Friday, March 22, 2013

Commentary: Media must be fair and balanced

The Express newspaper appears to have taken upon itself the role of private investigator in an attempt to find some clear evidence against the son of Jack Warner so that perhaps it could use it advantageously against the National Security Minister and the PP government. 

It sent an investigative reporter to Miami to track down Warner's sons to ask if they are under investigation. 

The reporter, based on the story in the Express newspaper, turned up empty-handed. There was no smoking gun, so scandal beyond the manufactured crisis that has been swirling in the media and the Internet for a while and nothing compelling other than the fact that the paper may have done Warner a favour by clarifying some of the doubt that existed about his sons being under house arrest.

There is nothing wrong with a reporter or a news organisation chasing a story or even using the stunt described by journalist Mark Bassant to gain entry to the secure residence of the Warners. What is questionable is the highly speculative nature of the story and the innuendoes in it.

It is common knowledge that the Warners were wealthy long before the change of government in 2010, through investments in several businesses and real estate. 

It is not uncommon for millionaires to buy expensive real estate in Miami. Lawrence Duprey did it; Harry Harnarine did it and many others made similar investments. What Warner bought and for how much only draws attention to the assets and leaves readers to speculate that something might be wrong.

The paper has promised a part two. However, don't expect much more because if there had been something significant to report it would have appeared in the paper in the first story.

It really would have been very nice if the Express had shown such enthusiasm to track down others and get to the bottom of their stories - people like Calder Hart, for example. The paper knew where he lived and even published correspondence from him, almost as if Hart was using the Express for his personal public relations. The paper didn't bother to hunt down Hart and ask any probing questions.

Neither did the Express go after former Prime Minister Patrick Manning right at home to find out more about allegations with respect to that church project at the Heights of Aripo. 

Even the police felt it was not important to talk with Manning on that subject so although they were conducting an investigation about Manning and his former spiritual adviser, they didn't talk with the persons who were the subjects of the probe. At least that is what the DPP said in determining that he would not charge Manning or Rev. Juliana Pena.

There are so many other high profile matters that a good investigative journalist could be probing but the paper and others are fixated on Warner and members of the present administration. 

That is the right of the paper, I guess. Prominence is one of the guiding principles in defining what is a story and Warner has always been prominent even when he was a private citizen.

Scrutiny of public officials is a part of the deal you get in a democratic state where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution. And no matter who says otherwise the record shows that the present government does not and has never tried to deprive the media of that constitutional guarantee.

However it would be nice if all the media could show some more fairness, balance and truth in their reporting. After all, freedom carries with it a commitment to responsibility. Unfortunately we don't see that too often in the media in T&T these days. A content analysis would provide the evidence of that.

For example, what was the point of the Express story last weekend about the Rolls Royce that the Attorney General doesn't own? The report stated clearly that the vehicle was not the AG's, identified its owner and quoted the AG as saying that he had no interest in such a vehicle. Still the paper presented a speculative story, obviously to create doubt.

The same paper carried a story about a Range Rover owned by the Prime Minister. The story made it very clear that there was nothing extraordinary or unusual about that. Every MP is entitled to certain perks and the PM bought the vehicle with everything above board. Still the paper chose to run the story, which seemed to be prompted by malice.

No one at the Express bothered to ask Keith Rowley about the new BMW X6 that he owns - a vehicle that cost around the same as the Range Rover. Rowley no doubt purchased the vehicle using the same legitimate perks to which the PM was entitled. Why ask about the PM's car and not Rowley's? Or for that matter the new luxury Lexus that Orville London bought?

There are many other stories that would demonstrate the point. And it's not only the Express. The Guardian has been doing the same. 

You might recall the story the media ran some time ago about the government losing the case against a British company over the cancellation of the purchase of Offshore Patrol Boats (OPVs). It turned out the story was wrong and that the government had won; nobody ran a retraction or apology.

And do you remember the time both the Express and Guardian ran with breaking news that the PM had fired Prakash Ramadhar? Well we know how that turned out. The media reported rumour as fact, citing cabinet sources. Again, no apology. Someone one said the trouble with the media is they shout lies and whisper retractions. In T&T they don't even bother to whisper.

Media have a tremendous responsibility in a democracy. But it must be based on fairness, balance and truth - or at least the objective truth. Sadly, we are not seeing this today. Don't take my word for it. Do the analysis.

Jai Parasram

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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