In the wake of Donald Trump’s rise to the American presidency, fake news has become a trending topic and media bias is the hot issue of the day.
As Trump himself declared recently, “A lot of the media is actually the opposition party — they’re so biased.” He could easily have added his favourite word: “Sad.”
The range of alternative news sites on the internet has complicated matters for most. Russian dissident Garry Kasparov pointed out that, “it can take a high level of education to separate fact from fiction in the dense information jungle we face online.”
And conservative American talk show host Charlie Sykes acknowledged that fake news during the US election had “polluted political discourse and clogged social media timelines…helping spread conspiracy theories and indulging the paranoia of the fever swamps.”
Sykes’ unfortunate conclusion is that any news deemed to be biased, embarrassing, annoying or negative can now simply be dismissed as fake.
As a journalist who trained in the early 1970s at the height of the profession’s prestige and influence, this is all deeply troubling. Widespread distrust of the professional media has serious consequences for democracy and public accountability.
We know all too well here, that when our political leaders feel threatened by mass communication they do not control, the first thing they do is attack the messenger.
But if citizens are ever to hold those in power accountable, we have to rely on the press for information that we can use to judge their policies and behaviours.
As we head into the second month of 2017, the political battle lines for the upcoming general election are becoming clearer.
The old guard of the PLP (and by old we mean geriatric) confirmed their mafia-like grip on the party at the first convention allowed to to be held in seven years. They are doubling down on promises and threats as the campaign begins.
The Minnis wing of the FNM bumbles along with business as usual, and no apparent strategy or plan, confident in their faith that the government will simply fall into their hands no matter what they do or don't do.
And those seven FNM parliamentarians who believed Minnis lacks political skills are now on an exposed ledge, figuring out how to move forward.
Meanwhile, the power-hungry DNA jackals are nipping at the heels of both legacy parties, even as ‘We March’ activists seek to concentrate popular outrage at the status quo.
Added to this complex pot are untried groupings like the United Peoples Movement, formed by ex-PLP MP Greg Moss and labour leader John Pinder.
From all accounts, there is a huge succession problem at the upper levels of our civil service - likely due to poor education and hiring standards over the years. That’s one of the reasons retiring senior officers are often rehired on contract (there are other reasons we won’t go into here).
The poster child for this problem is Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall.
He holds a statuary post under the Parliamentary Elections Act. He can be removed from this post if his actions are in breach of that Act, the Public Service Act or General Orders.
The decision to remove him otherwise would be at the discretion of the prime minister, I am told. A case for disciplinary action, outside of actions that are considered criminal offences, would have to be made to the Public Service Commission for this to happen.
Hall was promoted due to longevity, after the retirement of the previous commissioner. But he is clearly not up to the job. Evidence for this lies in his poor handling of the gender equality referendum earlier this year (which included the confusing and delayed release of results) and his obstruction of women trying to register to vote (which led to a protest movement called Too Sexy to Vote).
Hall blamed power outages and fax machine failures for the chaotic referendum result issues, but National Security Minister Bernard Nottage (who is responsible for elections) declined to criticise his performance at that time.
More recently - and despite the fact that voter registration levels are at a historic low - Hall defended his right to turn away any woman who did not meet his arbitrary dress code (men were not mentioned). And this was despite the fact that a voter’s card requires only a head and shoulders shot for identification.
This is what the law says: "to have two identical copies of a photograph taken of him/her by the revising officer, and being of such size as determined by the revising officer, portraying the head and shoulders of the person facing the camera."
In this case, Nottage felt obliged to respond to public outrage, saying no-one had the right to refuse to register a citizen to vote based on arbitrary standards or dress codes. But reports of people being turned away continued unabated, and it often took up to two hours for those who were able to register.
The Parliamentary Commission’s mission includes the following statement: "To afford every eligible Bahamian the opportunity to be registered and to vote in free and fair elections."
I daresay that having an incompetent like Hall in charge of our upcoming electoral process is not a good thing. Brace yourself for a whirlwind.
Every now and then we work ourselves into a frenzy based largely on hearsay and conspiracy theories. Eventually the controversy du jour settles down and is forgotten - until the next time.
There are several of these perennially contentious issues, but the one I want to discuss here today is aragonite.
At the recent ‘We March’ protest downtown, activist John Bostwick argued that our almost inexhaustible aragonite resources could solve our economic problems.
And hackles were raised a few weeks ago when American news reports seemed to suggest that Florida officials were about to steal Bahamian sand for their beaches.
A couple of years ago, union leader John Pinder and others made the preposterous claim that aragonite exports could not only pay off our national debt but give every Bahamian a $50,000 cheque.
“We’re talking about moving from being borrowers to lenders. What China is to the rest of the world, the Bahamas could be to the Caribbean,” Pinder said confidently.
At the same time, lobbyist Kay Smith was touting a $50 million investment in East Grand Bahama to mine aragonite for export and manufacturing. She did not reply to my recent email asking about the current status of that grandiose project.
Meanwhile, the government has said it is investigating the whole aragonite issue with a view to updating all the rules for resource extraction in the Bahamas.
According to the latest report from the International Energy Agency, which tracks these things, renewables and cleaner-burning natural gas are leading in the race to meet energy demand growth.
In other words, a big energy transformation is taking place, spurred by the Paris climate agreement. But whether the Bahamas will benefit from these advances within a reasonable timeframe is questionable.
Government officials often refer to our high vulnerability to climate impacts like rising sea levels and stronger storms. But we see little real leadership in moving towards a clean energy economy.
Environment Minister Ken Dorsett said recently he became involved in politics to facilitate change. “And over the last four-and-a-half years we have seen evidence of the foundational work for that change, (including) energy sector reform.”
In support, he pointed to a national energy policy that was developed over successive administrations. It sets a goal of 30 per cent renewable energy use by 2030.
The policy envisions the Bahamas as a “world leader in sustainable energy”. And to its credit, the government did pass a new Electricity Act, which specifically provides for renewable energy generation and grid inter-connection.
One thing’s for certain - there has been no shortage of analysis from every quarter on why Donald Trump won the US presidential election.
For Breitbart News - the provocateur website run by Trump’s right-wing strategist Steve Bannon - it was a foregone conclusion.
Their candidate (whom they refer to as ’Daddy’) promised to disrupt establishment politics and upend the sclerotic global system that America and its allies have built up over the past 70 years.
“We’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” Bannon said in a recent interview. "The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan…It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution - conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
Trump’s anti-globalist headline policies during the campaign focused on a border wall, radical immigration and trade restrictions, reneging on international treaties, and reversing whatever progress has been made on climate and environmental issues.
But before we get into that, let’s look at the numbers. At the time of writing, Hillary Clinton led Trump by well over a million votes - 48 to 47 per cent - but Trump won in the electoral college.