The level of buffoonery we witnessed emanating from the speaker’s chair when the House of Assembly convened yesterday afternoon might have left us speechless had we expected better from Halson Moultrie.
He has long demonstrated that he is incapable of bringing the degree of respect, decorum and good sense that should come with the high office he holds.
He has repeatedly demeaned the speaker’s chair with absurdity.
We saw this in February last year when he launched a stunning and blistering attack on every and anything in his path — taking aim at the former House clerk in seedy and mean-spirited fashion and even taking a nasty swipe at the wife of the leader of the opposition.
Yesterday, his low grade assault on media in The Bahamas was a new low for him, as he went on a half hour rant that reconfirmed him to be ill-suited for the role he now plays.
He made a lame attempt at justifying a silly ruling he handed down last week when Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter Jasper Ward used her cell phone to take photographs of Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper while he was making a contribution in the House.
In gross overreaction, Moultrie ordered House Clerk David Forbes to seize Ward’s phone and delete what she was recording.
The reporter deleted the images after Forbes called her out of the gallery where she was quietly sitting with other reporters, and indicated to her that she needed to get rid of what she had captured. We later retrieved those images from the phone’s deleted files.
That same day, Moultrie declared that the media “despite all the change in technology, they have descended to a level in this country that needs to be addressed”.
He said, “They are competing with social media and as a consequence a number of false reports, fake reports and opinionated stories are appearing in the newspapers, and I have even seen on social media videos of members of Parliament that have been taken completely out of context and other information presented on social media.”
Moultrie was roundly criticized in various circles for his ruling relating to our reporter capturing images on her cell phone.
The Bahamas Press Club said it was “appalled” by the ruling and said the speaker must not be seen to be a dictator.
The speaker could not wait to go on his rant yesterday to respond to it all.
He pointed to the Tribune’s lead article on Monday in which it quoted former Speaker of the House Dr. Kendal Major saying he got four phone calls from journalists wanting some red meat after the speaker’s ruling.
Moultrie then bizarrely declared, “…If journalists want flesh and blood, they going after the wrong person. If they want flesh and blood, they need Jesus. Jesus is the one whose flesh was broken and whose blood was shed. Now, I have no difficulty with journalists going after me because I am prepared to lead them to Jesus.”
Continuing the rant, he said, “While I’m saying this, I wish to caution honorable members to avoid short term benefits that may satisfy the moment. The Bahamas (Parliament) celebrated its 290th anniversary on September 29 and what is interesting about this story, the interview with Dr. Kendal Major, the former speaker, is that Dr. Major refused to give that red meat.
“He refused to give that flesh and blood and as soon as Dr. Major refused to satisfy the yellow journalists’ desires, they had no more use for him and they turned their poisonous editorial pens on him in an onslaught aimed at destroying his reputation, integrity and character.”
Interestingly, Moultrie conveniently ignored the focus of the Tribune’s story on Major, who concluded that the Parliament is “deeply tribal”, “mediocre” and “unproductive”.
Major was also quoted as saying that the speaker’s ruling on the Guardian’s reporter was “over the top”.
Yesterday, the House speaker was all over the place as he spewed his drivel.
He then tried to force a comparison between the courts and the Parliament. But he did not make much sense there either.
Moultrie stated: “Parliament is the place where laws are enacted. And…we commend the judicial arm of the government for the rules that they have established in the judiciary. No stranger or even attorney will dare go in the courts and take out their cell phones and take photographs of any matter in the courtrooms.
“Are we to say that the courts are oppressing the media, suppressing the media or somehow preventing freedom of speech? No, the environment calls for this. The Parliament is the highest chamber in this land with respect to making laws. This is the place where laws are enacted and we must as a Parliament enjoy the exclusivity when it comes to the release of information from these chambers.”
While Parliament and the judiciary are both arms of government, the flawed comparison is illogical.
Anyone watching the parliamentary channel can already see what is happening in the House of Assembly and the Senate.
Equating the court room to the people’s representatives speaking on the people’s behalf is again nonsensical.
We fail to see the speaker’s alarm over a reporter taking photos of a member speaking.
Yesterday, Moultrie again pointed to a ruling he made in June after the sister of Centreville MP Reece Chipman shouted accusations from the gallery.
At no point in that ruling did the speaker say that media personnel cannot use their cell phones to take photographs; at no point did he declare that we must get his permission before doing so.
Our photographers take photos in Parliament each time it meets. Using cell phone cameras is no different.
Moultrie’s ruling that the phone be seized was a major overreaction that had even some FNM MPs quietly criticizing him.
A statement read by the speaker — reportedly signed by a member who expressed that the Guardian reporter said she wanted to apologize — is also a heap of baloney, we are advised by the reporter.
Yesterday, Moultrie sought to prove that media in The Bahamas are more interested in “yellow journalism” than legitimate news reporting.
In his effort to justify this, he pointed to a Nassau Guardian headline story from July 2018 in which we incorrectly attributed comments to C. A. Smith, who at the time was serving as deputy to the governor general.
Holding a copy of that Nassau Guardian issue, Moultrie declared: “This is what you call fake news, fake news; it never happened. They were completely wrong. The newspaper didn’t have the courtesy to contact the person who they wrote this headline story about before it was published. I don’t believe it was by mistake. It was a deliberate act of yellow journalism. The newspaper made two apologies. But that doesn’t exempt the fact that the story was published and the damage was already done.”
We acknowledge that the story was hugely embarrassing for The Nassau Guardian. The reporter who wrote it was disciplined. We recognized the seriousness of this error and moved swiftly to apologize on our social media pages, on our front page in our next issue and on our radio station.
We also took action internally in an effort to ensure we do not make such a mistake again.
We did not take that matter lightly.
Moultrie’s conclusion that we ran the story intentionally is a stupid conclusion.
No newspaper of record would intentionally subject itself to the kind of credibility blow, embarrassment and ridicule that comes with running an incorrect story, especially one of that nature.
Moultrie’s other example of yellow journalism was a recent Tribune article about his ruling against the opposition’s request to speak about Hurricane Dorian when the Parliament resumed after the storm.
He also pointed to another Nassau Guardian article from last week that quoted Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis saying he is unfit to be speaker.
We wonder why Moultrie did not table our front page article from Monday’s edition in which Deputy Speaker Don Saunders acknowledged that had he been in the chair when the reporter was taking photos with her cell phone, he might have handled things differently.
But that did not fit in with the point Moultrie was seeking to make about “fake news” and “yellow journalism” and his determination that the media do not respect House rules.
A bunch of baloney indeed.
Moultrie concluded: “What is interesting is that we have come to a time where members of the media now equate their privilege in the Parliament with that of elected members. They ascribe to themselves privileges exclusive to members without the slightest effort to arrive at what the correct position must be.
“It seems they are no longer able to distinguish their privilege extended as a courtesy from that of a member whose [privileges] are enshrined and what is incredible about this is that members take no issue with it for the time being.
“This is not an issue of muzzling the press and or censorship of the media. This is an issue of the media respecting and conforming to rules and regulations.
“As presiding officer of this honorable House, the chair’s position in this regard is you either conform or you be gone. That is the position of this chair. I intend to uphold the rules.”
Over the top is really an understatement for the speaker’s recent ruling and his subsequent diatribe.
While the House ought to have been dealing with important legislation in this time of national crisis post-Dorian, Moultrie engaged in a time-wasting and petty exercise as his power trip went completely off the rails.
The only thing he demonstrated yesterday is that it does not take much talent or competence to occupy the speaker’s chair.
But those who put him there — the same ones who keep him there — are really the ones to blame.