Saturday, January 25, 2014

Commentary: Politicians and the media: a relationship of convenience

Keith Rowley is right. The Panday administration was hostile to the media and was opposed to Barbadian journalist Julian Rogers who had an obvious bias against the government.

Panday even pushed the Guardian to fire Jones P. Madeira for writing a commentary titled "Chutney Rising". And Panday faced legal action and had to pay compensation to Ken Gordon.

But the bill before the Parliament that the PNM is not supporting has nothing to do with Panday or the Panday administration. The present government includes the UNC but the party is no longer led by or influenced by Panday and it is trying to give media greater freedom.

So while the opposition leader is accurate with his historical facts, raising them is irrelevant because Panday is nowhere in the picture.

What this government, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is doing is giving greater protection for the media to do their job. And the issue is not who had a love-hate relationship with the media more than a decade ago, it is who is protecting the media today.

The government has kept its promise to remove criminal libel from Libel and Defamation Act, which means that libel would no longer carry a prison sentence or criminal record. However the Act would still make it an offence for publication or broadcast of libel or slander if the reporter or media knowingly commit the offence.

The amendment protects the media while at the same time reiterates the need for responsible journalism.

The PNM claims it is supportive of a free media but at the same time it opposes the amendment. So the question is WHY?

One PNM member said it is "dangerous" to do it and suggested that the Act should be retained. The compromise he offered is to take out the prison component.

The records would show that the PNM has a history of hostility to the media and it would seem that the reason they want to leave the act as it is is simply because it is a gun to the media's head. It sends a message that they could "deal with you" if necessary.

Remember it was Colm Imbert who called on PNMites to "deal with TV6" for its reporting during the 2010 general election. That led to the PNM-friendly media house filing a complaint to the police.

Tim Gopeesingh raised other instances of PNM hostility saying the Manning administration had used state intimidation against the media, citing examples from the way the government reacted to reporting by the Newsday newspaper. 

Some of what Gopeesingh raised are facts that are easily verifiable: 
  • An attack on Suzanne Mills for writing a column that was critical of Manning's move to take Parliament out of the Red House
  • Denying Newsday access to a media conference during the Summit of the Americas in 2009
  • Banning reporter Andre Bagoo from the Parliament; assaulting Bagoo
  • Hauling Newsday editor-in-chief Therese Mills before Parliament’s Privileges Committee
There are other instances such as the time Manning rushed from San Fernando to Port of Spain with his full security detail to personally make a complaint at a radio station about a broadcast by two on-air commentators. When Manning faced criticism from people like media icon Ken Gordon for what was a clear act of intimidation against the media Manning boldly stated that he would do it again "if the spirit moves me".

Then there was the incident of threatening reporters who went to do a story on the church at the heights of Guanapo. 

The present government is also on record as being critical of the media. When the Guardian fabricated a story about a cabinet minister, including quotes from the minister, it faced a barrage of criticism. And at a political meeting the prime minister also spoke of the need for media to contain their "rouge" reporters.

The fact is every government would like to have media advance their agenda and in Trinidad and Tobago there is a fair amount of biased reporting.

Still the present government is determined to give the media its due and ensure that it creates an environment where all media could operate freely without fear of victimisation or intimidation. At the same time it is protecting the public.

The PM is on record as praising the media for keeping the government on its toes and has also recognised the media as the guardians of democracy. And she is walking the talk by pushing this amendment.

The PNM, as an alternative government, is missing the boat on this issue. Instead of acting responsibly and supporting a free media it wants to keep a mechanishm to keep the media in check.

That is something the media needs to note because the signal is that although some media would love nothing better than to see a PNM government back in office the PNM is not a friend of the media. And it is nothing new. The party's founder burned the Guardian in Woodford Square because he felt the paper's coverage caused his party to lose the federal election in 1958. George Chambers called on supporters to attack a television crew that was prevented from covering a PNM political meeting in 1986.

The PNM's behaviour in parliament on this bill makes it very clear that the party wants to keep media on a short leash. The records show that Rowley lied when he said when the PNM is in power, anybody could say or do anything.

Jai parasram - 25 Jan. 2014

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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