Friday, December 21, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
But pay special attention to the interviewer. Bill Moyers proves why he's a worthy heir of the Murrow legacy at CBS - on PBS. Interviewing is 90 per cent listening. Read below and see why.
By the way, Moyers himself was a news commentator on the CBS Evening News.
December 14, 2007
Bill Moyers talks with MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the journal. We have a lot of ground to cover
in this hour - from journalism and media merger mania to politics and race.
First, despite the clutter and conglomeration in commercial broadcasting a new
voice occasionally emerges that proves the exception to the rule. The rule is
either echo right-wing ideology or bow your knee to the god of "objectivity,"
meaning you simply counter a pound of official propaganda with an ounce of
counter spin. Jon Stewart broke this mold with his daily show on comedy central.
And now MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has done the same for cable news. Olbermann
leaves no doubt about what he sees: Here's what Olbermann says about the vice
KEITH OLBERMANN: The mind reels at the thought...What servant of any
of the 42 previous presidents could possibly withhold information of this
urgency and this gravity and wind up back at his desk the next morning instead
of winding up before a congressional investigation or a criminal one?
BILL MOYERS: And for president bush...no minced words:
KEITH OLBERMANN: "I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into
war. I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people a false implied
link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11... BILL MOYERS Rolling Stone calls Keith
Olberman "the most honest man in news." Critics accuse him of extended polemics,
and national review calls him, "shameless". Olberman shrugs it off. After years
of knocking around broadcasting mainly as a sportscaster. He's found his place
and his voice. His nightly countdown on MSNBC is the fastest-growing news show
on cable television. To find out more about what's on Keith Olbermann's mind
read his new book, Truth and Consequences. Keith Olbermann, welcome to the
KEITH OLBERMANN: My pleasure, sir. Good to be here.
BILL MOYERS: One of my closest friends always watched your nightly
sportscast. And he remembers to this day, just got a word from him this morning,
he remembers your saying about hockey is the most boring sport he's ever seen.
And you went on to say, "Nevertheless, here without further comment are the game
results for whatever they're worth." But you don't do that with politics. You
don't-- you don't just give the scores. You have some strong things to say about
KEITH OLBERMANN: It became necessary.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
KEITH OLBERMANN: I was sitting on a plane in Los Angeles reading in
August of 2006 about Don Rumsfeld talking to the veterans and talking about how
every-- everyone who was in opposition to the Iraq War policy, the so-called war
on terror, even to some degree the Bush administration, was the equivalent in
his mind to the Nazi appeasers of the 1930s. And he went on at length about how,
you know, here's the-- we're doing the Churchillian role. And I thought, you
know, sir, I took history classes. Your group is not Churchill. Your group is
Neville Chamberlain because Neville Chamberlain minimized and marginalized
anybody who disagreed with him. Reading this ridiculous remark and waiting to
see somebody respond to it. And no one did. I'm thinking, well, you know,
somebody with a platform ought to be talking about this. Somebody with a-- with
an avenue to respond should be-- oh, yeah, I have a platform.
BILL MOYERS: And we have the commentary you did after that incident.
Let me show it to our audience.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Okay.
KEITH OLBERMANN: The man who sees absolutes where all other men see
nuances and shades of meaning is either a prophet or a quack. Donald H. Rumsfeld
is not a prophet. Dissent and disagreement with government is the life's blood
of human freedom and not merely because it the first roadblock against the kind
of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as his troops still fight this
very evening in Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: You were angry.
KEITH OLBERMANN: I was. I was very angry. I was angry for a period of
two days. After that first commentary, when I didn't know whether it was going
to be greeted, I had support from management at MSNBC for that one. They-- I
didn't surprise them. I said, "Look, I want to do this." And they went, "Yeah,
you should." I didn't know what their reaction was going to be. I didn't know if
I was going to be gunned down as I came out of the building or put in a black
car or, you know, or lauded or whatever. People, for the most part, were
ecstatic about this. And our ratings went up immediately. And the reaction from
management was-- "Can you do one every night?" And I said, "No, I can't do one
every night. I don't want to turn into that either." I don't want to be silent
here. But I don't want to turn this into a manufactured thing. And they said,
"Well, how 'bout once a week?" And I said, "No, you're not following me. It has
to be organic." When I get angry on the air, it's because I'm angry about that
particular subject and because of the revision of this country that has been
done under our noses for the last seven years against the will of the people.
And when something happens that touches into that general anger combined with
the specific anger for the actual event that we're talking about, it swells up
and I feel like, all right, here comes another one.
BILL MOYERS: But here's the anomaly. You work for General Electric--
KEITH OLBERMANN: Of course.
BILL MOYERS: --which is one of the top defense contractors in-- in the
world. And you were criticizing the Secretary of Defense. This could have meant
billions of dollars to them. Did they come down on you?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Not in the least.
BILL MOYERS: Not in the least?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Not in the least. I can imagine circumstances in
which they would. But remember one thing. In the '20s when the decision was made
that we should have a broadcast model for television and radio at that point but
essentially laying the groundwork for television even then of commercial
television, sponsored television for the most part-
KEITH OLBERMANN: The one advantage to it is the people who own
television, commercial television will do whatever makes them money. And I make
GE money. At a time when television money is increasingly scarce, they are
delighted by my money. And I don't wanna minimize the idea that there is support
for the point of view or freedom of speech. But ultimately, they don't have to
make those choices as much as they have to make a choice about whether or not
they're making money. Fortuitously, I help them do that.
BILL MOYERS: But if you were not making a profit for GE, you would not
have this free speech.
KEITH OLBERMANN: I wonder about that in particular under these
circumstances. I think to some degree that automatic-- money is the --
everything has been changed to money is the first thing in some circumstances.
Now, I say this because in 2003 I believe ours was the first commercial newscast
in the country to suggest that the raid to rescue Jessica Lynch, the injured
then kidnapped private in Iraq, was not necessary. Not that it wasn't
patriotic-- dangerous to the best of the knowledge of the men who effected it.
But it wasn't-- didn't turn out to be necessary. There wasn't anybody defending
her. It wasn't a hostage situation. Everybody they saw said, "She's over there."
Simply reporting this-- reading this report out of a Toronto paper, which was
BILL MOYERS: That's where I read it--
KEITH OLBERMANN: Right. The right-wing crashed down on my masters at
MSNBC and NBC. And they came in and they said, "Okay, look, we don't need-- you
don't need to retract. You don't need to change. If the story happens again
tomorrow, do it again tomorrow. But just do me a favor. Come on and say
something that emphasizes when you did this story you were not criticizing the
troops who actually did the raid." And I said, "I wasn't." And they said, "Well,
if you could say that again, that would probably be all we need."
BILL MOYERS: These are your bosses talking.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Right. And I said, "Well, this would then allow me to
tell the story again." And my particular boss said, "Mm-hmm." And there was a
kind of, "We're going to shut down this criticism. We're going to answer these
people. We're going to give them what they think they want. They've made the
wrong request." This will give you another opportunity to tell the same story
again. And it has gradually escalated where I've had more and more license ever
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I noticed when you a sportscaster you never took
sides between the teams on the field. But a lot of people think you've taken
sides now. They think you've taken sides with the progressive or liberal story.
KEITH OLBERMANN: They didn't say that a lot during the Lewinsky thing.
I always find that kind of ironic as I've seen some of the criticism from the
right. But, what I've done on the air in the last 4 1/2 years, and particularly
in the last year and a half since the special comments began, is really
journalism. It's saying here's what you're being told. Here's the identifiable
objective fact to the situation. This statement from the government may be a
lie. And what we all did in this country, those who had voted for this president
and those who did not, was to say we're in dire trouble. We've been attacked.
Let's rally around him, give him all the support we can, and we will suspend our
disbelief. The moment that it began to be obvious that we were being
manipulated, used-- that was when my suspicions began to take voice.
BILL MOYERS: I watched you walk off when you were at MSNBC and they
were covering the Lewinsky scandal. And I believe you said, "This is
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: This is drip, right?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Right.
BILL MOYERS: You walked away.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Would you do it again?
KEITH OLBERMANN: I think probably it won't happen. But I would say
that there were circum-- there were circumstances in this show, there was one
occasion where I was prepared to go out the door an hour before one of the shows
because we had one of those conflicting moments. This is very early on again.
This is 2003. When we were all still in that kind of, "Gee, should we suspend
our disbelief? What if he's-- what if George Bush is right and this is the kind
of threat that he portrays?" He-- it's probably exaggerated because he's a
politician, number one. But number two, what if he's right? I think a lot of us
were saying, "Well, okay, let's just tread gently." MSNBC hired a guy named
Michael Savage. And he came on and did-- not only did he do a show once a week
that was basically just spattering invective on people he didn't like and these
people change from week to week, but it was terribly produced. I mean, it was an
awful show. And he was-- he looked like he was standing in front of a chalkboard
somewhere in somebody's basement with a camera. One night I walk in, my boss is
out of town. And the guy actually running the show at the point said, at
countdown, said-- "We're going to run a Michael Savage commentary. I've got to
go now." And he ran away. And I said, "We're not running a Michael Savage
commentary. That's in the"-- and he was gone. I called my agent. Now, I'd just
gotten back to MSNBC. I left, as you said, under the Lewinsky circumstances. A
lot of bridges were burned. Came back. Everybody hugged. It's three or four
months in. I'm enjoying it. I think I'm making a difference. I'm getting that
little sort of skeptical thing back. And here we're going to have a Michael
Savage commentary in the middle of it. So I finally got a hold of my agent. And
I said, "I have to walk out, don't I?" She said, "Yep, you do." And I said,
"Yeah, I guess so. Well, it was a nice career." I'm going to try to get a hold
of my boss in Washington. And I called him and I said, "I can't"-- he said, "Can
you find some reason not to run it that doesn't pertain to the politics?" I
said, "Are you saying to me if I go and look at it and it doesn't meet
production standards we don't have to run it?" "I might be saying that, yes.
Just give me something to work with." And I went in and looked at it and the guy
repeated himself nine times. So I called the guy back and said-- "It's very
badly produced. He's repeating himself. I don't think you should run it." "Okay,
good enough." But those things still happen, and I'm sure they'll still happen.
BILL MOYERS: You said you were getting this little skeptical thing.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What is that?
KEITH OLBERMANN: It's what we do. It is the necessity of-- of
journalism. Skepticism. Especially if you're trained in sports. Skepticism.
BILL MOYERS: Why in sports? I mean, what does sports have to do with
KEITH OLBERMANN: In sports reporting it is almost assumed that you
need to have some predictive ability. And you have to be able to discern
patterns and also discern when somebody's telling you, "No, our shortstop's
great," and he really isn't." And what the difference between those two things
are. When the results don't match up to the hyperbole, you need to be able to
see that and you need to be able to say it in some sort of informed way. When
you cover a sport like baseball or football or whatever, that you're just--
you're here for this part of the story. You're-- you've joined it 75 years in
progress or 100 years in progress. It should be the same way when you're
covering the news and particularly in politics. And yet, as we've seen, you
know, people in the political world now don't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me that this country has become two choirs--
each side listening to-- only to its own preachers. If-- should journalists take
sides when everybody else is polarized
KEITH OLBERMANN: The definition now of being on one side is to have
not-- flag wavingly supported the president in anything he wanted, not handed
him carte blanche after carte blanche after carte blanche.
BILL MOYERS: Not saying mission accompli--
KEITH OLBERMANN: Right.
BILL MOYERS: --mission accomplished?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Exactly. It-- it is-- I said that-- I'm on the air
with Chris Matthews on that day with miss-- mission accomplished on May 1st in
2003. And I-- and he's talking about this as George Bush's moment in history and
this. And I said, "Don't you think that him wearing a flight suit's going to be
a little bit of a problem during the election cam-- "No. This is American
history at its finest." I thought, "Gee, I'm the guy's wearing a flight suit."
You talk about the emperor's new clothes. Here it is. He-- his new clothes are a
flight suit when there was a controversy over whether or not he-- he fulfilled
his Air National Guard service. You-- you just-- to-- to say that suddenly
became subjective, just to recognize that. It was as if you were saying, "I'm
only going to report," back to the sports analogies. I'm only going to report
the Dodgers scores when they win.
BILL MOYERS: You-- you've started a new feature that goes beyond just
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: And I have an excerpt from it for the audience. Let's
look at it. OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN`s list of the top three Bush administration
scandals you may have forgotten about because of the latest Bush administration
scandals. Number three, the U.S. attorneys firing scandal. Haven`t heard much
about that lately. Number two, the when the hell are we going to get body armor
to the troops in Iraq so they can stop protecting their vehicles using
corrugated metal they found by the side of the road in Iraq scandal. And number
one, ...The commutation of Scooter Libby`s sentence scandal. Today Libby dropped
his appeal. So the case is closed. And finally the White House can answer
questions about it, right? Right!"
BILL MOYERS: What inspired that? You're doing it every night.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah, well, I seriously, it was-- when the NIE about
Iran, the National Intelligence Estimate, was this overarching story consuming
almost every news organization, left, right, and middle, for two or three days.
And then, bang, here comes the water-boarding tapes, or if you prefer,
Water-boarding Gate, out of nowhere. And no one mentioned the NIE again. Just--
it just vanished. And it occurred to me that this had been bothering me for some
time, that we had had so many scandals, so much scandal fatigue that literally
people were going, "What was the name of that attorney general who was-- who
was-- who was-- what was-- didn't he get fired? Did he fire somebody? What was
his name? What-- I can't remember. Who was it? Was it Ashcroft? But after
Ashcroft? Who was it?" I said, "Well, look, this is-- this is-- this is
literally a problem." I began to ask friends and people that I work with: How
many scandals have we covered in this administration?
BILL MOYERS: It all happened so fast. Amnesia sets in immediately.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What does it mean for journalism?
KEITH OLBERMANN: It means you have to do something like that. That
part of the news is not just saying, "Well, this happened in the last 24 hours,"
but here's something that happened six weeks. There's been a development in it.
You're just not reading about it, you're not hearing about it because there's so
much else to worry about. The list, Bill, of things that we could attach the
word "gate" to in the Bush administration is now 50 items long.
BILL MOYERS: One of the reasons I'm glad you came is because I wanted
to give the young people who work for me a chance to ask you some questions.
They're all aspiring to be journalists. So I circulated the fact that you're
coming and said, "Give me some questions you would ask him."
KEITH OLBERMANN: Okay.
BILL MOYERS: Quote, "I have long had mixed feelings about Keith
Olbermann. While it's nice to have a cable anchor how doesn't obsequiously
parrot Republican National Committee talking points, I struggle with the fear
that angry histrionics on both sides create more of the ugly polarization that
paralyzes our institutions and prevents Americans finding common ground. How
does Mr. Olbermann differentiate his ad hominem attacks from those we see on the
other side?" What do you say to Jesse?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Well, they're better written. The first-- no, I hate
to-- I-- it's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. It do-- it's
the one criticism that I think is absolutely fair. We're doing the same thing.
It is-- it becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But
emergency rules do apply. I would like nothing better than to go back and do
maybe a sportscast every night. But I think the stuff that I'm talking about is
so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history that this
era will be looked at the way we look now at the-- at the presidents and the--
the leaders of this country who rolled back reconstruction // I think it's that
obvious. And I think only under those circumstances would I go this far out on a
limb and be this vociferous about it.
BILL MOYERS: Another question from Gloria. "Yesterday I was scanning
some of Mr. Olbermann's clips and I found one especially striking. He was
calling Bush a war profiteer, more concerned about the profits of the defense
industry than the lives of the soldiers. Right after he was done speaking, an ad
came up for Boeing. Does Mr. Olbermann feel his credibility is at all undermined
by the fact that his network is financed by some of the very industries he
decries in his commentary?"
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah. If we're going to try to go corporation-free in
any regard, I'm afraid everybody watching would just be prepared for that, you
know that old test pattern with the Native American head appearing in the middle
of it. 'Cause we're all, to some degree, involved in it. It's a nation of
corporations, whether we like it or not. As I said earlier, the fortunate part
about broadcasting is if I'm making them money, it doesn't make a difference to
them and I'm on the air, how I'm doing it. And to be fair, many of these people
on an individual basis have consciences that cannot be expressed in a corporate
sense. Many of the people for whom I work-- say, "You are saying things that I
cannot say." So I get support in a different way entirely from my bosses.
BILL MOYERS: Follow-up from Reniqua. And this could be to me, too.
"You're a middle-aged white man who works for GE. What's so different from you
sitting at the news desk than Walter Cronkite 40 years ago? Why should people
listen to you?"
KEITH OLBERMANN: I can't personally do anything about my-- about my
racial background. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow anything other than what I
am. I just-- I'm just taken, though, by the Cronkite analogy because, of course,
it was Cronkite who did exactly what we're talking about in a very focused way--
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, when he--
KEITH OLBERMANN: --on Vietnam.
BILL MOYERS: --when he came back from Vietnam and said-- the war has
been lost. And Lyndon Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle
KEITH OLBERMANN: But the point being that there was-- there were
emergency circumstances that he saw, too.
BILL MOYERS: Emergency?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: You keep using that word. Are we in an emergency?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Well, we're being-- what-- here-- this is one thing
with which I agree with George Bush. We're in an emergency. He and I could just
sit there-- we just talked about what an emergency we were in and never went
into details, we'd have a great time.
BILL MOYERS: What is it, as you see it?
KEITH OLBERMANN: Well, it is the question of the future of the nation.
It's one of those pivotal times in our history. And I don't know that
necessarily everybody sees it in those terms because it is, once again, an
opportunity not merely for any external threat but for internal threat.
Governments exist based on power that is taken from people. It is-- they are
necessary. I'm not an anarchist. I believe in government. But there is-- there's
no-- no possible interpretation other than to say that this administration and
the Republican Party, to some degree the Democratic Party, have taken advantage
of fear, of the unprecedented, nearly unprecedented attack that we saw in 2001,
to expand their powers on the premise always of security, which is, you know,
the famous Franklin, Jefferson warning about that is it's never been more
applicable. So it is, yeah, it is emergency circumstances as Walter Cronkite saw
it. I mean, here-- objective Uncle Walter, most trusted man in America. When I
have an opinion on the most important political issue of the day, I'm gonna sink
a president and maybe throw the election to the other guy right now. And he
said, well, you know, the chips have to fall in this direction because people
are dying and our country is, to some degree, wounded and bleeding. And our
country is wounded and bleeding now if we don't know whether or not habeas
BILL MOYERS: Alright, last question. Name the four 20-game winners on
the 1971 Baltimore Orioles.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, and Jim
BILL MOYERS: That is amazing.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Oh, come on. I was 12 years old and a huge baseball
BILL MOYERS: They're only--
KEITH OLBERMANN: I better remember that.
BILL MOYERS: --there are only two teams in the history of baseball
who've ever had four 20-game winners. That wasn't a trick question. I didn't
think you would know it.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Oh, sure. I can do the Yankee managers from, like,
1901 on. 1903 on. They didn't exist in 1901.
BILL MOYERS: Keith Olbermann, thank you very much for joining me on
KEITH OLBERMANN: An honor, sir.
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Thursday, December 06, 2007
Much has been said about my forced exit from Antigua after I went there in April 2001 to train the staff for a new commercial radio station, Observer Radio, which has since become, according to independent survey, the leading quality radio station in the country.
A lot of this comment has been couched in terms of free movement of skilled Caricom nationals and my political skill - or lack of it. Some of it has been brilliantly insightful; too much of it has been partisan carping. Until now, I've been uncomfortable as a reporter being the story. For the first time, I wish to set down my own thoughts on my own experience. What I set down here, though, is a bigger story - that of the Caribbean media.
First of all, it has often been reported that I was deported from Antigua. I was not 'deported'. 'Deported' is when the police come for you and you get a free LIAT flight, no juice. It's a small but important difference. I paid for my ticket, just as I had paid for my work permit last November - 3000 EC dollars. One can only receive authorisation to pay this fee after having applied. The government claims it cannot find my application, which was filed by my employer, nor a receipt for a ten-dollar processing fee and thus found a loophole big enough to crawl through.
I was asked to leave. I was told I'd be picked up if I did not do leave voluntarily. I happened to be planning to leave the island briefly anyway. In the presence of station management and legal counsel, I received the personal assurance of the Chief Immigration Officer, Lt. Col. Clyde Walker, that I could 'come back next week' and re-apply for a work permit, and that I would not be treated with prejudice. Nevertheless, a senior immigration officer stamped "Overstayed" in my passport at the airport, effectively banning me for six months. Lt. Col. Walker refuses to rescind the order. I had, along with Julian Rogers, 'overstayed' by six days while trying to have my matter sorted out by the officials.
Each time we expose a flaw in the argument against the government's action we are met with a new piece of idiotic logic. The latest is that there is a cabinet decision somewhere that there are to be only two non-nationals in each media house. There is a Barbadian manager and a Montserratian news director. Montserratians, until now, have longed been considered nationals and do not require a work permit. This cabinet decision from a government that spearheaded efforts to revive a Caribbean Media Corporation!
I have been asked, 'how do you feel?' That's a rather personal question, but imagine how someone feels when met with an injustice that prevents him from practicing his craft. The fact is that I had followed the law completely in respect of obtaining a work permit, only to fall victim to a very Caribbean potion of partisan politics, official incompetence and blind intransigence. I have begun to set down some roots in a country that has become very special to me and to my life's work.
But back to that work in Antigua.
The Observer Group
In March of last year, Julian Rogers asked me to join him in this rare enterprise of creating a radio station from scratch, with the complete moral and financial backing of the Observer Group of companies. The Observer group, publishers of the Daily Observer, is owned by the Derrick family, a multiracial family of entrepreneurs and political activists who have been a thorn in the side of that other prominent Antiguan family, the Birds. By extension, the Derricks are a nuisance to the government that has become the Birds' exclusive preserve since 1951.
It is here that I wish to pay tribute to the Derricks for their extraordinary courage in taking the fight for media independence and democracy to the highest court of law - the Privy Council. For five years, the Derricks laboured against a government unwilling to grant a radio licence but unwilling to explain why.
The landmark decision on the radio station has led to the opening up of the media landscape throughout the Caribbean - witness the raft of licences issued in the last year.
The Derricks and I may disagree from time to time on the form and function of a media organization in a country like Antigua, but here again, they must be credited for having the respect for Julian Rogers and myself as professionals and for giving us the latitude to so conduct ourselves for the benefit of the station and the community it serves. I can think of quite a few media managers and owners in the Caribbean who are bereft of that particular faith in their own people.
At this point, I think it's important to explain what exactly occurred in Antigua before Julian Rogers and I arrived to put Observer Radio on the air on April 15, 2001.
A US State Department report put its succinctly: "The Government owns one of the two general interest radio stations and the single television station, and another brother is the principal owner of the sole cable television company. The government-controlled media report regularly on the activities of the Government and the ruling party by limiting their coverage of and access by opposition parties. In April, the country's first independent broadcast media, the Observer radio stations, became operational. This radio station, operated by the owners of Observer newspaper, is accessible to political and religious groups of all persuasions, and is utilized occasionally by the Government. The opposition accused the Government of trying to marginalize the Observer radio station by refusing to grant it duty free concessions; ZDK Radio, which is owned by members of the Prime Minister's family, receives such concessions."
I am proudest, not of our hard-hitting talk shows, but of our programming which has been geared towards the spurring the revival of Antigua's grand old Steelband music tradition - it's second only to Trinidad. And grown-ups as well as children listen in droves to our interactive children's quiz on Saturday mornings. In short, freedom of expression also means unlocking the creative expression of a people and being a force for national development; something that the Caribbean media often stand indicted for not pursuing.
The US State Department, through its 2001 Human Rights Report on Antigua and Barbuda (www.state.gov), is but one of several organizations and people to recognize that we had created an independent radio station in a culture of official censorship, bias and outright propaganda. Bear in mind that Antigua is the only country in the Commonwealth Caribbean to have been judged to have held recent elections that were free but not fair, according to Commonwealth observers in 1999. This puts Antigua and Barbuda in unenviable parity with Zimbabwe.
We gave voice to a voiceless majority, particularly as the government moved slowly towards electoral reform. Note, too, that the station - as a forum of free public expression - has played a crucial role in the holding of a public inquiry into corruption and other ministerial misdeeds in a public medical trust fund. Just last week, a senior minister - who had threatened to shut down Observer Radio - was forced to resign after being held accountable and found wanting in the inquiry's proceedings. Those proceedings have been carried virtually exclusively and unabridged by Observer Radio - a commercial radio station. Antigua is no stranger to corruption and ministerial misdeeds.
As long as the station continues to survive repeated attempts by the government to shut it down there is media independence in Antigua. For what we have noticed is that the government station and the Bird family-owned station, which have been found wanting in the area of public access and accountability, have begun to relax their censorship muscles - from talk shows to calypsos.
Before we arrived, Antigua and Barbuda had no open access call-in programmes. None. One such programme on the Bird-owned ZDK, "Talk to Me", was on permanent suspension after a brief life. The Government television station, run by a ruling party apparatchik, routinely screens phone calls to eliminate voices critical of the government. Even calypsos that were mildly critical of the Bird administration were routinely censored on the commercial and state radio. We have simply operated from the opposite end of that spectrum, garnering huge audiences, tremendous public goodwill and enthusiastic business support. And it's not just the daily breakfast, daytime and evening talk shows, but emphasis on quality local and Caribbean music, the arts and culture and children's programming.
One of our finest moments has been on our weekly current affairs programme, the "Big Issues" -- a gripping three-hour debate on a government's controversial acquisition of a hotel property. We gave access and equal time to all sides of the debate: government ministers, opposition spokesman and the property owner.
I have left my matter in the hands of Observer Radio Limited, the Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Barbados honorary consul in Antigua. I am grateful for the support of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), the Barbados Society of Journalists and Media Persons (SJM) and editorial writers in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to say the least of countless Antiguans who turned up at the VC Bird Airport to wish me well and who have apparently signed a petition calling for me to be allowed to return. I am grateful, too, to a few supportive colleagues and managers in the region. I fully expect to return to Antigua to resume my work and my life there.
And then, I am asked why would I want to return? My answer is: why not? I've begun to plant roots there. I've been a Caribbean specialist since 1993, almost half my professional life, and it is to the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) that I owe a debt of gratitude. It was there that I learned to be a West Indian. I am proud to be a Barbadian but not just a Barbadian. There are Barbadian journalists working right now in Bermuda and the Bahamas. A Barbadian went on to become one of the great Jamaican journalists, J.C. Proute. How much the poorer would be my own country without the life's work of a Guyanese immigrant named Olga Lopes-Seale? To say the least of the great regional voices and pens of the past - Grenada's Leslie Seon, St Lucia's Alva Clarke, Trinidad's Frank Pardo, Barbados's E.L. "Jimmy" Cozier, who first conceived a Caribbean news agency while at the Trinidad Guardian.
Living in some other Caribbean country does not make me immune to any similar conduct by another government official somewhere else. And this is where my experience speaks more to the state of media in the Caribbean.
A Caribbean lesson
The level of media democracy among Eastern Caribbean States is hardly different from that in the wider Caricom. To the extent that one Caricom Member State can so blatantly defy the precepts of constitutional democracy and violate the purpose and promise of a single space of economic democracy - the Caricom Single Market and Economy - then there is limited media democracy in Caricom. Ironically, one of my last acts in Antigua was to produce a series of public service announcements on the single market for Caricom, featuring the voice of Paul Keens-Douglas and the music of the Antiguan band, High Intensity. They now play on many Caribbean stations including Antigua's state radio, ABS.
But how can we move confidently into a future economic union if there are no shared values and consistent and uniform practice of these basic principles? With the exception of the Barbados Government, the silence of regional governments on this matter as we approach another Caricom Summit is not surprising, but deafening.
The main challenges to my work in Antigua are, quite honestly, no different from the challenges I've faced these past 19 years; hardly different from the obstacles my forerunners have faced. As a trainer, I've come to realize that as much training as our staff has undergone, it is clear that our education systems are failing our students in their intellectual development and in the creation of a Caribbean citizen.
As a journalist, access to information from the government remains a critical issue. Caribbean governments don't keep proper records, to begin with, and have not updated significantly their own management information process since colonial times. Most politicians still view journalists as either appendages of the government or as nuisance leeches on the body politic. Politicians are slow to realize, at their peril, that the media are a window on society, and that a free press is an indispensable necessity for a vibrant democracy, especially in the developing world.
Okay, so you're not wowed by political rhetoric. Then try the neo-liberal economic rhetoric, which has become the new gospel of governance in the Caribbean. If foreign investors like putting their money in stable democracies, then we must also accept that free press is a barometer of economic freedom and political stability. One other challenge I've found recently is the Fifth Column in the Fourth Estate - a small coterie of media figures who, by virtue of their cozy relationship with politicians and powerbrokers - mindlessly do the bidding of their masters.
For example, some regional journalists have regurgitated as fact partisan political accusations that the station is an 'opposition' radio station. To the extent that the free press in a democracy 'afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted', then some will see us as the 'Opposition'. I trust the vast majority of Antiguans to take a very different view.
"The public interest is saleable"
But a critical reason for my return to Antigua is to continue to modify an ongoing, largely successful experiment in Caribbean media. I have worked for both the public and private sector media, and I have learned from the pains and pleasures of both. I am determined to stay in the independent media in Antigua, because it is actually a positive force for 'good' (a dirty word these days). I also believe that the Caribbean commercial media have been among the greatest co-conspirators in the murder of our cultures by virtue of their fixation on the so-called bottom line. The commercial media are vehicles for imported goods, not original ideas. So I'm here to prove that the media can pursue its original mandate of public service, and by so doing make a dollar. To quote the great Caribbean broadcasting Hall of Fame member and diplomat, Hugh Chomondeley, "the public interest is saleable".
So my challenge in Antigua is hardly different from my past challenges elsewhere to doing just as I have described - to perform a public service in a commercial environment. There are success stories in the world of broadcasting, most notably in the UK with ITV, a mighty commercial machine operating still on public service principles. But in the Caribbean, the public service ethos has been ripped off and corrupted. I know politicians, media workers, managers and owners who believe that Public (Service) Broadcasting means government ownership, parliamentary broadcasts, public service announcements, no profits and boring product. It's none of those things. For me, the source of greatest challenge - and greatest reward - has been in bringing a public service ethic to both public and private sector environments.
Sadly, in the land of my birth, an embarrassment of riches now exists in Barbados - in talent, marketplace and resources - but the Barbadian media, with few exceptions, have lately taken the easy road to profits - poor pay, low standards, lax recruitment policies, abandoning public service principles and a defiling of a great and noble tradition. Most Barbadian radio stations are little more than glorified jukeboxes.
So where is Caribbean journalism heading? Down the tubes, I'm afraid, unless more owners and publishers recruit our best and brightest, and pay our people what they are worth. The problem is that owners, whether state or independent, think of journalists as little more than journeymen with pens. We need talent, brains and professional ethics. But Caribbean media owners -- more interested in selling sweet-water than producing quality lemonade -- disregard, disrespect and dismiss our senior people, soak up cheap, young workers with limited experience and education, and ignore talent, content and standards. That's partly what killed the CMC. There is a need for a cadre of media professionals whose job it is to explain the Caribbean-to-Caribbean people. Local radio stations exchanging copy on the latest road fatalities via the Internet is not regional journalism, it's high-speed gossip.
I've heard one general manager, one of the most prominent figures in Caribbean media, lament falling standards while at the same time hiring individuals who could not string together a coherent sentence. And now, the next big obstacle in a globalised economy is not in doing the next newscast but in creating content for Caribbean people and people interested in the Caribbean everywhere.
But there is hope. My hope is for more owners and managers like Winston Derrick and Samuel 'Fergie' Derrick, who for all their high-decibel, high-intensity irascibility, continue to respect the work of professional people whose work is their life mission. As long as we have people like them who can stand up to governments, bully a cowardly business community and allow people who know what they're doing to do their work, maybe there is hope after all.
What other lessons are there to be learned from my adventures in Antigua? On a personal note, I intend to be a part of a movement that will bring professional, scientific training to our media, whether state-owned or commercial. I am reaffirmed my conviction to continue my career track -- which has never been exclusively one of a journalist -- of being a programmer and programme-maker. A free media is not only in the nightly news or the daytime talk show. It's in providing quality entertainment and information that speaks to a Caribbean experience.
All Caribbean countries lack press freedom, one way or the other. Archaic secrecy legislation, a culture of secrecy and low levels of public awareness of what constitutes ethical political conduct exist in all Caricom states.
Caribbean journalists can only obtain a stronger voice in fighting for their right to press freedom by supporting national media organizations and the regional Association of Caribbean Media Workers and maintaining strong ties to international press bodies National and regional organisations could do more if members eliminate narrow petty thinking. Again, if the organization is weak, the battle is lost.
And we Caribbean journalists simply need to pull our socks up. Our reporters need access to clear, unequivocal documents that sets out standards and practices - not company rules but a Caribbean Code of Practice - one that speaks to our peculiar experience and culture while upholding the essential values of public service and ethical conduct. I wrote such a standards and practices manual for radio news and programme staff, which can be adopted elsewhere in the region.
And after all this, you would expect me to say something about the future role of Caribbean governments, but that depends on the people and the extent to which the media improve their political education. Too much is said of Caribbean governments and too little is done, so the less said about Caribbean governments at this point the better.
Postscript: I have returned to Antigua on countless occasions - as an Antiguan resident. The voters of Antigua and Barbuda ended the 28-year rule of the Bird dynasty in the General Elections of 2004. The Caricom Skilled National Act, passed by the country's Parliament, is still not in force, pending the gazetting of the regulations and other bureaucratic paper-shuffling. Since then I became the first Barbadian - along with Julian Rogers - to be accredited as a Caricom skilled national and have used it successfully, and without hassle, in Trinidad & Tobago.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Following radio news coverage on Thursday's earthquake produced some fissures and wobbling of its own.
Most newsrooms, luckily, had access to the Internet. But where did we go? Not to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit but to the US Geological Survey. No follow up. Not a call to anyone at UWI Seismic Unit, certainly not by any radio or television reporter in Barbados, where I was, or in a few other places I was monitoring.
The coverage seemed to suffer in other countries where the journalists' lack of media experience was a greater issue than whether they'd been through an earthquake. I was appalled that in Antigua, for example, which has had far more experiences of earthquakes, it was treated as a little five-minute report inside a regular show of music and chatter (N.B. Having been live and continuous on radio through a quake and a flood there in 2001, I know how much the community appreciated - and expected - our presence).
Then there's what I call The CXC Essay Approach. Young journalists rip off the Internet for as much text as they can find, throw in one or two clips from officialdom and wait for the next news bulletin. One journalist in a newsroom I called told me some other journalist was "on it". Everybody needs to be "on it", covering different angles and checking different sources, then coming and telling what they know and have gathered to the audience.
And where was Martinique, the island off whose coast this quake started? No where. After all, they're French, right? What need of us to reach RFO's Marie-Claude Celeste or Caroline Popovic who could have led us to the right people, or speak themselves?
All in all, a less-than-earth-shattering exercise in live continuous news coverage, especially by radio, in too many cases. To those of you who went the extra mile, and responded to the needs of the communities you serve by staying on the air throughout fielding calls, making calls and imparting emergency information, I say well done. Let's do better next time. Much better.
1. NOTE THE TIME WHEN S___T HAPPENS. It was on the stroke of three where I was, yet a radio station in Barbados was talking about minutes BEFORE three. Check the time, as you reach to make that cell phone call to a loved one. Maybe it's an old hack's reflex. Make it yours.
2. SEND REPORTERS OUT! Too many stations think the best place is right at the office in such an environment, just so they can call the authorities - emergency managers, police, hospital, fire etc. GO WHERE THEY ARE. GO WHERE PEOPLE ARE. Talk to the people on the street about their experiences. Or at least go and describe them BEING on the street, scampering out of buildings. You won't have any traffic problems going into town. Journalists, like firemen, are people who run to trouble as people run from it.
3. MAKE HISTORICAL REFERENCES. A good use of the UWISEISMIC (www.uwiseismic.com) and USGS (http://earthquake.usgs.gov) is noting major events in history, whether they happened in Antigua or not. UWI scientists, NOT the Americans, noted the historical significance of yesterday's event.
4. EXPLAIN EVENTS. Whether by dint of your own research (NOT Wikipedia) or by talking to English-speaking scientists (good luck), explain events and the region's vulnerability. I heard a leading Barbadian broadcaster, inductee of the Caribbean Broadcasting Hall of Fame saying that as far as he knew, "Barbados is not in the hurric... er... earthquake ... er .. belt." Really? Explain, for example, why the magnitude of a quake is not an indicator of destructive capacity alone, as if the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. The depth of the quake is a significant issue. How big, yes, but how deep? Mr Hall-of-Famer is yet to tell us. Don't give me a reason to switch off the radio and switch on the Net. Be comprehensive, explain and repeat.
5. RADIO IS COMMUNITY. BE THE COMMUNITY. What was the first thing that people did when the earth moved? Ok, the next thing? They turned on the radio. Not the TV, the radio. They want reassurance, information, help, whether buildings toppled or if they just felt someone moved the car. Be there for them by staying on the air as long as possible, punctuating the news you are gathering with their eyewitness accounts. NOBODY hears that wonderful five-minute report you did 30 minutes to an hour later. It might be as shaky a broadcast as the tremors, but be there and STAY there. You don't have to be a 24-hour news channel to do live continuous NEWS.
6. IF IT'S A LITTLE SHAKE HERE, IT'S APOCALYPSE NOW SOMEWHERE ELSE. Ok, so you felt something. You can't be the official gauge for either a nation or a region. We are inter-connected thanks to the Earth's tasty crust. So whether your prime ministers aren't speaking to each other, WE need to be speaking to our fellow Caribbean nations and bringing our colleagues on the air. A ripple here may be a major event somewhere else. Also make the connection between what people do and disaster. An earthquake is a hazard, an event, not a disaster. A disaster happens when people die or are injured or are displaced by what we do - like build crappy buildings in crappy areas. Make the connection. Kudos to you who did. Too many did not.
7. PLAN FOR NEXT TIME. And there will be a next time. It might be an earthquake. It might a freak storm. It might be a mass casualty event, like a bus or plane crash (God forbid). It's funny; if a geriatric governor general or an ailing prime minister finally meets his/her maker, we are on the radio like white on rice. But when sudden weather or earth movements roll, how prepared are we to go on the air, link up with the community and feed them information? There are newsrooms that work only to the next newscast. Those days are long gone, friends. The deadline is now, not six o'clock.
8. RECAP. REPEAT. RE-TELL. Don't get off the air because you've spent an hour and you think that's enough. That's why our listeners switch us off and go watch CNN to learn what's happening in their backyard. Thanks to such simple, cheap software like Cool Edit, we can record off the air and turn a clip around in seconds. We can turn around a vital live interview we did with the emergency chief and repeat it, until new information becomes available. We can simply repeat the basic details that will form the basis of our major news programme. In other words, we are writing the story as it happened and telling it and re-telling it. I did not hear too many instances of information being repeated.
9. HOW NET-SAVVY ARE YOU? REALLY? If you have Internet access, consider assigning a web-savvy reporter to monitor the web, for solid information, bloggers, message boards etc. Make sure that the reporter knows where to go for authentic, authoritative information. Don't quote some website in Kansas because it was first on the Google search list.
This is not the benefit of hindsight. Those who know me well know that I've been urging stations to adopt a rolling news plan, either for significant events or significant periods of the day. Give the raving lunatic talk show host a rest and let the newsroom take over next time.
Let's get news directors, seniors and juniors together to write a rolling news plan. Radio won't kill the newsroom star. It might just make one - and keep us informed when we need it most.
Let's not kid ourselves. Really ask ourselves if yesterday was broadcast journalism's finest hour. Search ourselves not just for the answer but the solution.