I’ve read in multiple places that the Caribbean is a barren wasteland when it comes to reliable data and statistics.
Proper data and statistics don’t just make us better citizens, it has the potential to transform our country to greater levels of efficiency.
The use of data-enabled technologies improves healthcare and treatment discovery to better managing critical infrastructures such as transport and energy.
There are more experienced and smarter people than I to stress the essential role of data in modern governance. I’m not here for that.
What I want to talk about is the relationship between data and the media, in the T&T landscape.
I’ve had interviews with multiple Government ministers, who frankly admitted that in many cases there is no contextual data and if there is data, it is entirely unreliable.
What’s a journalist to do then, in a society which thrives on secret-keeping, and where politicians feel they can easily present “alternative facts?”
We’ve been presenting alternative facts to the public long before Kellyanne Conway coined the term.
But the media is so eager for data, that sometimes we present it badly and without appropriate context.
I’ll give this morning as an example. Senator Clarence Rambharat, in Senate yesterday spoke of a $669 million alcohol spend from a 2016 food import bill.
One daily newspaper reported that the entire food import bill for 2016 was $5.4 billion. Another paper reported it as $5.6 billion. Unless you were glued to the Parliament channel either on your television or Parlview on Youtube, it is unlikely that you will know which is correct.
This isn’t a unique occurrence. In many of my friend groups, I’m harangued about inaccuracies in reporting.
It goes: Allyuh in the media always givin’ ah set of bad information eh.”
I’m quite often faced with the task of telling some poor friend of mine to stop falling into the political trap of heaping constant derision and scorn on the entity that is committed to informing the public in a genuine way. It is the politician’s benefit (or at least it used to be in old politics) to keep people ignorant. Times are changing so an ignorant populace benefits no one. That is something the media has always known. A good democracy is self-aware, educated and participatory.
Even with the long self-righteous speech, I’ve become known for, I’m given examples of the murder victim who has three different ages, depending on the publication you read or that the number of children in a school varies depending on which reporter writes the story.
And while I won’t say I have never reported something inaccurately, I will say that the one time I recall doing so was enough to cement the need for the ever-helpful follow-up question.
I’ll call to clarify figures every time. Though these days I try to source my figures from agencies and documents as opposed to politicians as they are not insulated from human error, and I feel a lot safer saying “this came from the draft estimates of yadda yadda, than politician X said so at whichever event.”
I hate the blame game, so even though I want to say most times information comes to journos inaccurate from the source, I also want to add that journalists should be constantly checking the information they receive.
But what do they check it against if it is commonly accepted that everything is wrong?
Reporters wrote on a 2014 report which spoke about poverty increases, but later the report was described as “wrong” by the government.
So really, if the experts aren’t giving good information, and the politicians give multiple figures for the same question frequently, where’s a journo to go to find the truth?
It’s a question being considered in the industry right now, with ideas ranging from creating our own databanks to doing our own research. I need to note that these discussions are taking place among reporters, and not necessarily in boardrooms. Though if they are taking place in boardrooms, I’m not aware but would happily stand corrected.
By the way, I checked the Senate recording on Parlview, ever my saviour in this life, and while the honourable minister is recorded as saying $5.6 billion, this morning on his Facebook page, he posted the story that recorded it as $5.4.
Thank you for reading. Let’s discuss.