MEDIA INTEGRITY


THE TIMELINE OF EVENTS UP TO THIS TIME

Friday December 30, 2011

12:52 pm – 1,425 word column submitted. Article was intended for publication in Business Guardian of Thursday 5 January, 2012.

2:59 pm – Wilson emails “…Afra this column is not up to your usual standard…” with notes for my review.

7:24 pm – Copy submitted to my webmaster and Barbados Free Press for their publication.

Saturday December 31, 2011

12:11 pm – Final text agreed with Wilson.

4:18 pm – Wilson emails me to say that he has had legal advice that my column is defamatory.  I reply that the attorney ought to have been told that all of Wilson’s queries had been satisfied.

Sunday January 1, 2012

12:02 pm – Wilson replies to say that the attorney had suggested that Nunez-Tesheira be given sight of my column (that was later contradicted by Wilson’s post of Thursday 5 January at 4:41 pm on Judy Raymond’s Facebook Wall – “…the subject of the article has not been asked to comment on the allegations. I think at the very least in order to fall within Reynolds, a comment should be procured…”  That advice could never be the same thing as sending my entire column for comment.)  Wilson sent my column to Nunez-Tesheira and emails me to say that she had found “that the piece was defamatory of her, that it lacked balance and that it contained several errors of fact and critical omissions…

3:17 pm – I reply that “…KNT’s claim that the column is defamatory comes as no surprise, so I frankly attach no weight to it.  What is surprising to me is that you shared this column with the person who was its subject.  That seems to be taking this into unprecedented territory.

I answered all the queries you directed to me, Tony.  Your concerns on the question of defamation were directed to your attorneys and I do think that it would have been important to brief the attorney that your factual concerns were satisfied.

This CL Financial matter continues to cast a long shadow…

4:17 pm – Wilson replies, opening his email with the statement that “It is by no means unprecedented territory…”.

Tuesday January 3, 2012

1:25 pm – I follow-up, by emailing “…Given that you showed my column to Karen Nunez-Tesheira, without my prior knowledge or consent, I am interested in whether you would be prepared to share her comments with me…the actual text of those, please, not a condensed or edited version…as you know, Primary Sources are most important.

I am also curious as to when it was sent to KNT and also the contents of the legal advice on which you are relying…I am taking my own advice at this time…

2:53 pm – My attorney emails his advice that, apart from one phrase – which I removed – ‘…the Article does not contain defamatory material…”.

3:59 pm – Wilson emails to say that Nunez-Tesheira did not give written comments.

4:43 pm – I email my legal advice toWilson, with a request to see the advice on which he is relying.

8:00 pm – Wilson & I speak on the ‘phone, during which I tell him that the article is already on BFP, which he did not know before.

Wednesday  January 4, 2012

3:18pm – I email my resignation to Wilson.

4:32pm – Wilson emails the legal advice on which he was relying.

6:13pm – AfraRaymond.com publishes the article ‘Swearing an Oath’ in conformity with our legal advice.

For those who are only now joining the story, this is a summary of what I feel are the vital issues here.  My commentary column on the former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, was sent to her for comment by the Guardian’s Acting Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Wilson.  That is a completely improper action, which is a breach of basic media ethics.  When I challenged that action as being surprising and unprecedented, Wilson responded that “…It is by no means unprecedented territory…”.  At which point I resigned as a Guardian columnist and this broad discussion started.

This is the opening paragraph of  Anthony Wilson’s seventh comment on Franka Phillip’s post on Judy Raymond’s Facebook Wall on Friday 6 January 2012 at 12:04 pm –

…In response to Mr Raymond’s comment, let me say that I have NEVER before sent any commentary to any politician or anyone else, apart from our attorneys, for pre-publication vetting. I say that without fear of contradiction and also state that that is NOT the newspaper’s policy or practice. (For Mr Raymond to pursue this point after this denial would simply be compounding the defamation.)…

Quite apart from the unnecessary legal threats, since it was never my intention to defame anyone, we are being told that this was a one-off decision to send my entire column for vetting.

Two questions arise –

  1. Firstly, why did Wilson seek to tell me, in relation to his decision, that “…It is by no means unprecedented territory…”?
  2. Secondly, if we accept that his reversal is now the true state of things, there is another issue.  Why was this exceptional consideration shown to the former Minister of Finance?

That is the ‘sole and only issue’.

The three alibis that Wilson has been using on the internet need to be set aside at once –

  1. The attorney told me to do it – According to Wilson’s post of Thursday 5 January 2012 at 4:41 pm on Judy Raymond’s Facebook Wall, the Guardian’s attorney’s advice on this question was – “…the subject of the article has not been asked to comment on the allegations. I think at the very least in order to fall within Reynolds, a comment should be procured…”  That advice could never be the same thing as sending my entire column.
  1. The article was published before by Barbados Free Press (BFP) – My article was published by BFP on Friday 30 December 2011, but the first point is that when we spoke on the evening of 3 January 2012, Wilson told me that he did not know it had been published.  Also, even if Karen Nunez-Tesheira saw the BFP posting as soon as it was published, how does that explain Wilson’s decision to send it to her for comment before making his own decision?
  1. I thought it was entirely defamatory so I showed it to the subject – Wilson, from his post on Judy Raymond’s Facebook Wall at about 1:00 pm on Friday 6 January 2012– “…I sent the entire commentary to Ms Tesheira because I formed the view that the entire commentary, from its proposed headline to the last sentence, was defamatory…” So, if Wilson had already decided it was defamatory, why did Karen Nunez-Tesheira need to see the column? Why did Wilson send it to her?

Please note that at no point has Wilson admitted to doing anything wrong or breaking any principles or proper editorial policy.  He started-off by trying to tell me that his decision is nothing unusual, then that course of action went sour when BFP put the only logical meaning to the Guardian’s position.  So his first post to BFP (January 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm) was to threaten action for defamation, problem being that the BFP article was based on his words, so that was a dead-end.  Next move, Wilson reverses his position by stating that this was a one-off decision and threatening legal action for defamation, again, if I continue.

Wilson has reversed his course with no admission of error or wrong-doing or anything being out-of-order at all.

Sad to say, it is reminding me of CJ Archie and Justice Kangaloo returning their ‘Silks’ to the President, while being careful to point-out that they are not guilty of any error or wrongdoing, going further to confirm that their actions are not intended to be critical of either the Administration or the President.  To my eye, the parallels are powerful.

In addition to finding out why Wilson took that decision to send my column to Karen Nunez-Tesheira, there is another question.  Given that Wilson is its Acting Editor-in-Chief and he has not accepted that he did anything out-of-order, I feel entitled to ask what is the position in going forward?  Has the integrity of the Guardian been compromised by this unusual accommodation offered to a politician?  After all, their Acting Editor-in-Chief does not appear to see that decision as being anything improper.

Well yes, I never imagined that the occasion would arise for me to quote Karl Hudson-Phillips with approval, but here goes…new times bring new issues, which demand new responses.  I tell you.

From the leading story of the Express of Saturday 6 January 2012 about the CJ & Justice Kangaloo returning their silks – Hudson-Phillips is criticising the CJ for his first Press Release on the issue:

…an alarming lack of understanding of what is thought to be a very important institution in Trinidad and Tobago under his purview. His release can be considered a perverse avoidance of a serious issue. The sole and only issue is that sitting judges should not apply for and accept silk…

In my view that powerful statement is relevant to this discussion on the decision by the Guardian acting Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Wilson, to send my entire column on Karen Nunez-Tesheira to her for comment. Here is my version, paraphrasing Hudson-Phillips –

…Wilson shows an alarming lack of understanding of what is thought to be a very important institution in Trinidad and Tobago under his purview (the T&T Guardian). His postings on the internet in relation to this issue can be considered a perverse avoidance of a serious issue. The sole and only issue is that Editors should not send entire columns to the subjects for their comment…

An additional level of perversity intrudes here when one considers the fine Guardian editorial of Thursday 5 January 2012 on the broad matter of quality in our society and its implications for the ‘Silk controversy’.

Given the history of this aspect of the media, my view is that we need to be vigilant in this matter, since it is reminding me of the earlier situations involving Aldwyn Chow, Jones P Madeira et al  in February-May 1996 with the media having to face-down over-ambitious politicians and public figures.  We need to guard against the perils of self-censorship.

As I said, in the closing part of my resignation email –

As far as I am concerned, this is a vital issue, hence my spending this amount of my limited time and energy on it.  An independent, high-quality, courageous and honest media is essential to the advancement of our country.  That conviction has been at the centre of my work with The Guardian and I am thankful for the opportunity to have had my views published in those pages.

The enduring questions are how do we speak truth to power and more to the point, how can we be honest with ourselves.


Endnotes

  1. Under the terms of my contract as a Commentator with Guardian Media Limited, the copyright of the work is mine.
  2. Franka Philip’s post on Judy Raymond’s Facebook Wall, and subsequent commentary is the source of many quotes in this article. The link for Facebook members/friends is https://www.facebook.com/heyjudes/posts/304560422918876. Included in the other commentators were editors, former editors and journalists from the Guardian and Trinidad Express newspapers–Maxie Cuffy, Judy Raymond, Franka Philip, Atillah Springer, Kevan Gibbs, Rhoda Bharath–who lend a sense of probity and specific knowledge that I, as a columnist, have not acquired as yet.
  3. An interesting  thesis required for a MA in Mass  Commission was discovered online by a friend researching the earlier incident with the Guardian and its editors Alwin Chow, Jones P Madeira, et al. Entitled “TRYING TO GO IT ALONE AND FAILING IN AN AUTHORITARIAN DEVELOPING STATE: A CASE STUDY OF THE INDEPENDENT IN TRINIDAD” by Cassandra D. Cruickshank (December 2005). It studies the fate of an independent newspaper in a  “pseudo-democratic state” and the lessons learnt from that experience that can be applied by today’s media houses. http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0012001/cruickshank_c.pdf
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15 thoughts on “MEDIA INTEGRITY

  1. I followed your blog and then followed the posts on Judy’s wall. There are a couple things Mr Wilson said that caused my eyebrows to quirk. At one point he implied that it was your use of 5 repeated words that was problematic. When I pressed further asking why if 5 words were the issue an entire column was sent for veto, he responded by saying that your entire column was defamatory. I then asked if that was the case why did he not send the column back to you to be rewritten or just not publish the column if indeed it was defamatory.
    To date he has not explained why an entire column was sent to Ms KNT. And the details of his story keep shifting and morphing.
    Another issue that kept cropping up from him was the business of “real journalists” versus bloggers. In Trinidad what makes the difference?
    We don’t offer journalism degrees here. Few if any reporters have actual qualifications. In my mind, the difference may well be the nature of the contract you have with the media house. There are many columnists who are not journalists that actually do better, more comprehensive research and writing than the journalists contracted as such.
    What exactly was Mr Wilson getting up to with that?
    There isn’t the business section of any daily newspaper here that has broken down Clico, Udecott and the financial sector the way you have….and that alone should make Mr Wilson take a looooooooong pause!

    1. Yes, Rhoda, you are right that Wilson seems to be shifting and morphing in his reasoning, which is a shame when one considers the esteemed position he occupies…

      What is more, the Guardian itself has remained silent in this situation that their Editor-in-Chief thinks nothing wrong in admitting to sending a commentary column to a politician…I tell you.

      I am not sure any of the ‘bacchanalists‘ or local playwrights could have cooked this one up…but is Carnival Season now, so any ole number could play…

      The big question for me is whether the other media are going to let this episode slide or will they give it the exposure it deserves.

      When you place on one side the obvious attempt at intimidation by the Police in their CCN raid on Thursday 29th December and then place on the other side, that the Guardian Editor-in-Chief sent my column to Karen Nunez-Tesheira for comment on Saturday 31st December, it is chilling. On the one hand we have what appears to be an enemy without, seeking to make a show of force and on the other hand, there is the cancer of self-censorship, being the enemy within…

      Thanks for your participation, Rhoda and please join-in again.

      Afra

  2. Richard de Lima

    To Afra Raymond

    Afra,

    My compliments. No matter your position, we have a country where people are ‘bending’ principals left, right and centre. This propensity for ‘bobbing and weaving’ is now a part of Trini culture in all of its naked wretchedness.

    Sincerely,

    From Miami, Florida, USA (home of many a scroundel)

    Cheers

    1. Richard,

      This is a very serious situation, but I do wonder if is not both kinds of things being ‘bent’ principals and principles…our situation in this co-joined episode if that some of the principals have no principles…

      Please spread the word.

      Afra

    2. Like Nigel, I too remember the impasse between the owners of the Trinidad Guardian and the senior editors and journalists. This of course took place during the 1996 to 2001 administration under the UNC. If indeed this episode bore any good, it was the creation of the Independent newspaper.( though it didn’t last very long before it was swallowed up by the Trinidad Express). There are several strands that need to be understood in this matter.

      1. What is the scope of accountability of the editor of a major national newspaper? Given our culture, is it not possible for the editor of a major national newspaper to be understood to have a political alignment and yet carry out his job as editor in an impartial way? This could help explain AW’s blindness and frustration over Afra’s commentary about the oath part of the Swearing an Oath colunm. Wilson is not able to hold in his mind the relationship between private information and public responsibility. He seems unable to see that his private arrangement with KNT to permit her a means by which to filter the public commentary contained in the column is inter alia a breach of trust, a breach of ethics and an admission of previously concealed allegiances.

      2. That the management board of the Trinidad Guardian has so far remained silent is an indication of confusion and horror. If this newspaper has just regained the ground it had lost after the Alwin Chow & Jones P Madeira fiasco, it managed to do so from the moral rectitude they’d beeen covered in from Afra’s sustained query into the CLF debacle. The Board must call AW in and ask him what the hell happened?

      3. It is difficult to believe that Wilson’s contract with the Trinidad Guardian and the volume of work crossing the desk of the editor permit him the time to read, rebut and dispute commentary on Facebook and Barbados Free Press in such a sustained way. I’d misunderstood his character up til this….

      1. This is indeed giving us some insight into the media’s inner behaviour and values, even if all we have to go on is inference…

        The Guardian’s silence is as significant as that of the other main-stream media houses…How does that dedication to a ‘Code of Silence’ serve our country in terms of National Development? Am I being naive to pose this question?

        We will see what we will see…I also posted these concerns to MATT’s FB page a while ago…no comments or responses thus far…

  3. This is an unfortunate situation which I have faith will end harmoniously. I hold both “pillars” in high esteem and enjoy reading their views in the Business Guardian on Thursdays. It is more revealing to readers to have two viewpoints presented. Just carry on with your “guardianship” for a stronger, more responsible, noncorruptive T&T.

  4. Thank you for your work on this issue. As someone who has no formal training in economics or finance and can barely follow my own bank statements, there has been no other credible source for me on Clico. I must say though, that I am saddened but not surprised by the turn of events…”This is Trinidad” my husband likes to say, which is his answer to anything that boggles the mind about happenings in this country. But it’s not the Trinidad I want for myself or my children.

    There is an awakening and people are listening.

    Please continue.

  5. First off my brother,(and in spite of),the very best of wishes to u and yours’ for 2012,where to begin,we need to get together over drinks for this one,(this space to small),you had to have seen this coming bro,i haven’t seen an ‘INDEPENDENT PRESS” since the early eighties,and even then,the “seeds” of manipulation was just beginning to grow.Eric Williams won his first election talking to people in Woodford Square,and where ever else,he stood on a box if necessary to have himself heard,the point is that in those circumstances,the issues affecting people took precedent,spawning a different kind of politician,and political parties,had to have different policies,(nobody had time to stand up and listen to “pecong”).
    Today,elections are won(or lost)in the Electronic Media,long before the day of election, the “Private Sector”,has long since learned that lesson,and use it to great advantage,so that obscenely huge sums of money is “invested” in an “election campaign” with the “Independent Media” grossing a large percentage of it,this guarantees the “swaying” of public perception and opinion in one direction or another,so that in the end,and regardless of the type of political party,the needs of the few supersedes the needs of the many.On the H.B.O Programme “Real Time With Bill Mayer”,he and his panel dealt with(among other things),the very real threat to Democracy,that this type of “investment”(they call it “lobbying”),poses,and that many on the panel agreed that there should be an amendment to their Constitution,to control this,as Corporations are not “people”,and as such should be restricted in their involvement in the electoral process,perhaps we should look at a similar type of action here,limiting the control of the Private Sector in the same manner.
    Against this background,Editors-In-Chief,must maintain the perception or illusion(which ever way you want to look at it),of independence.This is not saying that all media personnel are “beneficiaries of this “new found investment injection”,but “select” personnel would be,this guarantees the success of the overall venture,and wins the campaigning party electoral victory,yes,issues would be put forward,manifestos are written,but nobody really pays attention to those because these people(politicians)know that they won’t be addressed anyway.
    When the last “hangover” is cured,it’s time for the ruling party to pay the “piper”,(or suffer the consequences),and so “policies” are acted upon that are “Private Sector” friendly.Your situation (re Guardian)is a product of this system,your former Editor-In-Chief being a recipient of the incumbent Parties support during the previous election,and even the one before that,your article,had to be perceived by the former Finance Minister as one not in favor with your Editor,and so it was sent to her,for “adjustment”.This guarantees that in the next election,your former Editor-In-Chief,will receive the support he was receiving all this time,that’s the “changing times” referred to by Karl Hudson Phillips.

  6. I have one concern with your argument, Mr Raymond, and you put it forward yourself… why would The Guardian seek to protect Karen Tesheira?

    You can infer, suggest, argue and hint all you like, but, short of a very personal relationship, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why Wilson would extend preferential treatment to Tesheira outside of protecting the newspaper from legal action.

    My guess is you know that, so you’ve thrown out a rod with bait and hope someone comes forward with something titillating, but so far, no bite.

    So, if your case is one about journalistic integrity then disabuse yourself of any notion that the media are the last bastion of integrity.
    And again, you know this, so why are you shooting flares into the sky?

    1. Hello to you, ‘Zipcode69‘, whoever you really are or Acting as…

      I infer nothing, your proposition is baseless yet instructive…here goes, again –

      What I am saying is simple –

      1. The Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Wilson, sent a column of mine to the subject of that column (Karen Nunez-Tesheira) for prior comment. Wilson has never given a cogent explanation for his decision other than to claim that this was the one and only time he had sent a column to its subject for prior comment. The use of caps in your query is almost a signature, but two questions remain and they are not mine to answer.
      2. Firstly, why was that unprecedented concession made to KNT? Secondly, given that Wilson has stated nothing admitting that his decision was out-of-order or improper, can we expect more of the same from this senior Editor?
      3. The continuing silence of the Guardian Media group on this episode is also a perturbing aspect of this issue.

      To my mind, the thinking seems to be co-incident with those people who create and staff the ‘Code of Silence‘…

      if we stay quiet long enough, it will all go away…

      Of course that is indicative of a real contempt for people…The use of anonymous masks and code-names is yet another perversion of the festive season…

      Afra Raymond

  7. I appreciate the reply.

    I have no firm facts as to why Wilson acted as he did, but in my mind’s eye, not complicated by the peripheral imaginative vision of a conspiracy theorist, I can call to mind two reasons.

    1) Why not do it? What does it hurt? What, and perhaps you can surmise why, is the unusual and advantageous benefit of her reading it before it’s published?

    2) A comment or response from Tesheira to your article would have been a cheap and sleek way of obtaining an “exclusive”.
    Even if she sought to prevent its publishing that would have been a sexy story in itself.

    I don’t know you Mr Raymond, but I think you have snatched at an opportunity to seed a grassy knoll. There seems to be no conspiracy here.

    As for the silence of the Guardian Media Group, that too has an obvious explanation. They don’t care.
    The media, as every other organisation in the country, is no place for class and professionalism.
    Even as I disagree with your suggestions and inferences, I agree with you that they should have treated with your concern.
    But that’s Trinidad for you.

    1. Hello again, ‘Zipcode69‘, whoever you really are…

      I infer nothing, this is a straight case of a complete, proven, breach of the most basic ethics of the media. The action is injurious to the integrity of the media, which is worth striving to improve. That is what this is all about.

      The general stance you seem to be taking is “…that’s Trinidad for you…” which is my starting-point, since the questions, for me, have to be how do we change it and for the better.

      It is clear that Wilson’s decision to send that column to KNT and his defiance to my challenge put the Guardian into an untenable position, which is why Wilson did that awkward reversal, with no admission of error. The hurt is clearly to the Guardian brand, even if you do not agree. Just read the exchanges on Barbados Free Press – here – for the proof of what took place.

      As to the conspiracy, of course there is no proof of that, but please note that the suppression of that column took place the week before her scheduled testimony at the Colman Commission. That testimony was remarkable in that KNT completely reversed her earlier position as to her withdrawals from CIB, claiming that those were purely coincidental and what is more, claiming that she couldn’t understand why the NGC/CIB crisis had not come to Mariano Browne’s attention. KNT went even further in saying that had the info come to her, she would have gone straight to the PM…exactly what my article had been saying. In her Express interview of 4th February 2009 – published on 15th March – she stated clearly that she knew that CIB was in problems and that is why she took her money out.

      Of course there is more, but that’s all for now…

      Thanks for joining-in

      Afra Raymond

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