Local Media Houses Can Do Better Opines Retired UK Journalist

al Austin, retired journalist

Hal Austin, retired journalist

The following is a response to  BU question by retired journalist Hal Austin formerly of the UK Financial Times –Do you have a view on the role a local newspaper should play as far as community journalism s concerned? Is local media filling that role? Barbados Underground was motivated to ask the question because for the most part local media houses are news takers and lack the strategic management to Centres of Excellence in the community they serve – Barbados Underground

David, There is a clear role for local newspapers, to inform local readers, and articulate their concerns and to publish stories that bind the community together.

This may range from reports of the local school fete to how the member of parliament is doing, to fires, crimes and crises at the local hospital. The local paper is the eyes, ears and mouth of the community. In bigger societies, they are not, and cannot pretend to be, national newspapers.

If by your question you imply local newspapers in Barbados, I say no. Even though I hate criticising hard-working journalists, I dismiss the Advocate as a poor imitation of what it was years ago; the Nation I believe can be vastly improved, plus it has a political agenda, or at least reads like it (what we call news bias); and it does not fully understand the craft of producing news.

One online publication, which is meant to be a newspaper, leaves the same story on the home page for weeks. They seem not to understand the trade they are in – that they are in NEWS reporting. There is nothing new about a stale old story.

Then of course you sometimes get three or four stories on the same subject illustrated with the same picture. That shows lack of creative thinking. Then again, they all fall in to a consensual interpretation of events, because they all share the same or similar backgrounds. Just look at how often they report nonsense from Donville Inniss or Owen Arthur. In Britain, for example, the Daily Mail is a different beast to the Guardian.

Then local newspaper editors must learn to pay their contributors; you get what you pay for. If you want citizen journalists, you cannot complain if you get citizen journalism.

Finally, in local terms, there is a lack of training and it shows, from ‘balance’ when writing stories to digging out stories that fit the old doctrine: if a dog bites a man, it is not a story; but if a man bites a dog, it is a story.

Notes From a Native Son: The Battle for the Soul of the Nation Continues

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

Introduction:
There is an SOS flag flying over Barbados, people are struggling to survive in rough seas and the rescue boat, in the form of the government, has lost its direction and cannot locate the helpless victims. We have witnessed a fog of macro-economic lying and deceit by technocrats and politicians using the national loyalty of Barbadians to deceptively feed them bogus economic policies as palliatives for curing the nation’s economic ills.

Despite this, there has not been as much as a whisper from our leading public intellectuals, academics or opposition politicians. The better informed know that what passes as official policy will never rescue the economy in a month of Sundays; they know that minister Sinckler is out of his depth as a manager of the national economy; they know that either the governor of the central bank is being ignored, or that he is putting politics before sound financial economics, yet they remain silent. The crisis has also exposed the lack of ideological and philosophical differences between the two main parties, thus their emphasis on personalities. Not only is this sameness reinforced by the almost total silence of the official Opposition – over and above the occasional call for government action, while at the same time remaining silent about its own alternative policies – it now runs deeper in society. The lack of ideological differences is also demonstrated by the ease with which individuals can cross the floor of parliament from party to party and, sometimes, back again.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son: Time for the Government to Get Moving

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

Introduction:
The intellectual argument that Barbados is in deep economic (and social) crisis has now been conceded by the deniers – those who talk nonsense about the nation punching above its weight and exaggerating the soft influence we have in the region and, the world. Of course, it is all self-praise, the unfortunate outcome of economic ignorance and wishful-thinking.

I have said before, and will repeat again, that: first, the narrative that we have had a period of prosperity in the first decade of the 21st century was a myth built on over-borrowing on both a household and government level, ignoring our inefficient productivity to such an extent that we even believed that life owed us a living.

The second point that needs stressing is one that is in danger of seeping in to the gilded story of our economic prosperity: again, let us concentrate it to the post-independence years, and that truth is that the official myth-making of our economic growth, generally given as three per cent annualised, is, to be polite, crap. Had Barbados had a three per cent growth rate over the last decade, compounded, our post-global recession story would have been totally different. As things stand, we are up to our necks in debt, tourism, the main driver of the economy, is in intensive care and the priest is standing by to perform the last rites, while, in the meantime, relatives are fighting over how to divide up the spoils even before the last breath leaves the body.

Continue reading

Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes – the Passing of a Gentleman

Tribute to Sir Richard Christopher Haynes by Hal Austin.  Sir Richard died yesterday [23/06/2013] at the age of 77 years old. He was a retired Physician Specialist, former Minister of Finance and Leader of the Opposition.

The Late Sir Richard Christopher Haynes - photo credit: Nation

The Late Sir Richard Christopher Haynes – photo credit: Nation

The untimely, but not surprising death of Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes, at the relatively early age of 77, has robbed Barbados of one of his few world-class statesmen, a decent and honourable gentleman. Sir Richard will go down in recent Barbadian political history as the nearly man: the best prime minister we have never had, and the nearly governor-general.
He missed out on being leader of the DLP because he felt politically that Erskine Sandiford was not the political leader he would like to serve under, and by any political measure, he was right. We now know, from the disastrous Sandiford leadership, that Sir Richard could hardly do any worse. Sandiford was a disaster for the party and the nation. However, it was Sir Richard’s impatience and strength of feeling that denied him the leader of the party.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son: This is the Year When Our Long-term Future Will be Decided

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

Introduction:
As we enter the dawn of a new year, all attention will be focused on the coming general election and, for some of us, the paucity of ideas battling for votes from a badly informed electorate. As things stand, it is largely a competition between tweedledee and tweedledum, although the recent injection of a broad, if under-articulated, idea of privatisation has raised its head.

However, even this glimpse of an ideological difference has been crowded out by the yahboo background noise of party humbug, rather than a rational discussion of the notion that firms owned by the private sector are in themselves inherently better managed and more efficient than those held by the public sector or social enterprises. Such closed mindedness also acts to shutdown debate, the arguments become irrelevant, as by definition people are either for or against the idea under discussion.

Now, as I have said here before, the world is entering a new phase in which the old economic assumptions are now redundant and the new global economic (and military) power will be centred in the early part of the 21st century in Asia and to some extent, Latin America. Therefore to understand what is taking place and the possible outcomes, one needs to read the runes carefully.  For a little island state, proud of its independence, careful observation is more important now than at any point in our history.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son – Is Our Institutional Democratic Deficit a Barrier To Our Economic Progress

Hal Austin

Introduction:
The Caribbean Court of Justice recently held its first meeting outside Trinidad, hearing the case of a young Jamaican woman allegedly assaulted by Barbadian border officials, and it was generally judged a success. In another development, a former Attorney General and Chief Justice has also revealed that it is his intention to put his side of the case why the late prime minister David Thompson refused to extend his term as the nation’s top judge.

Two events linked through David Simmons, the former AG’s push for the formation of the CCJ and the almost religious fervour in which the new nationalism, as reflected in the senior judge’s comments about the high level of presentation before the court. The CCJ judges, in summing up the success of the hearing, reportedly compared the high standard with the Privy Council and complimented the various attorneys on how well they presented their cases. It was rather strange comment, given that what he was in fact doing was complimenting them on their presentational competence, which I shall return to later.

However, this competition with the former colonial masters runs deep in contemporary Caribbean intellectual and professional discourse. Two examples remind me of this. I remember a Trinidad-born, Britain raised friend and I spending a long social evening in the company of a leading Barbadian legal beagle and his wife, and the conversation being dominated by this lawyer comparing himself with the Australia-born, Britain-based leading QC Geoffrey Robertson, a highly reputable radical lawyer and author, but nothing to write home about. Until then, I had made the obviously silly assumption that this particular Barbadian lawyer/politician, London-educated, was one of the brightest and best of his generation, full stop. It was only his clear insecurity that raised doubts in my mind.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son: Thinking Big and Planning Small

Hal Austin

Introduction:
In almost every western country, agriculture’s share of gross domestic product has gradually decreased over time.Sometimes, even without any economic knowledge, this phenomenon is remarked upon by observers, such as the turning of many recent sugar cane plantations in to upmarket housing estates. Yet, despite this social and economic reality, which has been going on since the abolition of slavery, policymakers have failed to develop a comprehensive planning and land use policy. Instead, planning has been reduced to a micro-level administrative procedure, in which civil servants have taken the lead. Almost without exception, the town and country planning department has formed part of successive prime minister’s portfolio under successive governments, BLP and DLP. So the buck stops at the very top.

Given this, there is no excuse for the absence of a comprehensive planning and land use policy in operation. It is a failure that can only be put down to oversight, carelessness or a failure of ideas. But planning is a political, not administrative, process and the decision must be made by elected parliamentarians, who must be held accountable by electors for any failings. Civil servants may think and behave as if they are in charge, but as their positions suggest, they are ‘servants’ of the people, not their masters. And before we put in place a workable planning system, this procedural aberration must be resolved.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son: A Cautionary Tale Of An Education System In Decline, Alexandra Impasse The Symptom

Hal Austin

What is Barbados coming to when in the early years of the 21st century a small group of teachers can walk out of a school on the grounds that they do not like the head’s management style and his competence as an administrator?

What is even more scandalous is that government and trade unions are taking this rag bag of activists seriously and crippling the education of some of our brightest young people, the very future of Barbados. In the midst of all this our prime minister remains embarrassingly dumb, unable to even call a successful meeting of both sides.

Of course, the obvious action is to give the teachers a deadline to return to the classroom and start teaching the pupils, and set a date for serious discussions of their grievances. But it must be made clear in no uncertain terms that no matter what they think of the head’s management style, it is not a striking issue. We cannot replace one perceived sense of bullying with another, because one side is shouting louder than the other.

The crisis at the Alexandra School also exposes the inability of the minister of education to deliver on his duties, and the street-fighting bullying tactics of a small clique of trade unions. Those of us who are big supporters of and active trade unions can only look on in amazement as a major union, not involved in the silly show of strength at the school, has now thrown its considerable weight behind its sister union.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son – DLP

By Hal Austin

This government has got its priorities back to front – from the attempted putsch against its silent leader, to the disgraceful apparent decision (not yet made officially public) to pump $50m of taxpayers’ money in the black hole that is Four Seasons, to the unforgivable reluctance to settle the Al Barrack affair – it all points to a government that has lost its moorings.

First, the disgraceful way in which Mr Barrack is treated shows the contempt for which this government has for the individual citizen. What compounds sit is that the same government, on bogus financial and macro-economic grounds, issues guarantees and offers to spend taxpayers’ money as if it is going out of fashion. Government could have settled the Barrack Scandal ages ago by offering the businessman a drawdown facility from the central bank, for example, of Bds$1m a month, part cash and part in settlement of debt, thereby allowing him to pay his debtors, while at the same time steadily reducing the debt. That it has declined to do so is reflective of its institutional arrogance, knowing full well that our courts have limited powers over the Executive and there is very little that Mr Barrack could do about it. Voters should take note.

Continue reading

Notes From a Native Son – Independence Speech: London November 29, 2011

Hal Austin

Mr Deputy High Commissioner, distinguished guests, fellow Barbadians, friends, ladies and gentlemen. Happy Independence to all of you.

Our country is in a dire state, make no bones about it. We are on the precipice of an historic decline the like of which we have never experienced in our history. This warning is not just sabre rattling, or shouting fire in a crowded cinema. This is real. We have failed, since independence, to develop a long-term economic anchor, choosing to depend – in fact over-depending – on the tourism industry, developed by the late Ronald Tree and his friend on the West Coast in the early 1960s. We have also failed to develop a binding collective operational objective, one that crosses generations and social boundaries, a national mission statement, if you like, by which we as Barbadians can define ourselves.I know a number of distinguished Barbadians are already aware of this and many of them are doing some outstanding work.

At the risk of embarrassing people, apart from my colleagues at this table, there are people, many of them bright young lawyers, scientists, economists and social scientists, even world experts in their fields. There are others such as Jeffrey Emtage, the inventor who discovered an internet search engine before Google, and who had no support from a government which talks about enterprise and innovation. Others are working in biomedicine, in Canada and the United States, and I am sure there must be one or two here in London.

Continue reading