Media Integrity Too

A timeline of events within the People’s partnership period…

This is a sinister pattern, which we need to recognise now.

To seed this discussion, I have three threads…

  1. The use of Police resources to target journalists is questionable in light of the apparent, unexplained delays in dealing with the CL Financial chiefs, the UDECOTT chiefs and of course, the HCU chiefs.  The Police anti-media operations were apparently executed in exemplary fashion with warrants being obtained and searches done using the element of surprise – no reasonable person could find fault with the execution of those operations.  The burning question for me, given the apparent delays in prosecuting or even searching the ‘White Collar robbers’ – even during the recent SoE – is ‘What are the priorities of our Police Service?  Are our limited Police resources being effectively allocated in the fight against ‘White Collar crime’?
  2. The second issue is the agenda of the Media practitioners.  Despite the strong and clear statements from the Media Association of T&T (MATT) on these issues – the embargo of State advertising for the Mirror and I95.5FM, the Police search of TV6/CCN on the Ian Alleyne issue and the Police search of Newsday and Andre Bagoo – there is still no MATT comment on the Power 102.1FM dismissals and the issue of the Guardian’s Acting Editor-in-Chief sending my column on Karen Nunez-Tesheira to her for comment.  We need to be mindful of self-censorship in a world in which most of the media is in private ownership.  Which shifts into my next point…
  3. Lastly, there are the issues emerging from the world we live in now.  It is a truly New World, with the commonly-held conviction that ours is a ‘free society’.  Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association.  It also guarantees the rights of property owners and that takes me straight to the vexatious juxtaposition of those rights.  You see, if we do live in a society with all those rights, the question arises ‘What is wrong with the owner of a media outlet deciding to let-go/fire/suspend indefinitely/re-assign a particular commentator?’  Even more to the point – “Are we saying that the privately-owned media can pick-and-choose their commentators, but the State-owned outlets have a different set of rules to follow?”  Despite the provisions of T&T’s international anti-corruption and media treaty obligations in favour of whistle-blowers, there are still those who want to know what is wrong with the government deciding how to place its advertisements.

I am closing this off now; to let the discussion flow…the battle-lines are clear to me…our sentiments on the free nature of our society come into conflict with the impulse for self-protection once we achieve Public Office.  In this rounds, given the boundless nature of the new technology, we are going to see a sharper, more wily, battle to reduce the strength and clarity of our media.  I greet it.

As always, the struggle is against the enemy without and the enemy within…

  • Please view my iPad oPinion video Podcast on this topic here
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6 thoughts on “Media Integrity Too

  1. I appreciate the very logical and thought-provoking commentary above! It has provided some balance in the otherwise emotional and sensational discourse. First let me state that I am happy that our YOUNG country is having these discussions because there could be no development without such constructive forum. This is not (nor should be) about agreement but juxtaposition of thought and clarification. A nation does not arrive at developed status without a fourm for debate and the airing of conflict – and then once managed maturely conflict resolution becomes a source of growth and strength. These debates about Freedom of the Press occurred in the USA back in the late 1700’s which led to several Ammendments (very importantly Ammendment 1).

    On this issue – Freedom of the Press in TT is NOT “fatally wounded” – but I believe that we are coming to the point of discussing where does press freedom end and press responsibility and integrity begin.

    As for the press, a free press keeps constant watch on the government and any element of our society that may trample and or subvert our freedom and security. It is the closest thing to ensuring government for and by the people because it seeks to protect the rights and priveleges of the people! In today’s world of tabloid reporting and sensations we may give pause to the notion of free press (and anyone who has been injured understands this clearly). Though I believe that the trash reporting and reporting of half-fact and speculation is dangerous, it is a small price to pay to ensure that any news organization can rest assured that it can report freely on the activities of the government and other powerful bodies and persons.

    But, the press is not above the law! Further, they must treat ther freedom with responsibility and integrity. They are not beyond justifiable sanction or subpoena – especially if a case can be made that they might be stepping even on anyone individual or group wrongly or irresponsibly. The press cannot defame and no source is above the law. The US constitution is helpful in this regard – and clearly balances freedom of press with the ability to call a journalist or media house to the bench.

    In Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938), Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”[86] Freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is subject to restrictions on bases such as defamation law.

    In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), the Court ruled that the First Amendment did not give a journalist the right to refuse a subpoena from a grand jury. The issue decided in the case was whether a journalist could refuse to “appear and testify before state and Federal grand juries” basing the refusal on the belief that such appearance and testimony “abridges the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment.”[87] The 5–4 decision was that such a protection was not provided by the First Amendment.

    We have just begun a journey for which we will be better and our truly free and responsible press can be ‘birthed with the appropriate discourse and pollination with a sense of responsibility and integrity. There is no fatality here but an opportunity for clarification. When we don’t then our freedom dies – not just for the press but freedom for all of us.

  2. This is hysteria disguised as reasoned opinion. I am surprised that you included your quitting the Guardian after your disagreement with the Ag Editor-in-Chief on editorial policy in this post, which seems to have as its thesis the pattern of politically inspired intimidation of the media and its workers by this government. On the one hand, you quitting the Guardian was a personal choice much like Maxie Cuffie and others made when leaving the Guardian during the Basdeo Panday/ Alwin Chow/ Jones P Madeira brouhaha in 1996 (See http://ipsnews.net/print.asp?idnews=94352). Free speech is not hindered. It is circumscribed, by laws. You can still publish anything on this blog. You can also face the consequences of judicial review if you libel or defame, and that is the nature of a free society. You can challenge and be challenged. You should not be prevented, however. Your options, as in any business relationship, are varied and subject to whim and caprice and can be burned by indelicate action.

    On the other hand, the actions of media owners during this current administration speaks, to me, to a larger story on the business of publishing in Trinidad. What did you say re the CLICO/HCU investors and Golden Rules of investment, “you should not put all your eggs into one basket, or bet all your money on one horse.” The business model of publishers ignores that basic tenet with 80-90% of revenue from adverts, and we know what proportion comes from government (See http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0012001/cruickshank_c.pdf). The fear of intimidation by withholding of government advertising is real in TT. That “failure” of the business model has sullied the reputation of the Fourth Estate. There is a larger landscape for opinion in these modern times with the proliferation of social media. The saving grace for a reading public is to have reasoned arguments based on fact devoid of selfish bias.

    1. Hello Brian,

      You make good points on the importance and timeliness of this discussion, but the various commentators identified in my piece are not at all associated with bacchanal or gutter-journalism. That is just my opinion, but the emphatic nature of their contributions and the sensitive topics they covered should not be mistaken for tabloid or low-quality work…we must proceed with due care and attention in this debate, so I appreciate the time and care you have brought to this important series of disputes. Please join-in again…

      Yes, Nigel, that is my opinion, via a list of selected events during the PP period of government…As signalled by my frequent posts on this matter, I consider the Guardian/KNT episode to be an integral and important part of this series of inter-locking issues, so am not clear why its inclusion should be any surprise…

      Even if we agree to disagree over my including my own second episode, the question, to you and others, is whether this sequence of events is itself misleading? What is your view?

      You are making an important point as to the ‘source of funds’ via State advertising and the actual degree to which the media is free to comment. But the further point, proceeding along that avenue, is that in our country the size of the State is such that it can and does eclipse all other players in the national economy, moreso than in the developed countries. Which is why media outlets in the developed countries can sometimes take such independent or anti-government stands, without losing their shirts…and that is why the reported media boycott of Mirror and I95.5FM are breaches of our country’s international treaty obligations…The use of State resources (by withholding advertisements) to oppress dissenting opinion, is an illegal act…

      The nature and effect of the media’s business model is indeed up for testing to destruction in this post-consumer age the globe is entering, so the discussion is fertile on an entirely different timescale…

      Afra

  3. There is a lot of ambiguity in your references, I am a follower of the popular radio programs and though you cite resignations and dismissals. I do see when on air persons cross the line. and the repercussions that follow after. I have also seen the gross other side of the coin, the awarding of scholarships to journalists under one party member’s media house, the termination and hunt of the Gladiator by his own party for example.
    Why create such hysteria over normal business practice, you step out of line and abuse your broadcasters privilege (and in one case – theft), you get suspended. Almost every single issue above had its merit and as far as I know there is an industrial court system for those wrongfully dismissed.

    1. Yes, the basic data is indeed ambiguous, so the tone is not intentional…even when one attempts to look soberly at the overall situation, the preliminary conclusions are unclear, hence the tone of my own posts which follow the main article (above this exchange of ours)…for my part, what crossed the line was the introduction of the police and the studied use of the State’s advertising budget to reward compliant outlets and punish critical ones…that is what we have to be careful of, irregardless of who is in power…

      Thanks for joining-in, whoever you really are…

      Afra

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