Hurricanes, Governments and Other Little Things

So I started writing this offline during Hurricane Irene and her immediate aftermath. (It seems as though "so" is the conjunction of choice of the second decade of the twenty-first century; I have heard countless interviews where the answerer starts with a long, meditative "So". Just between us fellas, it drives me crazy. Nevertheless: ) So our cable service was down for a lot of yesterday and therefore our main internet was out. The only way we could get in touch with the world beyond our walls was by cellular data network, which in The Bahamas is not 3G or 4G or any other kind of G but which slowness aside, was working throughout Irene. Props to BTC for staying up all through the storm.That being the case, we were all forced to revert to twentieth-century one-way methods of communication for necessary information. Specifically: we were obliged to turn to the radio and our local TV station (which broadcasts locally as well as uploading to a satellite for conversion to a cable feed) and find out what's been going on.Twenty-first century Americans and other undemocratic people may need some kind of introduction to the kind of world we live in, a world inherited from the British, who despite all their numerous flaws and failings as imperialist conquerors share a couple of assumptions about democracies and government with their European fellows. The most fundamental of these is an understanding about what a government is and what a democratic government is obliged to do. Strangely enough, some of those ideas took in their ex-colonies. After all, they were the only ways by which the empire was justified. The main one, though, is that it is the responsibility of a democratic government to provide certain services for its people. Those services facilitate and encourage and strengthen the democratic experiment. By ensuring that all citizens are provided with at least the basic necessities for life, health and education, they create an environment in which democratic activity can flourish. For democracy is hard work. It is not a privilege; rather, it is a set of rights and duties, and it cannot survive where people are so unequal that they cannot participate in the democratic project, or where people are so involved in scraping a living on the edges of society that they do not have the luxury of thinking about their place in that society.One of those services, and the one I'm most concerned about at this moment (though there are many others) is the provision, especially in the twenty-first century, of balanced, accurate, official information. Now in our country we appear to provide for that. We Bahamians, contrary to our private beliefs, pay taxes, and a good portion of our tax money supports a public broadcasting station whose sole job it is to provide that balanced, accurate, official information. All too often the information offered by the BCB (otherwise known as ZNS, its original call title from the 1930s when it was established) is partisan, press-released, irrelevant or outdated. Still. Where ZNS has been excellent in the past (and as recently as 2005 with the passage of Hurricane Wilma) has been in times of national emergency, such as during hurricanes. Throughout the twenty-first century, the BCB has provided unparallelled service in keeping all Bahamians connected through the most trying circumstances. For me, some of the most memorable hurricane broadcasts were during the passage of major storms through the various islands, when Nassauvians, sometimes unaffected by the weather but hugely concerned for family and friends elsewhere, were kept informed and reassured by newspeople who went above and beyond the call of duty to make contact, shoot video, and send word to the Nassau stations of what was happening in the affected areas. The most memorable of these for me was the coverage of the passage of the monster storms Frances, Jeanne and Wilma through the northern Bahamas, especially through Jeanne, when the Freeport newscrew remained on the air and broadcasting even as water was rising in their studios.Nothing in our recent history, therefore, prepared me for the absence of any such reporting by the BCB during Hurricane Irene. We learned about the fate of Acklins and Crooked Island not from the news station we had learned to trust, but from the online tabloid Bahamas Press, which is notorious for breaking news that is grounded in truth but which is not always so accurate in details. Witness, for example, BP's insistence that St. Paul's Anglican Church at Clarence Town, Long Island, had "collapsed", when in fact the church had lost part of its roof but remained standing; had the BCB been doing the job most citizens expect of it, that story would have been accurate from the start. BP may have exaggerated the story a little, but at least it provided information—information for which we citizens pay every year through our customs duties and our other taxes, but information which, during the passage of Hurricane Irene, was sadly lacking from our national broadcasting corporation.For most of the first day of Irene's passage, the BCB appeared, with the National Emergency Management Agency, to be following Bahamas Press instead of collecting and disseminating its own information. While this is excellent for BP, it is not so good for ZNS, which styles itself "the people's station"; it has failed the people. This was not entirely the case. The discrepancy between the television coverage and that on the radio was all too clear; the radio provided some of the same sort of coverage as we had been accustomed to expecting, but the television was a dire disappointment, showing reruns of file footage from other storms and only going live for regularly scheduled programming. No doubt the excuse will be a lack of a budget for emergency broadcasts. That in itself, to my mind, is the supreme failure. I would prefer for ZNS to be silent throughout the year if I only knew I could count on accurate, live, and to-the-minute real-time twenty-first century video coverage in times of emergencies. After all, if citizens can provide their own media—if the American Weather Channel Twitter feed can feature video and photographs from around the Bahamas during the passage of the story, why cannot ZNS do the same for its own citizens? Rerunning footage from Hurricanes Michelle (2001), Frances (2004) and Jeanne (2004) seems an insult rather than a service.I have far more to say on this matter, but I fear that if I try to say it all it will never be finished. I'll post this for the time being in hopes of engendering some discussion here and now. But I'll just return to my initial premise. It can't just be a matter of budget at times like these. National broadcasting stations, as they exist in countries whose democratic infrastructure is European rather than America (and therefore, to my mind, more truly democratic in fact—more on that later) do not have the option of jettisoning such coverage in lean times. The fact that they exist is just for a purpose such as the passage of a hurricane; I see no other good reason for my tax money to be taken to keep them alive.