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Warner under fire for attack on journalists
National Security Minister Jack Warner has been condemned in various quarters for his verbal attack on the media. Warner, chairman of the United National Congress (UNC), on Wednesday warned that all journalists with “an axe to grind” against the Government should first be beyond reproach themselves.
“If you are going to attempt to expose people then be above reproach,” Warner said, adding he was noticing a “most deceitful” trend where reporters used their positions to “push an agenda” and felt the media were “compliant” with the Opposition People’s National Movement.
In response yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said, “If Mr Warner was not a government minister then we wouldn’t have this problem, and in his capacity as national Security Minister and acting Prime Minister it should be cause of great concern to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.” Faris Al-Rawi, PNM senator and attorney, who also expressed concern, added that he was “horrified” by Warner's statements.
The National Security Minister expressed similar statements when he appeared on Wednesday on a television programme titled Democracy is Alive. “We are headed down a very unfortunate path and we have to be very careful..We have to be vigilant in calling for measures and restraint from public officials and ever so vigilant to uphold our constitutional rights," Al-Rawi added.
He said, however, Warner as a private citizen had every right to make his comments but should exercise greater caution as a senior public official. Criticising Warner's comments, senior broadcast journalist Dale Enoch described them as “nasty.” “It was downright nasty and unnecessary...Once again Mr Warner is being true to his form politically,” Enoch said. He added that journalists were simply doing their jobs by exposing “error after error” the People's Partnership Government had made.
But Enoch said he believed though Warner's statements were unfortunate, they were not a threat to the media. Senior political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said Warner's comments were acceptable in the context that any government minister was entitled to critique the media.
AG: PNM bias in media
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, weighing in on the issue yesterday, urged the media to do some self-analysis and claimed they were biased in favour of the PNM. Ramlogan said a former head of the “PNM-led” Government Information Services Ltd, Maxie Cuffie, was now returning as a columnist with the Guardian newspaper. He also claimed that all the columnists in the Express “never had anything good to say about the Government.”
“In the Express they had a poll where they put the views of people, but they can’t seem to move past Grand Bazaar...they seem to be anchored in Port-of-Spain,” he said. “This Port-of-Spain-centric approach to getting the views which do not reflect the potpourri of T&T is something we must be concerned about.” He said he was not criticising the media but was merely making an observation.
“I see the return of Maxie Cuffie being advertised. He was the adviser for (PNM Attorney General) John Jeremie, a known PNM supporter, and he is now returning as a columnist with the Guardian,” Ramlogan lamented. “Not a single columnist in Express has had one positive line to write about Government. That kind of imbalance is something that calls for self-analysis and self-introspection by the media itself. The media has a responsibility to reflect on the views of society on which it thrives and seeks to represent democracy,” Ramlogan added.
In response to Ramlogan’s comments, Judy Raymond, editor-in-chief of the T&T Guardian, said having one columnist with known PNM sympathies hardly constituted evidence that the paper was “biased.” Cuffie was brought on board on the basis of his journalistic experience and ability, she said. In any case, other columnists already with the paper were known to have differing political inclinations, she added, in keeping with the T&T Guardian’s policy of reflecting a range of opinions.
Contacted yesterday, Cuffie said he was “concerned that journalists and columnists are now increasingly coming under personal attack for exercising their constitutional right to report and comments on the news of the day, as they have always done. “To make matters worse, these attacks have been coming, in various media, from self-professed supporters of the AG,” he said.
“The AG must remember that he is, legally, the guardian of the public interest and should act accordingly to protect the constitutional rights of all journalists. It is highly unfortunate that the AG, who was masquerading as a champion of the free press just two and a half years ago, a role which catapulted him into high office, should have so quickly fallen out of love with the media. And by his account, the feelings appear to be mutual.
He noted: “Columnists across the media represent all political persuasions,” adding: “If, as he says, they are now anti-PP government, he should do some introspection as to why this is so. “As someone who has spent my entire working career in the media, I can tell him that attacking the media has always been a losing political strategy,” Cuffie warned.
Cuffie’s column begins in tomorrow’s Sunday Guardian. Contacted yesterday, Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder said she had no comment to make on Ramlogan’s statements.
Media Association condemns smear campaigns
A statement issued by the Media Association condemned what it described as the ongoing smear campaigns targeting investigative journalists. The association said these journalists had been conducting legitimate investigations and now found themselves the target of anonymous e-mails circulating on the Internet as well as public attacks on television by senior politicians.
“Personal attacks in response to news reports are not a valid or acceptable means of discrediting the information unearthed by journalists who are simply doing their jobs,” then statement said. “There are various channels available, including legal ones, through which public figures may obtain redress if inaccurate information about them is carried in the media.”
The organisation added that it was supportive of all discussions on public issues, including new and electronic media. “However, it is vital that politicians and moderators of online forums recognise that when clearly politically biased posts or public utterances attack journalists with unsubstantiated and potentially defamatory personal claims, there may be unfortunate consequences,” it said.
It added that the people and organisations who carried out or transmit these attacks may open themselves up to legal proceedings. “The larger and more disturbing consequences is that such misguided campaigns against journalists may lead to self-censorship, which is corrosive to transparency in public life,” the association said. MATT said MPs and party officials should deter their followers, both in private and public, from engaging in unwarranted attacks on journalists.
“If this trend is not rapidly checked, the association fears a trend of personal and public attacks against journalists will eventually weaken the ability of the media to report fearlessly, undermine the functioning of the media—which is fundamental to all democracies-and ultimately weaken the rights of all citizens.” Also issuing a statement of condemnation was the group Fixin' T&T, which it described Warner’s statements as malicious, dangerous and disrespectful.
In 2010, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley charged the media with collaborating with the Government to fool citizens. Rowley and Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds came to that conclusion while addressing a public meeting at Piggotts Corner in Belmont.
As they took turns in analysing the motive behind the decision of several media practitioners to accept job offers from the People’s Partnership Government, Rowley said the Government’s intention behind the hiring of media personnel was to help spread propaganda. “The thing is they (People's Partnership Government) take you for a bunch of fools. The believe that the people of Trinidad and Tobago is stupid,” he said.
“And they believe they can think up anything and you would believe their foolishness and that is why they hired the whole leadership of the media corps...to get them to assist the Government to fool people and influence the media.” Hinds, who also addressed the crowd, said, “I have noticed that certain senior members of the journalistic profession have suddenly gone for a food elsewhere.”
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