Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guest Commentary - Section 34, BOLT and fairness in the media - by Robin Montano

"Fools rush in", the song goes, "where angels fear to tread". Anybody who is foolish enough to be even perceived to be attacking the media is asking for trouble. The entire media establishment will come down heavily on the hapless fool who makes so bold as to launch even the mildest criticism of any section of the press, and will not listen or pay attention to his argument except to ridicule it in the strongest possible terms.

The unforced error of the patently incompetent Minister of Communication is a classic example of this. Mr. Mohammed's "crie de couer" about perceived unfairness in the way that the Express newspaper was reporting on his government was treated first as a terrible attack on press freedom and an attempt by the Government to intimidate the free press of Trinidad & Tobago. Then it was treated with (justly deserved) scorn.

Looking at it from the outside I must confess that I didn't get that impression (that the Government wanted to curb press freedom). In any case, let's face it: the Government couldn't even if it wanted to ... the checks and balances are too strong and our Judiciary is too independent for such a plan (if ever there was one) to succeed. 

The impression that I got was that the Minister is really is not as bright or as articulate as he ought to be (putting it as kindly as possible) and really does not understand either his role as Minister of Communication or the role of the media in a democracy. That is a pity, and the truth is that he deserves to be pilliored for his rather assinine letter as well as his subsequent statements.

But after we have all tarred and feathered Mr. Mohammed, we ought to take another look at his point and ask the question: is the media in general, and the Express in particular, biased against the Government and/or is the media and the Express in particular reporting and commenting unfairly on the Government.

Again, this is purely my personal view, but to be absolutely fair to Mr. Mohammed, I do feel that he has a point, even if he has stated it in a most inelegant manner. 

Dealing with the media in general first: I have noticed that there is very little comment or reporting on the BOLT affair. Now, if a matter ever required explanation it is this. And yet all the newspapers seem to have dropped it. 


The only explanation that seems to make sense is that the media do not WANT to report it because of bias. Now, I will readily agree that there may quite possibly be several other good explanations that would or could make sense ... I just can't think of them.

You see, when you contrast the media's treatment of the BOLT affair with that of the Section 34 matter you cannot help but notice the great difference. Almost everyday there is an article, report or commentary on Section 34. And the explanation given by the Prime Minister when she fired Mr. Volney has been swept aside and ignored. 

In one sentence the criticism of the Prime Minister's statement is that it didn't answer the fundamental question as to why Section 34 was proclaimed in the first place without the rest of the Bill.

I must have missed something, but I thought that the Prime Minister said in essence that the Minister of Justice (Volney) had brought the note to Cabinet for proclamation and that he had reported that both the Chief Justice as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions were on board with it. 

We know now that this was simply not true. But if I were in that Cabinet and my colleague had come with that note and had reported to me that the relevant stakeholders had agreed I would have trusted him and gone along with his request. I would have been wrong. Very wrong. But I must confess that I would have gone along ... and I believe that just about everybody else reading this post would have gone along as well.

But this is not good enough for the critics of the Government. I can understand that. If I were an opponent of the Government I too would be beating this matter everyday. But I don't understand what else a reasonable person could do. 

The guilty party was fired. That Mr. Volney clearly misled his Cabinet colleagues is clear. Indeed, he may even be guilty of misfeasance in public office, but that is another matter.

And the calls for the Attorney General to resign on the ground that he has overall responsibility for legal affairs in the country are disengenuous to say the least. 

Section 75 of the Constitution does mandate that the Attorney General will have control over the legal affiars of the Republic, BUT this section is subject to Section 79 which says that the President acting on the written advice of the Prime Minister can assign responsibility for ANYTHING to any Minister. 

In other words, a Prime Minister can take away any portion of an Attorney General's portfolio and give it to another minister. And that is what happened in this case!

So? What's going on?

But let's turn to the Express. In recent times we have been treated to prominently placed articles and headlines that seem to have the sole purpose of discrediting the Government. 

For example, recently the Express headlined that Carlos John, one of the accused persons supposedly benefitting from the proclamation of Section 34 bought a Mercedes Benz for his daughter with the licence number PBS 34. 

The clear inference of the headline was that Mr. John so loved the fact that Section 34 was getting him off a serious hook that he gave his daughter an extravagant gift that recorded his pleasure at the early proclamation. 

You had to read the article to see that Mr. John had in fact bought the car a long, long time ago ... long before Section 34 reared its head. And then there was the article in the Express that trumpeted the fact that Attorney General Ramlogan had bought two multi million dollar apartments shortly after he became Attorney General. 

The inference in the headline was clearly implying some sort of hanky panky on Mr. Ramlogan's part although the article did concede that lawyers do often get paid late and that Mr. Ramlogan did have a most successful and lucrative private practice.

I could go on, but you get the point: just as all that glisters is not gold, all that the press say about their integrity and intentions is also not necessarily true. What we really need in this country is a little more honesty ... on all sides!! And "all" must mean ALL!!

Read more of Robin's writings at THE RAG

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai