Sunday, November 11, 2012

Commentary: Media must report with accuracy and fairness

Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan
They say elections in Trinidad & Tobago usher in "silly season" and if what I am reading in the Guardian newspaper about the Congress of the People (COP) planning to run candidates in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election is true, then this goes way past silly and borders on the idiotic.

But it seems the Guardian headline and the story it reported are not the same. "COP looking to win seats in Tobago polls" is the headline.

Here is the lead paragraph:
The Congress of the People (COP) is looking to gain a political foothold in Tobago by contesting seats in the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections. That hint was given by newly-elected COP chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan. “We intend to discuss with our partners the role of the COP in the THA,” she said on Tuesday.

That headline and opening sentence caught my attention and my initial reaction was that COP was acting irrationally and only helping the PNM by splitting the opposition vote. But then I read the second sentence and  discovered that COP didn't say anything about contesting the THA election or looking to gain any "foothold" in Tobago.

In fact the first and second line contradict each other. The first is declarative statement that the COP will be contesting the election. The second says it is only a "hint" and it turns out the "hint" was not substantiated in the story. 

That was an interpretation of the paper - the reporter, the editor and the person who wrote the headline. The opening line, I disovered, didn't match what Seepersad-Bachan is quoted as saying: “We intend to discuss with our partners the role of the COP in the THA.”

After a paragraph of background on the THA election, the story shifts to the Local Government Election, which is due in 2013 as well. The Guardian then quoted the COP chairperson as saying, "the COP was already on record as saying it would contest the local government elections constitutionally due by July next year...

“We are advocating for more seats but I have only been in office for the past nine days. I am still to get an update on where we have reached with the planning for the local government election. I don’t know if that discussion took place with the previous chairman and the various parties.”

Those two paragraphs are about another election, not Tobago. And it has no new information. COP contested seats in the 2010 local election as part of the People's Partnership coalition and has always said it would contest in 2013 and seek to widen its representation in local government.

Then the Guardian story said this: "Seepersad-Bachan said the focus now is on the THA elections as the TOP already had embarked on its screening process." Who is screening? TOP, not COP. The rest is about Orville London, the chief secretary of the THA.

All this leaves me to wonder how the Guardian concluded that COP is looking to win seats in Tobago. There are two points the Guardian noted from Seepersad-Bachan about Tobago:
  1. “We intend to discuss with our partners the role of the COP in the THA.”
  2. "the focus now is on the THA elections as the TOP already had embarked on its screening process." 
Nothing in these two statements even remotely suggest that COP is planning to run candidates but the Guardian makes this assumption and states it as fact.

TOP is a member of the People's Partnership as are COP, the UNC and NJAC. What the lady said is that COP would discuss its role in the THA. 

That role could be any one of a series of ways in which the party could help its coalition partner - funding, assisting in developing strategy, communication, advertising, logistics, walkabouts - all the things that make an election campaign.

And the other quote is not even close to a hint about running COP candidates. It says the focus is now on the THA elections and TOP is screening candidates. That's a clear unambiguous statement. How does that translate into COP running candidates or that it is looking to get a foothold in Tobago?

The effect of this is that we now have people talking about COP trying to undermine the partnership by running candidates in Tobago; the PNM is all excited and keeping it as a talking point on its social media and the chairperson of COP - and the leader - are most likely wondering where did all this misinformation originate?

Every day we have the media complaining about being under threat but we continue to see stories like this that have a sensational headline without the facts to back up the lead. That is not only unfair to the parties concerned but it is downright irresponsible and it is bad journalism.

Media have a constitutional protection to operate freely in Trinidad & Tobago and they do. There is a reason for that - to keep the system in check, to report without fear or favour so that citizens could make decisions about issues affecting their lives. They are expected to be fair and balanced and to tell the truth.

The media are supposed to protect our freedom. But are they doing that? A priest - Father Clyde Harvey - told us the other day, "There can be no freedom without responsibility, no equality without justice and no community without respect."

We need to start paying attention!

Jai Parasram - 09 November 2012 

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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