by Earl Bousquet
Being literate does not necessarily mean that one can read and write well or well enough. I’m not referring here to the average person who may not have had a formal education. Instead, this is about those of us who can read and write well, but who mistake literacy for education and think that knowing is understanding. It’s about those of us who have opted to inform, entertain and inspire -- if not educate -- people for a living, but who have ended up failing to offer anything above or beyond just what they can see or hear. It’s about those of us who can read and write, whose work is about reading and writing, but who neither read much nor write well enough to justify our choice of a job.
Too many in our media fraternity -- both old and young -- know how to read and write, but refuse to read right or write correctly. The intellectually lazy among us seem content to simply flow with the tide, to simply repeat or report what they hear, rather than seek their own answers to the questions we have to answer about who we are as a nation and where we are today.
I have often had to refer to the lack of depth in the arguments or analyses offered by some of our most prominent media commentators, be they talk show hosts or editorial writers. I watch, listen and read as they use terms such as “lay-offs” and “dismissals” interchangeably. I marvel at the way they describe “hotel closures” and “job losses” without indicating whether they are permanent or temporary. And the ease with which “the Government” or “the economy” are blamed for any or all of the above.
One company, in one week, offered no less than five sets of figures as to the number of persons it claimed to have laid off. But instead of trying to independently ascertain what the true figure was, one newspaper claimed the government was creating a diversion by challenging the veracity of the claim and pointing to the political mischief that was intended. No one at that newspaper thought of calling the NIS to ascertain how many workers’ benefits were being paid by the company, or to ask the company to justify its claim. Clearly, they preferred to play the numbers game.
Same when it comes to measuring the economy. The same newspaper, in an editorial last Friday, boldly proclaimed that the economy is doing no better today under this government -- maybe worse -- in the last two years as compared to 1995 and 1996. Not a shred of evidence or supportive facts or figures or statistics was offered to back the writer’s claim, but this thought, this opinion residing in the head of a ghost writer, is offered as the gospel truth.
Rather than do our work and read and be informed about what’s happening in the world, too many of us who have taken on the task of informing people are not doing enough to inform ourselves or keep ourselves informed. Too many of us don’t read and that’s why too many of us can’t write. Likewise, too many of us who have the capacity to write well don’t read enough to make sense out of what we eventually write. What we write, therefore, is too many times, too shallow and lacking in information, imagination, inspiration or investigation.
Some of us are so steeped in the routine of writing that we forget that we are writing for others -- not for ourselves. We give opinions as if our thoughts alone make sense. We offer conclusions as if our views alone matter. And worst of all, we delight in highlighting problems, but find it too difficult to think hard enough to offer solutions. Like those who look to us for help in understanding or making sense of it all, we pass the buck by saying “it’s the government’s problem” to find solutions.
But it shouldn’t be like that. This is an age of learning and enlightenment, of the computer and the Internet, the digital age when great numbers of our young men and woman, even children, have access to a cellular phone or a computer. This is the age in which St. Lucians are ordering on the Internet, when the number of cars in the country has increased from 10,000 to 40,000 in four years, when cable television gives us a choice of over 100 channels from which to choose how we wish to be informed. This is the age when we can publish and read newspapers on the Internet, listen to the radio or watch TV online. Yet so many of us cannot make the information we gather and disseminate any richer than what’s within the sight of their eyes and the hearing of their ears.
It’s not enough to call me a Spin Doctor just because I may seem to have more information than most of my fellow media critics. To claim that I’m “spinning the truth” or that I’m spinning it “out of control” is nothing less than seeking to escape from the truth of the facts that I present.
Rather than prove me wrong, those too lazy to research or keep in touch with what’s happening in St. Lucia and how it compares with the rest of the world, would rather call me a Spin Doctor. I can live with that. It’s the story of my life. But I’ve always said -- and I still maintain -- that it’s easier to call me a liar than to prove me wrong. After all, I know -- more than any of my critics -- that while you may be able to turn the truth on its head or spin it around at any time, you can’t fool all the people all the time. This age-old saying is as true for me as it is for those who simply cannot stand the truth in what I may say and write, here and elsewhere.
I have learned well in my time that there’s a vast difference between being literate and being able to read enough or write well enough to inform, entertain, educate and make a difference. Unlike 25 years ago when reading was still the main source of knowledge and information for journalists, today there’s the Internet. And there’s all the world news available on Cable TV. And, of course, there’s never-failing radio. But from what they write and what they say over the airwaves, it’s quite clear that too many of our newsmakers and those who help formulate opinion don’t make any or enough use of these readily available modern and traditional, manual, mental and digital tools of our trade to keep replenishing and expanding their knowledge base. So that, at a time when scientists are pressing for permission to clone humans, some of us are still trying to teach men about the safety of vasectomies while others are trying to find out “what’s a bolom?’
If there should be a taste for everyone in the media, then there should be a place in the media for writers who can meet that taste. But I insist that those among us who wish to offer serious food for thought should always strive to ensure that food must cater for, and at least try to satisfy, the hunger for ideas and solutions to tackle our nation’s many problems. Problems and complaints there will always be. The resulting headlines will always be easier than searching solutions that are always harder to find. But finding the solutions must not always be seen as the private and exclusive preserve of the government of the day. The media owe it to us -- and the people we write for and talk to -- to help find solutions to our country’s problems.
Only throwing our hands up in the air and shouting “The Economy Sucks!” or “Things Have Never Been So Bad” won’t help feed, house or clothe one single person. But also offering solutions and answers to the people’s questions to the press, on air and in print, can help make a difference for those whose interests we claim to stand up for when we highlight all that’s bad, wrong and unjust. Bad news always makes good news. But a little good news every now and then can’t be that bad, after all.
August 21, 2001