GENERAL Elections 2016 is less than two weeks away. But long before the announcement of the shortest election deadline ever, it was crystal clear that some in the press here had long been aiming all their ammunition at the Government.
Like embedded sleepers or awoken Jihadi cells, writers with names unearthed in Timbuktu have been penning more and more anti-government articles, commentaries, opinions and letters to the press than ever before.
Before the bell rang Thursday night, the propaganda war was also already well under way between the parties. The battle lines were clearly drawn. Disinformation was being dispensed under rapid fire. The usual suspects continued to claim neutrality and objectivity, independence and non-alignment, while claiming the moral high ground. But their masks have always revealed more than they ever concealed.
This time around, the velocity of the attacks, the potency of the venom and the volume of ammunition deployed has definitely been greater than ever.
The parties have again been allowed to set the agenda and choose the issues, the press opting to merely report who said what, who accused who of what and which party is promising what. Platform platitudes prevail alongside reflections of diversionary matters.
The closer the Day of Decision got the more ridiculous the election coverage became. Analysis remained absent while personality politics prevailed over public policy issues.
Press Secretaries to the Prime Minister suddenly gained special interest. Jade Brown replaced Jadia Jn Pierre-Emmanuel and was deemed not pedigreed enough for the job by persons with nothing to do with deciding who gets it. Jadia is asked a stupid question about her father and she gave a fitting response – and was nearly crucified.
The records of the contending parties regarding Press Freedom here in the past few decades is like chalk and cheese, but you wouldn’t learn that from the local press today.
When Dr Anthony and his Labour Administration assumed office in 1997, they found only three radio stations and two television stations in operation. By 2006 – a decade later — there were at least four television stations and close to ten radio stations on air.
Under Dr Anthony and the three administrations he has led so far, the media was always been – and still is — very free to criticize the Prime Minister and the Government.
The loudest of his press critics feels governments led by Kenny Anthony should simply take their licks, but they (the perennial critics) should not be held accountable for “knowingly publishing false statements” under Section 361 of the revised Criminal Code.
Some behaved like Section 361 was a guillotine for Press Freedom here and demanded its removal. The same administration, under the same Dr Anthony, bowed to the pressure and rescinded the law. But it was still thereafter accused of being the biggest violator of Press Freedom here, ever.
The indisputable fact that it is the UWP that has stifled Press Freedom here historically, through several administrations, by such actions as – Passing the draconian Public Order Act, suing the Crusader newspaper and its publisher George Odlum for libel, firing the Radio Saint Lucia General Manager (eminent Saint Lucian broadcaster of international acclaim, Alva Clarke), closing down Radio Saint Lucia because farmers were allowed to air their grievances, closing down Radio Koulibwi because it allowed opposition voices to ventilate against the UWP Government and (much earlier) attempting to close down the Star newspaper and deport Rick Wayne’s main business partner.
All that notwithstanding, this Labour administration continues to be increasingly targeted, all information ammunition aimed at shooting to death the truth about its level of respect for and of Press Freedom.
Freedom House, an international Human Rights and Press Freedom agency funded by the US government, determined in its 2015 annual Press Freedom report that Saint Lucia topped the list as the most free out of 190 countries surveyed. The report placed Saint Lucia ahead of the USA, Canada and the rest of Latin America (North and South) and the Caribbean Basin, including all of CARICOM and the OECS. But the story hasn’t even made mainstream headline news here, to this day!
Coverage of the 2016 Budget and the setting of dates for Nominations Day and Elections Day have been no better.
The Opposition chose to abdicate its responsibility to debate the budget in parliament, but the press unquestionably reported its claims about having been denied the opportunity. The Prime Minister announced he would announce the election date through an Address to the Nation on Thursday night. Then the press reported the Opposition (again) wrongfully claiming and questioning why he had chosen to do so at The Market Steps.
The Prime Minister calls the election within 14 days of the announcement and the Opposition (again wrongfully) claims he ought to have given 21 days — by Law. The press regurgitated the claim, only to have The government point out that there is absolutely nothing in the law about 21 days..
Now the bell has rung, but it is clearly not one to start or end the rounds of rapid fire in this fierce pre-election propaganda war. More ammunition will be deployed, more disinformation will be dispensed and the government will continue to be targeted relentlessly in the days left.
Instead of the usual Nine Day Syndrome (during which everyone forgets yesterday and today tomorrow), each of the next few days will be important to the rooftop sharpshooters in the local press. But while the rapid rounds of fire continue, the SLP will also be doing all it can to ensure that each day between now and June 6 marks one of Nine Nights for the UWP.
Fortunately for all, though, it will only be A Nine Day War!