly into hysteria every time the Government is caught, not with its pants down, but with even a shoelace untied. The triggers are usually circumstantial or shock and horror related to nothing more egregious than parvenus enjoying spoils of office, which the media uncritically transmit, and disproportionately amplify.
These include breaking news like the Opposition Leader’s moronic speculation about the country’s (possible) return to the IMF, the chairman of the CAL board getting a SUV, the UTT chairman’s phone bill, or the PM’s sister accompanying her on trips. (Maybe she should just make her sister a senator.)
The pattern of behaviour solidified with the state of emergency. No sooner had the Government done what the business and wider community had been begging for than the shouts of “race,” “big fish,” “loss of rights,” and deficiencies in legislation, erupted from the media.
The response, and the sense of chaos it created, defeated the move from the start. Talk radio commentators shouting instructions to the criminals how to beat the rap also helped. And it worked; crime is back up, the SoE failed. Congratulations.
And again at Colour Me Orange. After years of Cepep the ambitious oppressed of the PNM suddenly decided it was patronising black people. Thanks to talk radio, several subsequent protests, like the Nelson Street and Mt D’Or riots, repeated the script. We want wuk in TSTT and WASA.
Then the UNC’s second anniversary. The shout: they celebrating? What they tink they is, a political party filled with politicians? Shame, shame, nothing to celebrate. Then the Beethamites blocked the highway, robbed people, attacked cars (again) saying it was because the PP had no right to celebrate while they were suffering.
At the appointment of the newest Minister of National Security, the wail went up: we’ll be an international laughing stock. This from a country whose government (2001-2010) paid criminals and effectively funded the creation of a crime state, and wasted a third-of-a-trillion dollars in eight years leaving roads, hospitals and schools in trauma. Assuming “international” observers care, the laughter has been going on for a while now.
No issue is too small or ridiculous. The Education Minister’s decision to merge two schools in Carenage led to PNM MP Neilung Hypolite’s immediately opining that the mingling of a RC and Government school might lead to violence. When the principal of a Maha Sabha school was threatened with disciplinary action, she immediately responded by saying the Maha Sabha blocked black children, which was repeated in Parliament and the Express obligingly put on the front page: “Sat blocks black children”. The free press, hard at wuk.
This (the press’s agenda) leads to a question no one seems interested in: does this media frenzy accurately represent public opinion, or is it the usual opportunists orchestrating and using this free-for-all for their own toxic agendas?
I vote for the opportunists.
But what exactly is the agenda? The only certain thing is that it has nothing to do with realigning the Government’s actions or policy. During the PNM years, specific issues were dealt with by public information campaigns and political and legal pressure—the smelter issue, the land tax issue, Udecott, Calder Hart.
Only in the last two years of the PNM, when the evidence of widespread rot was overwhelming, and the economy started to tank, did the atmosphere of hysteria take hold. These days, the issues are anything, everything. Evidence optional. The technique isn’t new or local: it’s called a “moral panic,” which uses the media to describe a group as being so alien to the norms of a society that their very existence is a dangerous.
The old UNC got snagged from 1996 in the press freedom farrago, and from that grew the narrative that the government was fundamentally incapable of democracy, did not get the subtleties of the Westminster system, and was incapable of governing.
At least that’s what the media and their clients decided. The electorate thought otherwise. A poll done by Selwyn Ryan in 1997 found that the electorate in the main approved of the government’s performance. And they won the 2000 election. (Without voter padding. Big shout-out to Ramesh L Maharaj, who let the PNM back in. Another forgotten fact.) No polls these days, so no facts, all rumours.
The machinations of the late 1990s are relevant because the issue provided an entry point through which provocateurs’ real agendas, like racial paranoia, and resentment at being diverted from the trough, could pass. The same thing applies now.
Unfortunately, the PP learned that lesson and remains stubbornly immune to the moral panic, since none of the dirt has stuck. What the campaign has achieved is, however, more destructive. It’s intensified paranoia, disorder, and frustration in the public mind. It has corroded trust across the society.
An unfortunate side-effect is that if, no matter what they do, hysteria such as we’re witnessing ensues, the Government will sooner rather than later simply ignore it, and eventually become immune to public pressure. Its base is not insensitive to what’s going on, and will close in. They may lose the media war, but they’ll win the next election.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.