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Fourth estate and fifth columnists
It is now becoming increasingly obvious that the fourth estate, a role ascribed to the media as a check on the arms of government, is being increasingly seen by the PP administration as a fifth column, a clandestine group aimed at undermining the work of the administration.
It is not just that the media are doing their jobs, as they have always done. In the words of Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed, their roles are more insidious: “It is clear to me that there is a specific agenda to discredit Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and members of her Government.
Since May 2010, I have seen for myself a deliberate and targeted barrage of accusations and misrepresentations about the People’s Partnership as if there is an ultimate objective to make the Government fall.”
And Mohammed is right about the effect of the media’s work on the PP administration. While under the previous administration the media seemed to follow up with piercing investigations after parliamentary exposes when the UNC was in opposition, the media have been in the lead in exposing the corruption and nepotism that have become identified with the current regime. And that is as it should be.
Where Mohammed is wrong, however, is in his belief this is being done on behalf of the PNM. What the Government’s supporters seem unable to grasp is that the media, as they very much did under Patrick Manning, are reflecting a great disillusionment and loss of faith in the administration of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Both leading lights of the University of the West Indies Department of Government, Prof Emeritus Dr Selwyn Ryan and Dr Hamid Ghany, have flirted with the question of the PM’s unravelling administration but have stopped short at calling it what it is.
Last week, Prof Ryan, who had been quite vociferous in denying that he was experiencing buyer’s remorse after an enthusiastic embrace of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, said: “Kamla’s political ‘errors’ so far have been many and it started with Reshmi and Jack. Neither were (sic) inevitable. Hers however, is not a challenge of vision or political will. It seems that she is faced with too many tasks which cannot be undertaken simultaneously.”
More equivocal, appearing in the space above, Dr Ghany said cryptically, and without calling names, that: “The energies and skills that it took to win the election of 2010 are not the energies and skills that are required to govern this country.”
The PM has been quite adept at seeming to hold her grand coalition together, even when, from all accounts, the country is falling apart. Ghany, like the PM herself, is placing great credence on holding a group of self-styled leaders together, while the masses, whom they once led, are departing in droves.
While NJAC long ceased to have a following, the COP has boiled down to a handful of supporters and would be hard-pressed to identify a membership outside of those feeding ravenously at the public trough. The TOP appears to be spinning in mud, on the eve of the THA elections that will be as much a test of the attractiveness of the coalition as it is of the PNM.
There have never been any doubts about the PM’s charms or about her desire to “serve the people.” Her concern for sick children and the creation of the Children’s Life Fund are testimony to a caring personality and a dividend from the election of the country’s first female Prime Minister.
But despite an overwhelming mandate which spanned the ethnic divide, after two and a half years Persad-Bissessar now finds herself increasingly restricted to the rent-a-crowd of the PP pre-budget rally and hiding from the media, which had, prior to her election, failed to ask the hard question as it became enamoured with what was then being described as “Kamlamania.”
It’s difficult for journalists to avoid being swept away by the moment when the national community seizes on a mood. It is not peculiar to T&T, as anyone who followed the 2008 US election can attest, and Kamlamania was never destined to last.
With protests on several fronts, a leader elected with one of the largest mandates in the country’s history is leading an administration which is finding it difficult to handle the huge swing in the national mood.
The Prime Minister herself, in addressing a recent party fund-raiser, had the equivalent of a Mitt Romney 47 per cent moment, when she blamed the Government’s inability to produce on a “resistance to change” among the fifth columnists identified in several ministries and the media.
“When you pick up a newspaper, when you look at the TV, when you see the naysayers, remember my words to you, ‘resistance to change,’” the PM was quoted as saying. So, far from going off on a frolic of his own, Mohammed was simply giving articulation to the siege mentality now afflicting members of the Government.
His use of a self-denigrating and derogatory racial epithet is also reflective of the racial hang-ups that are the retreat of the Government as it succumbs to the pressure of the public’s undiminished expectations.
Members of the media can prepare for its getting worse, as we go along.
Maxie Cuffie runs a media consultancy, Integrated Media Company Ltd, is an economics graduate of the UWI and holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management.
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