Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Commentary: Media, messages and men; it's not always a fair game

There has been a lot of talk in recent times about media freedom, media responsibility and democracy. One of the things that strikes me about it is that some media have a clear bias that extends from their commentaries and editorials to reporting the daily news. 

While I have no problem with any media organisation having a bias based on the agenda of its owners and publishers, my view is that in order to be fair to the citizens in a free and democratic state media must deal with the news based on truth, fairness and balance. 

It's because free media have a critical role to play in keeping checks and balances on the governing system as well as other institutions and those who are the leaders in the society. By being truthful, fair and balanced media offer a service to the community they serve since people rely on what is presented in media to make decisions about their lives, including the politics of the day.

And while editorials and commentaries allow media leeway to take a clearly defined position, the ethics and conventions of journalism demand that information presented must be able to be corroborated and that anything attributed to persons or organisations is true. 

Anyone who does an anlaysis of the media in Trinidad and Tobago today would see a clear bias against the present administration and some of the current ministers. 

I'm not talking about fair criticism or taking the government to task. That's the media's role. Where the media have gone off course is when they get the stories wrong, when their investigations do not present anything except innuendoes and 'comesse', where commentaries are malicious and news contextualised according to a particular bias. What's even worse is when media refuse to accept when they are wrong and instead scream persecution and threats to media freedom.

Today we see a distinct double standard. For example columnist Mariano Browne writing in the Sunday Express lectures on political morality and leadership. Browne is a former Minister in the Manning administration that was voted out office in 2010.

Some emails I have received ask the simple question: "What morality does Mariano Browne have to be pontificating about leadership and morals?" 

Read his column: 

A compromised leader

And here is where the double standard comes into focus. The media - including the Express - have been on a witchhunt, trying to find some iota of evidence to hang the People's Partnership's Jack. But in spite of sending a reporter to hunt down Jack Warner's sons in Miami and revealations about FBI and IRS investigations there still is no smoking gun. (And we're not talking about all that went before.)

However, when Mariano Browne was clearly under investigation for alleged fraud Patrick Manning appointed him to cabinet in the finance ministry. And nobody demanded that he step aside during the investigation. 

Nobody lifted a finger, there were no daily demands for him to quit and Manning kept Browne in the finance ministry until the PNM met its Waterloo on May 24, 2010.

And from that day, Jack Warner became a target for the media. I don't think so much copy has been wasted on any politician in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. I say wasted because the intent has not been to present clear and unbiased news, but really to get Jack one way or another.

When the shoe was on the other foot not a damn dog bark. 
In case you are wondering what's the issue with Browne, it's easy to find it on the Internet. But here's a snapshot of what it was all about. 

In 2007, when Browne joined the Manning PNM cabinet the Barbados Free Press ran a story stating that as far back as 2004 Browne had been accused of fraud by his former Barbados-based employer. The report said Browne's employers alleged that he “breached his fiduciary duty” by: 

  • Making unathorised payments to himself and others
  • Purchasing an unauthorised car for a “senior staffer” Cheryll Drakes using the bank’s funds
  • Paying unauthorised and undocumented “bonuses” to himself and other staff
  • Removing and destroying a laptop computer with the bank’s business records on it
  • Activities euphemistically called “accounting irregularities”
Other companies and persons mentioned in a lawsuit against Browne, which was apparently concealed from the public domain for three years, included CL Financial, Andre Monteil, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Central Bank of Barbados. (And Manning put him in charge of T&T's finance along with a lawyer, Karen Nunez-Tesheira.)

The Express carried an excellent story with all the available information but beyond that there were no demands for Browne to be removed or to be investigated. It seemed that it was sufficient that Browne and his lawyer called it "a big misunderstanding". 

Fast forward to 2010 and beyond: Jack has also said there is nothing to investigate but he has become the anti-government whipping boy. That's how it works. Different strokes for different folks.

It's how media play games according to their agenda. And in the process they undermine a society because instead of giving citizens a true picture of reality on which they can act, the media present THEIR picture, even if it is false, unfair and unbalanced.

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