Give ‘em what they want: David Lopes, pictured at home yesterday with his beloved horses, believes radio shows like his allow people to blow off steam.  *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Give ‘em what they want: David Lopes, pictured at home yesterday with his beloved horses, believes radio shows like his allow people to blow off steam. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

Blogs, news websites and talk radio have been blamed for fostering anti-foreigner sentiments on the island and driving away investors.

But talk show hosts defended their forums – and suggested their shows were better marshalled than anonymous posters to blogs and the comment sections on news websites. One told us that anti-Bermudian comments — by Bermudians — were more common than xenophobic insults.

And newspaper editors explained how they approach the challenge of encouraging reader interaction while discouraging poisonous feedback.

‘Unacceptable’ 

We spoke to media figures after Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy, in the context of the term limits debate, took aim at bloggers and talk show callers, accusing them of “negative rhetoric being targeted at our non-Bermudian workforce”.

Sen Fahy said recently: “Some of the comments I’ve heard and seen have been completely unacceptable. And regrettably we don’t have suitable mechanisms in place to properly police some of these anonymous rants.”

David Lopes, host of a long-running talk show on ZBM FM89, said: “I respect everybody’s opinion, although I might not agree with them. But people certainly don’t have the right to be abusive or say terrible things about people.

He believes online activity has lowered standards on the airwaves: “I think standards have declined because people are allowed to make these comments on blogs. There are no repercussions – unless you say something which someone can sue you for. A lot of people, if they had to sign their names to things, they wouldn’t say them.

“On the other hand, people have told me they would call the show, but they won’t because their voice is recognizable.

“I’m not a big fan of the blogs and I’m really disappointed in some people. The big problem is people are allowed – and I don’t how you can control that – to talk about things they don’t know anything about. But that’s not something which is unique to Bermuda, wherever there are blogs, you get the same thing.”

But he said that radio shows like his allowed people to blow off steam.

He added: “It’s healthy in a way – people should be able to express their opinions but, on the other hand, you can’t go into freefall just because you don’t like someone or what they have said.”

It should be pointed out that the word 'blog' is widely misused in Bermuda. A blog is an online personal journal but here, the word is often used as an umbrella shorthand term to describe opinions expressed through social media and comments made on news websites.

Sherri Simmons, who hosts a daily show on MAGIC 102.7, said: “I’m a firm believer that, given  full and accurate information, people will make the correct decisions. She does not  want Bermuda to regress to the days when broadcasting was over-regulated and discussing politics on air during an election campaign was forbidden.

Ms Simmons added: “We have always had provisions in place that, if people think something is said on air that is wrong, [to correct it]. Most folks are responsible with that. It’s not something I take lightly – it’s a huge responsibility. I can’t speak for anyone else. It’s an opportunity for Bermudians to have a voice after many, many decades of not having a voice.”

Ms Simmons added that anti-Bermudian sentiment on blogs – sometimes from Bermudians themselves — was more prevalent than anti-foreigner abuse.

She added: “I really try to raise the level of discourse and I believe Bermudians are hungry for that. I read some of the stuff on the blogs and I think ‘my word’.”

Ms Simmons said her show took a pro-Bermudian stance: “Just because you’re pro-Bermudian doesn’t mean you’re anti something else. And when people say anti-Bermudian things, they need to be called on that. Until we’re prepared to do that, we will keep getting what we continue to get.”

Venting frustrations

Everest DaCosta, who hosts a popular show on ZBM FM89, said: “People have the right to an opinion and that is guaranteed to them by our Constitution. Sometimes people might be off-base on the facts and I will correct them if they are wrong on a factual basis. It’s a good outlet – they get to vent their frustrations, but they are not as nasty as some of these blogs. I haven’t seen them myself, so I can’t really comment on them. But people come on the show and talk about them and some of the blogs are way off-base.”

Bermuda Sun Editor Tony McWilliam said: “We are implementing changes to our website that will make it easier for readers to post comments. Right now we are experimenting with comments via Facebook, which provides a level of accountability.

“We have always monitored comments, to filter out the libels, bile and hatred, but the trade-off has been fewer contributions. Clearly, readers enjoy the unfettered freedom to comment.”

Mr McWilliam added: “Few journalists would discourage engagement with readers and it’s good that Bermudians have various platforms on which to freely share their views; it wasn’t always the case.  

“It’s a cliché but freedom of speech comes with responsibilities. Alas, the luxury of anonymity tends to be most keenly exploited by those with the most noxious views.”

Bernews declined to comment but we also approached Jeremy Deacon, Acting Editor at The Royal Gazette. He told us the paper has a policy warning would-be posters that it does not tolerate abusive and defamatory comments.

He added: “We would take extremely seriously any attempt to promote xenophobia or anti-foreigner sentiment by people making comments on our website stories. We have a very clear policy of what we do and do not allow.

“Unfortunately there are people who delight in using anonymity to make personal attacks and we endeavour to police the comments as best as we can. While we do monitor our comments and remove them or ban people, we cannot do it 24/7 and rely heavily on people self-regulating the comments through the report abuse button.

“There is a very good level of debate for the most part — which is vital in a democracy — and for the first time the ‘people’ can have a direct say on issues that affect them.”

Mr Deacon said the paper bans those who post hateful comments, adding: “As a footnote, in taking action to edit or ban some commenters, I have also been regularly personally abused. One person wrote ‘Jeremy Deacon rapes babies’. I am afraid when comments like that are posted one wonders about the sanity of some people and whether any actions could stop them.”

What do you think? Are the talk shows/blogs/comment sections forces for good or bad? E-Mail editor Tony McWilliam: tmcwilliam@bermudasun.bm