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Political Bias In Media
“Let me tell you a little bit first about our main character, John H O’Halloran. Johnny O, as he was familiarly called, was a powerful figure in the PNM, which was a party that ruled T&T for 30 uninterrupted years. He was one of the few white members of the Cabinet. He was of Irish descent, a ladies’ man if ever there was one. A flamboyant figure who always wore white suits and drove large American cars.
“He was also known as the pre-eminent political fixer on the island, a man who had the ear of the then Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams. Nothing significant ever seemed to happen without Johnny O’s involvement or approval, which led to his other nickname—Mr Ten Per Cent.
“I had been the Attorney General in the PNM from 1976 but I retired at the end of my term in 1981, frustrated over what I believed were deliberate attempts to stop me investigating corruption. I had kept files from those days, which I handed over to Bob Lindquist.”
The above quote is from Selwyn Richardson, who was Attorney General of the PNM when Dr Eric Williams, whom some like to name “father of the nation,” was the Prime Minister of T&T. Richardson resigned from the PNM and was subsequently murdered at his home in the suburbs of Port-of-Spain while putting out household garbage in a rubbish bin.
The murder of Richardson drew national outrage. Suspicion was directed to some supporters of Prime Minister Eric Williams who apparently were concerned about Richardson’s PNM political exposes. Some of us also see this killing of Richardson, which remains unsolved, as the first political murder in Trinidad and Tobago.
This is a season of heightened political activity, when the PP government is being targeted by a handful of PNM opposition MPs together with some media houses, trade-union activists and others opposed to Kamla’s government. It is useful to understand how the PNM, and more especially its founding Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, dealt with legitimate opposition.
History will show that not only legitimate political opposition was stifled but that the trade-union movement could not express its views.
Ancel Roget, president general of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union, is free to criticise the present administration, use the media to get across the views of his union and to appear on any platform with the PNM opposition. There is absolutely no fear of being targeted by the Government and its high-profile Minister of National Security Jack Warner.
But one of his predecessors, George Weekes, was not so fortunate under Eric Williams’ PNM government in 1970. Weekes, together with dozens of political activists, was rounded up and imprisoned on Nelson Island. They were denied their constitutional rights, which are enshrined in democratic T&T.
Basdeo Panday, who subsequently became Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, had to scamper in San Fernando when the police of Eric Williams charged a protesting number of workers from the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory workers Trade Union. Basdeo Panday was the union’s president general.
Even Raffique Shah, now a newspaper columnist and critic of the PP Government, was jailed for treason and tried by Williams’ PNM government. Shah was tried and set free by a special court. When Jack Warner cried out that there was political bias coming from certain media houses, he was accused of attempting to suppress free speech and press freedom.
But at no time did Warner, who is the Minister of National Security, attempt to do what Eric Williams and the PNM did in 1970. Over the last few days, we have noticed changes in the way some of the media houses now present their news. We find it more balanced.
The leader of the Opposition, Keith Rowley, is reported to have refused to speak to a newspaper that was seeking post-budget comments. The Leader of the Opposition did not subject himself to an interview with the Express newspaper. It was reported on October 2, and the headline read: “Rowley turns down Express interview.”
Mr Warner was condemned because he pointed out that one newspaper pretends that Trinidad and Tobago seems to be located North of the Caroni River. In its column headed “Today’s big question,” the overwhelming majority of headshots and comments were from people in Port-of-Spain, where the newspaper’s offices are located.
It is with pleasure we note in the same paper of October 2 that the headshots of the commentators came from Gasparillo, Reform, South Oropouche, Marabella, Princes Town, Port-of-Spain, Chaguanas, Morvant, Sangre Grande and San Juan.
The Maha Sabha is pleased that our media houses are responding to legitimate criticism rather than waiting for a minister or prime minister to react like one former PNM prime minister who invaded the newsroom of a radio station.
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