Concern over political appointment at ZNS Bahamas

4th July 2023
The Press Secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister, Clint Watson, has been appointed General Manager of the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas.  
ZNS new studio
The ZNS studio. Credit: ZNS

The Public Media Alliance is concerned about the recent appointment of the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Clint Watson, as the new General Manager for the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas (BCB). 

The BCB is the official name for ZNS Bahamas, the country’s public service media organisation (PSM), which provides online news, four radio networks, and the only local television station. 

Before his position at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Mr. Watson had worked at both ZNS and the commercial outlet, Eyewitness News.  

Earlier this year, Mr. Watson, in his role as Press Secretary, attracted criticism for his involvement in affairs relating to ZNS. According to The Tribune, Mr. Watson had been assisting with upgrades to ZNS’ news department. He rejected claims he was being paid as a consultant on the matter.  

“ZNS is going through an improvement and upgrade in their news department,” he said. “They’re pulling on expertise from myself, having been able to have done a successful term with Eyewitness News. I’m assisting them and helping them to be able to do that.”  

Some questioned whether this involvement represented a conflict of interest, but Mr. Watson denied this as well.  

However, there are now significant questions to be answered as a result of his appointment as ZNS’ General Manager.  

“Choosing the person who has just been advocating for the administration and defending it against such interrogation to go and run the whole show – regardless of who that individual is – raises questions of the potential to unduly influence such independence,” wrote Tyler McKenzie in an opinion piece for The Tribune. 

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The Public Media Alliance has similar concerns, particularly regarding the transparency and independence of the appointment process.

Effective public service media organisations are built on a foundation of trust, whereby there are protections from political interference in place, particularly in terms of their organisational and editorial independence. For any public broadcaster to fulfil their mandate of providing reliable, independent, and trusted news, capable of holding power to account and reporting without fear or favour, requires a high degree of separation from the government.

This means that there should be strong controls on the ability of the government to intervene in and influence the affairs of PSM. The public needs to know that their public media is operating in and for the public interest and is not beholden to the government. Within a small domestic media market, it is even more essential that audiences can access independent and trustworthy information, free from government oversight.  

It is therefore essential that clarity is provided from the government and Mr. Watson about the nature of Mr. Watson’s involvement in the editorial affairs of ZNS while he was still working for the OPM. Additionally, there must be transparency over how the appointments process was conducted.