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Politician and journalist

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I have made no pretence since I began this column with the Sunday Guardian, of my political predisposition to the People’s National Movement and against the United National Congress or People’s Partnership administration.

And while I have had cause to criticise both the PNM and the UNC during the roughly two years that it has been going, I have always made it clear that I consider the present administration the most corrupt and incompetent in the country’s history. That is my view, supported by copious evidence now in the public domain. 

When I left the CCN TV6 newsroom in April 2003, I ceased using the title “working journalist.” I eventually accepted the fact that my decision to work in a PNM administration had branded me politically in a media environment which generally masquerades behind a false objectivity that is sometimes unmasked, as most recently, with the massive exodus from newsrooms following the May 2010 general election.

Star reporters were unveiled as having been nothing but part of the PP communications machinery during the election, which saw several media professionals joining the incoming administration. 

I had no involvement in or with the PNM before my decision to leave the media after receiving a surprise invitation from attorney general Glenda Morean-Phillips. 

Since then, I have ceased referring to myself as a journalist. I stopped attending meetings of the Media Association of T&T (MATT), although I was a former president. And when I took over the TnT Mirror for one year, I always emphasised my role as CEO rather than any editorial responsibility, although that could not be avoided in an organisation with limited resources such as the Mirror. 

I have always been proud of my career in journalism and it has been responsible for making me the person that I am today, but I have also been careful not to confuse my political activity with journalism since 2003. Not even MATT, however, in which membership is now open to columnists, bloggers, and itinerant peddlers of information, is discriminating about who or what is a journalist. 

So despite my own reservations, I have accepted the journalist label, although, in a recent appearance on CNC3 discussing media issues, I stated my preference for being called a politician as being more apt.

Despite this, it appears that my selection as a prospective candidate for the La Horquetta/Talparo Constituency for the PNM in the general election due next year has thrown the United National Congress into such a tizzy that they immediately launched an online campaign to silence both Clarence Rambharat and me from writing for the daily newspapers. 

The UNC, whose history includes plucking both Harry Partap and Gideon Hanoomansingh from reporting “objectively” on their election campaigns one day and being election bombshell candidates the next, without as much as a by-your-leave to their employers, is no stranger to that kind of hypocrisy. 

And even as it continues to employ dozens of journalists, even the fake ones masquerading in the Voice newspaper while being paid for doing government jobs, it has the gall to demand an outdated puritanical journalism from media owners. 

In more developed societies, George Stephanopoulos, for example, could move from the Clinton White House to ABC news anchor without raising eyebrows, and op-ed columns by politicians are not just welcomed but seen as an important part of giving readers access to a wide variety of opinions.

The fact that you are reading this column today means we are slowly getting there, but no one should underestimate the power of an unscrupulous government, especially one as hypocritical and dishonest as the present administration. 

I had totally expected the UNC move, but was pleasantly surprised by the prompt rejection by the group of editors-in-chief who met last Thursday in a previously scheduled training programme and rejected out of hand, the attempt by the UNC/PP not only to dictate their editorial content but to bully the media with dark threats to their bottom lines. 

From experience, however, I know that the journalistic instinct does not always square with commercial obligations, but more and more local news organisations, including the T&T Guardian, are beginning to recognise the symbiotic relationship that needs to exist between both. In the meantime, I intend to continue writing this column as long as the T&T Guardian is inclined to publish. 

I have made a long transition from April 2003 to now (upwards of 11 years) between reporting on political activity to actually running for office. It is a transition that has seen me go from reporting on a problem to commenting on it, and now to actually trying to do something about it. 

Locally, in the field of journalism, I am not by any means treading new ground. I have several distinguished predecessors, some of whom have even returned to the media. 

Still, I understand the reasoning behind the PP’s campaign to silence both Rambharat and myself. Intimidation and manipulation of the media are an important part of their campaign and I expect it to get worse as their poll numbers deteriorate in time to come. This is not the first time that my writing has brought me into their crosshairs. 

While I have no objection to being referred to as a journalist, as is being done in their most recent campaign, given the recent polls of the marginal constituencies, I suspect it is the politician they are more concerned about. 

• Maxie Cuffie is the prospective PNM candidate for the La Horquetta/Talparo constituency.


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