Thursday, January 31, 2013

AG sets the record straight on media responsibility



The Editor,
Trinidad Express Newspapers:

Re: Trinidad Express Editorial of January 25th 2013

The right to freedom of the press is inextricably accompanied by the responsibility to check the facts and publish the truth. Therefore, media commentary which is based on untruth or falsehood cannot be fair: it misleads the reader by subliminally focusing their attention on the opinion of the writer without their realizing that the underlying assumption is fundamentally flawed. 

Such a strategy or tactic is dangerous and constitutes a serious misuse and abuse of press freedom as it can cause much damage to one's character and reputation.

Your Friday editorial stated that "UNC chairman Jack Warner and UNC Senator Anand Ramlogan have attributed the rout of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) to racism and nothing but racism. 

The fact that, a mere 32 months ago, Tobagonians voted decisively for a coalition whose main leaders were Indo-Trinidadians makes no difference to Messrs Warner's and Ramlogan's stated belief that most Tobagonians are racially biased.”

Curiously, the TV 6 People Meter Poll of the same date posed a question that mirrored the tenor of your Friday editorial, to wit: “Do you agree with Jack Warner’s view that tribal instincts influenced the outcome of the THA election?”

Having laid this false foundation, your editorial went on to criticize and condemn the statements that were allegedly uttered. I have never, however, made any such statement. 

I gave a lengthy interview to the media at the Hall of Justice on Wednesday and condemned the PNM for running a racial campaign. This question was specifically posed and I replied by expressing the hope that race had precious little to do with the eventual result and asked that we bear in mind the words of our national anthem. 

At no time did I say that the election result in Tobago was due to race and I challenge you or anyone else to prove otherwise. I condemned the PNM for the door-to-door campaign that instilled fear of an "Indian invasion", but tried to pour water on the inflammatory racial fire that was lit by the provocative racist remarks made by Hilton Sandy. I also bemoaned the fact that he was retained as a candidate by the PNM despite his obnoxious statements.

Since my appointment as Attorney General, I have deliberately steered clear of racial issues because my legal crusade as an Attorney to right the discriminatory wrongs of the past taught me that there are many in our society who refuse to acknowledge the reality of PNM discrimination and victimization.

Many continue to defend the indefensible and remain ensconced in their intellectual cocoon instead of confronting the ugly social reality. They find it easier to attack the messenger and try to paint him into a racial corner. Even today, the media promotes the idea that the government is guilty of ethnic stocking without any political comparative analysis to substantiate the baseless allegation. Had the media cared to check, it would have realized that there is far more diversity under this administration than ever before.

Many tried to tar me with the racial brush because I have sought to prove that discrimination existed and flourished under the PNM. Apparently, these are not things that one should talk about, far less challenge, and anyone who dares so to do must be taught a lesson: he will be dubbed a racist by those who are a by-product of the very inequitable system that facilitated their upward social mobility. This is an old tactic; hence, one of the first things Dr Rowley did in the Parliament was falsely accuse me of making racist statements during a visit to the New York Mission. 

He took over year to withdraw the statement and apologise, even though I produced my passport to prove that I had never visited New York.

That the PNM ran a racist campaign in Tobago is obvious. Had a UNC candidate publicly told citizens that a vote for the PNM would result in the SS Congo setting sail from Nigeria I hardly think the media would be so enthusiastic to 'forgive and forget and move on'. (I think the vilification and condemnation would have been far more sustained and intense.) Instead, Rowley is praised for doing the right thing by demoting Sandy, despite his (Rowley’s) refusal to remove him as a candidate.

The conspicuous insertion of Rohan Sinanan, Franklyn Khan and Nafeesa Mohammed next to Orville London during his victory speech (so that they will appear in the TV frame) and the sudden presentation of an award to PNM supporter Kalawatee Rampersad by Dr Rowley cannot erase the fact that Rowley applauded Sandy and bluntly refused to revoke his candidacy.

During my legal career, I fought for the rights of many people from all walks of life and all racial backgrounds. My legal crusade for equality of treatment was portrayed by the media and viewed by some through a racial telescope. Eventually, it grudgingly won the respect and heart of many and resulted in my being awarded the Express Individual of the Year in 2004.

It is an unfortunate but ominous coincidence that your newspaper and sister TV station misled the public on such a delicate and sensitive matter. 

None of the other newspapers and television stations carried similar stories because they probably took care to listen to what I said and verify the facts. Far from being some sort of malicious, grand conspiracy against me, I think it was a simple case of unconscious bias. I trust that you will publish my response in the interest of fairness and accuracy.


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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