Sunday, October 05, 2008


Straight, no chaser: Why journalists must be troublemakers

by Milverton Wallace

Human beings are fallible creatures. And although some may find it barely credible, politicians are also humans. Mr Audley Shaw is a politician, therefore he is fallible.

To be fallible means, among other things, that we are less than perfect, we make mistakes, we take wrong decisions, our actions do not always match our intentions.

We commit errors in thought and action. This is perfectly normal; it’s a natural consequence of our human fallibility.

Now, some errors are more consequential than others.

A housewife checking on her grocery bill who makes an error in her calculations may at worst find herself a little short of butter or salt that week, but the error only affects her family and in any event she’ll make do with a little creative substitution. If she’s profligate in her expenditure and incompetent in her accounting, it’s still a family matter and no-one else’s business.

A politician, however, has no such defence. His/her parsimony or profligacy with public monies, his/her competence or incompetence in managing the public finance, is everybody’s business. We can poke our noses into every cupboard and closet of the public exchequer to find the answers we seek. Nothing is out of bounds. Evocations of “national security”, “confidentiality”, “executive privilege” and other such pleas should be treated as the phantoms they are.

One of the weaknesses of our educational system is the absence of any instruction in basic economics. Know anyone besides business people who can read a balance sheet? Or knows the difference between GDP and GNP? Or understands the public accounts or the credit rating system?

Why, you might ask, should the man in Claverty Cottage need to know these things? So he doesn’t get sold a six for a nine.

Politicians will bend and twist the facts to serve their needs; that is the nature of their vocation. The journalists’ duty is to truthfully seek the facts; that is the purpose of their profession. And because the majority of the citizens are not accountants, economists, lawyers or finance ministers (thank God!) it falls to the journalist to enquire into these things on their behalf.

We do not need to justify ourselves by invoking the freedom of the press, the role of the 4th estate and similar shiboleths. We are what we are: busybodies, nosey parkers, muckrakers, newsmongers.

Above all, we are storytellers. We identify the story, pursue it doggedly, apply our forensic skills to get to the heart of the matter, and lay it bare before the public without tricks of light or smoke and mirrors. Straight, no chaser. And let the chips fall where they will.

As the good bacteria in the human body attacks and repairs faulty or malign cells, so we target injustice, corruption, greed, mismanagement, incompetence and hubris in the body politic. As the don says, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. Troublemaking is what we do. Deal with it.


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