House Speaker Halson Moultrie yesterday delivered a scathing rebuke of Bahamian media, declaring they engage in yellow journalism and disregard the rules of Parliament.
During his more than 20-minute statement in the House of Assembly, Moultrie said,“Yesterday, when I read the Tribune’s headline story ‘Out of touch’, I noted that my predecessor in this seat, Dr. Kendal Major, is quoted as saying, ‘Two days ago, I got four phone calls from journalists wanting some red meat.’
“And I got concerned immediately because I know Dr. Kendal Major is a surgeon and when surgeons talk about red meat, that concerns me. I was compelled to respond as a result.”
He added, “You know, if journalists want flesh and blood, they’re 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.”
Moultrie proceeded to “caution honorable members to avoid short-term benefits that may satisfy the moment”.
He claimed that after Major “refused to satisfy the yellow journalists’ desire…they turned their poisonous editorial pens on him in an onslaught aimed at destroying his reputation, integrity and character”.
Moultrie’s comments come less than a week after he ordered that a cellphone belonging to a reporter for The Nassau Guardian be seized and media content be deleted.
The reporter was taking photos to accompany a story about Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper who was giving a contribution on the floor of the House.
The speaker then claimed that the media have “descended” to a worrying level.
In the days that followed, Moultrie drew criticisms from multiple circles for his comments and ruling last week.
On Saturday, Major described Moultrie’s decision as “over the top”.
Moultrie yesterday presented articles to support what he claims to be “fake news”.
He tabled a copy of The Tribune from October 28, 2019.
Moultrie then tabled a copy of The Nassau Guardian from July 14, 2018 and asked that the cameras zoom in.
The article in question incorrectly attributed comments to then Deputy to the Governor General C. A. Smith, for which The Nassau Guardian retracted and apologized.
“This is what you call fake news. Fake news. It never happened,” Moultrie said as he held up the newspaper.
“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.”
Moultrie proceeded to table two newspaper articles.
The first was published by The Tribune on October 2, 2019.
“House Speaker Halson Moultrie denied the opposition’s request yesterday for debate about the planning, management and execution of operations surrounding Hurricane Dorian,” the article reads.
Yesterday, while referring to the article, Moultrie said, “Absolutely and completely untrue.”
The final article – tabled by the speaker – was published by The Nassau Guardian on October 25, 2019.
In the story, opposition leader Philip Brave Davis called Moultrie “unfit” to be the speaker of the House.
Moultrie dispelled claims that he is censoring or “muzzling” the media.
He accused members of the media of equating their privilege with that of elected members of Parliament.
“They ascribe to themselves privileges exclusive to members without the slightest effort to arrive at what the correct position must be,” the speaker said.
“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.”
Moultrie then warned that “you either conform or you be gone”.
“That is the position of this chair. I intend to uphold the rules,” he said.
Moultrie said the House of Assembly “must maintain the standards”.
He also noted that the speaker is “obligated to protect the privileges of the members of this House”.
“I have heard some incredible claims such as the speaker is taking the Parliament to the dark ages,” Moultrie said.
“All because one young reporter who probably was not properly briefed, was caught panning the chamber with her cellphone and running afoul of the practice and was corrected by the speaker.”
He said there are “more dangerous” threats to Bahamian democracy than allowing members of the press to take photos of MPs.
“And to the member for the Exumas and Ragged Island, I wish just to say to you for the public record that this speaker has no difficulty whatsoever with any newspaper publishing photographs of you,” Moultrie said.
“The insidious suggestion by the press is another example of yellow journalism.”
The speaker said he has checked the rules of parliaments in other countries that have “the greatest reputation for accountability and transparency”.
He said he discovered that “their restrictions on the press [are] far greater than that of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas”.
“If, as the press asserts, The Bahamas Parliament is in the dark ages, Westminster, Canada, Australia, Barbados and New Zealand must be in the Stone Age, but I would not put too much value on assessment of what age The Bahamas Parliament is in,” Moultrie said.
He added, “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 cellphones and take photographs of any matter in the courtrooms.”
Moultrie continued, “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.”