May 18, 2018
Staggeringly deceitful

Last week Friday, the News newspaper published an article of staggering deceit. Written by managing director/editor Shelley Clarke, it purported to offer as news an ill-informed and misdirected assault on the integrity of SEARCHLIGHT whose only crime in this saga was to do what journalistic organizations do every day: We investigated and published an article that told the story that several Vincentian legislators carry dual nationalities; and as a corollary, we published an editorial that explores how their dual nationality directly challenges their capacity to honour their oaths of loyalty to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and another country simultaneously.

At the heart of the News’ deceit lies a simple fact. It sets up its own straw man – the false claim that the SEARCHLIGHT had made a legalistic argument against Commonwealth nationals serving in the Parliament of SVG. Second, it then proceeds to blow down its own strawman while inveighing against SEARCHLIGHT’s integrity for daring to write the editorial we did. The outcome is therefore a specious set of claims against another professional journalistic organization that is unwarranted and unmoored from facts.

Let us therefore be reminded of precisely what our editorial said. We made three central claims. First, the Constitution of SVG prohibits our legislators from swearing an oath to a foreign country. Second, in 2016, the Government of SVG expressly changed the Official Oaths Act so that government officials will swear their oaths to SVG and not the Queen of England. And third, our editorial declared unconditionally that the people of SVG have a right to know that its legislators have no lifeboat to North America when our ship of state hits heavy waters.

Mr Clarke’s article addresses none of these claims. Instead, convinced of its constitutional purity, it does two things. First, it argues for the constitutionality of Vincentian legislators serving in the Vincentian parliament – even if they have sworn an oath to another Commonwealth country. And second, it makes scurrilous charges on SEARCHLIGHT’s motivation for making the case that by its very nature, dual nationality invites contemplation of the biblical warning: “A Man Cannot Serve Two Masters.”

In so doing, the News’ article treats as settled law a momentous constitutional issue that has ignited intense debate across SVG, and then challenges the journalistic integrity of SEARCHLIGHT for bringing attention to this matter.

But the real failure of journalistic integrity here lies clearly with the News. For it is the News newspaper that presents as news (on its front page, no less), SEARCHLIGHT’s editorial while utterly ignoring the fact that SEARCHLIGHT’s editorial is indeed a response to a deeply sourced story that was constructed on a platform of responses from parliamentarians, lawyers, and social commentators, most of whom have challenged the constitutionality of our legislators swearing oaths to a foreign power.

SEARCHLIGHT itself makes no claim on the constitutional question raised. We are aware that we are not legal scholars. Our editorial never presumed to provide an answer to a constitutional question. And we are also fully aware that despite the News fulminations on the subject, constitutional questions can only be decided in a court of law.

Hence, our editorial did something different and fully within our journalistic mission. We sought to dive more deeply into the moving waters of Vincentian national sensibilities by probing why our constitution prohibits swearing oaths to foreign governments. We ask, ‘Can a man serve two masters?’None of this, of course, has value for Mr Clarke.

The news ethics of the News are indeed its own. But so too are those of SEARCHLIGHT. As a matter of journalistic principle, if SEARCHLIGHT deems a story worthy of feature coverage, it also deems the story worthy of eliciting an editorial response. But it neither conflates nor confuses the two.

Hence, whereas the News editorial/story treated our editorial as a guided missile aimed squarely at Dr Friday’s dual citizenship, the story that underpins our editorial pointed out that members of both political parties have held or hold dual nationalities. Furthermore, our editorial devoted more space to the issue of Vincentian Americans which obviously excludes Dr Friday.But perhaps the greatest failing of the News assault against SEARCHLIGHT is less one of ethical consistency and more one of intellectual coherence.

Mr Clarke asserts that the issue of dual citizenship is without significance. But simultaneously, he devotes copious space to rebut this very insignificance, utterly unaware that his own story confirms that our lawmakers’ commitment to SVG is indeed a matter of the highest national importance.We believe that there are times when we must make a stand on what we do. Mr Clarke’s assault on our integrity is such a moment.

So we want to make it loud and clear: SEARCHLIGHT stands by our stories on dual nationalities. SEARCHLIGHT stands by our editorial and ask it here again: Can a man serve two masters?