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…
- 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’?
- 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…
- 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
THE TIMELINE OF EVENTS UP TO THIS TIME
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.
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.
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…”.
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.
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 –
- Firstly, why did Wilson seek to tell me, in relation to his decision, that “…It is by no means unprecedented territory…”?
- 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 –
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.”
- Under the terms of my contract as a Commentator with Guardian Media Limited, the copyright of the work is mine.
- 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.
- 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