Places Where Journalism and Integrity Do Not Always Mix

A few short days after the NAR routed the PNM out of political power for the first time in 1986, only a few eyebrows were raised when South Express Chief Harry Partap was slipped in as a minister in the new government.

In recent times, a significant number of  media practitioners have continued to be secret darlings operating in the bosom of political parties while appearing to conduct themselves in a  manner consistent with the tenets and standards of their  profession.

Others, like John Gill and John Benwar of the 95.5 Barber Shop, Darian Marcelle of the Afternoon Drive and UNC Senators Anil Roberts and Jerlean John,  have been very open about their own political leanings and have survived in this dangerous game where some journalists have been sent to jail for contempt of court.

And at least  one female reporter was the tragic victim of murder,  apparently resulting from her links with questionable characters, while another was recently reported to be the husband of a man now charged with murder.

In this scenario, while the assertions and accusations made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a political forum this week were obviously intended to champion the cause of TT media workers, it might have backfired.

The way Mrs Persad-Bissessar put it, many journalists seem to be hanging on to their jobs for the sake of eating ah food by delivering a product that is often compromised by the demands of government and private sector  sponsors who keep dangling  the proverbial Damocles Sword over their heads.

Persad-Bissessar – who has been herself reputed to  have a number of social media trolls operating for her party – was even able to draw reference to one brave-heart journalist Renuka Singh who, shortly after suddenly resigning from the Trinidad Guardian,  issued a statement saying she had left because her professional  policy was out of alignment with  that of her previous employer.

Among those who stood out for journalistic integrity was the late David Renwick who once served as Editor in Chief of the young Trinidad Express newspaper  but later departed – with no public statement issued by either party – to operate as an independent freelance for the rest of his days, with the Express as one of his main clients.

In this connection, media people charged with the responsibility of bringing the true story to the masses, have often been harassed in public and private by the same masses they serve  because of their failure  to tow  the line or kowtow to the particular executive in command.

These include :

  • At least one Permanent Secretary who worked with her Minster to get a Communications Manager out of his job  because they felt he was an opposition agent;
  • The Chairman of an highly respected international NGO who hounded a young black professional female out of her job where she was operating  competently but had apparently caused his rage by  not  cooperating in certain delicate areas;
  • Two respected veteran journalists who lost their jobs because they produced a radio programme which allowed the venting of  views which were opposed to that of the station’s state owners, although it was extremely popular with listeners. So when the wily  Kamla talks as if she sympathizes and loves the media, the facts are quite different and every journalist knows that when water more than flour, they will have to fend for themselves.

So as Bobb Marley sang: 

Who the Cap Fit, Let them Wear it!

So the question arises: what I it about these harmless-looking word spinners that could generate the critical, unnerving and constant interest of leaders who sometimes cannot sleep at night for fear of what these nondescript reporters may write?

Here’s one possible answer located in an incident where a reporter diffidently  approached then  PNM Deputy Leader and titan government minister Errol Mahabir –  with the intention of asking him for a copy of his well speech which had just  received resounding applause inside the Chaguaramas Convention Centre.

“How Ah Sound, Boy?!!”

Being most startled at Errol’s unexpected obvious jitteriness at how he would be seen in the Media, the  veteran journalist who always had a question for the guards, found himself lost for words in the same way that the mighty minister seemed to be losing his breath.

Many a reporter has found himself in  parties rubbing shoulders with top brass officials who, without saying it, would give an arm and a leg to be asked a simple question which entitles them to appear in the social page of the newspaper, bringing them to the edge of orgasmic possibilities if the reporter has a cameraman in tow.

On the darker side, watch how they try to hide their own faces from the same cameraman when coming out of the courts on charges that cause ignominy, humiliation and fata damage to their careers.

One recalls how former Police Commissioner Randolph Burroughs, having dominated the nation’s headlines for his role in  wiping off  guerillas  led by Guy Harewood from the face of the earth, that same Burroughs  – who was later arrested on drug charges –

was seen kneeling in suppliant plea in front of the RC Cathedral on Independence Square –  beads being delicately rubbed between frightened, trembling fingers which had pulled the trigger to kill so many people too many times.

So the world is really a media person’s oyster nowadays since, with the great improvements in today’s communications technology,  you – as a reporter in the same room –  can be asking a Minister a question or secretly giving him a reply to a question from another reporter, even as you faithfully write your own story.

This means that any player in the communications network must be aware ad concerned at the ease with which they can be easily snared into a web of intrigue like the proverbial spider and the fly.

For people like Harry Partap who has long gone into supposedly comfortable  retirement,  a  constant sigh of relief can be heard  for having escaped this modern media rat-trap environment.

For Camille Robinson-Regis and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, it can be a very hazardous  but exciting dive into the political unknown.

And as for Renuka Singh –well –  like David Renwick, the world is your oyster!

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