Thursday, February 22, 2018

‘Lick-up’ media in free fire zone

Lennox Grant logo50

Mark Fraser

 The media became important just when, as a sector of identifiable activity, it began to look like a dangerous place to find oneself. As the media claimed character as “social”, suddenly, the familiar witness-and-record function appears incidental to what it’s all about.

It’s accordingly as a force with which countervailing forces have to reckon that we, tenants inside the citadel called media, find ourselves defined, and targeted. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan last week gave notice that the administration he thunderously defends will not remain “deaf and mute to political conspiracies that are being hatched within media institutions”.

That mouthful came from a mind full of bad attitude toward the agency or the utility of media performers. This marks some change from the days when Mr Ramlogan was himself a Sunday Guardian columnist.

Most change appears in Mr Ramlogan’s own circumstances. Once a free-wheeling public affairs pundit, he harnessed his capacity, in early 2010, for infelicitous bluntness, to the then-surging chariot of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, newly elected Uni­ted National Congress (UNC) leader.

The post-Basdeo Panday UNC reborn into promising electabi­lity, Mr Ramlogan dissed Winston Dookeran’s prospects as Congress of the People (COP) leader. Having signed on to the Persad-Bissessar UNC, he queried the continuing reason for being of the rump still holding out in the name of the COP.

Newspapers like that for which he once wrote have seen less change. They continue to be flattened organisations in which thinned-out layers of editorial management confront the broad base of the journalistic proletariat. 

In his time, Mr Ramlogan likely had little occasion to notice the structure and operation of the medium. Seen since from the outside, the newspaper has evolved, in his mind, into a “media institution”, inside the hate nests of which “political conspiracies” are capable of being “hatched”.

Attorney General today, columnist yesterday, he no longer wants to be known by such media company as he once kept. Media people, with fewer career options than the legal eagle and political rooftop gunner, move back and forth among the media houses. 

The “particular reporter”, identified by Mr Ramlogan last week as she who “continues to lick up the Government in the Express”, had shortly before been doing much the same in the pages of the Guardian. 

The danger, now apprehended by Mr Ramlogan, lies in the capa­city conveyed by “lick up the Government”. Commentary columnists may reflect highly on the Government, but this could more easily be taken in stride. 

It is material produced by reporters, now advertised as investigative, that accomplishes the extreme effect to “lick up the Government”. The news, not the commentary pages, conveys the sense of “so many social and political concerns occurring simultaneously”, as one Express letter writer said earlier this month. 

A sense of helplessness toward all-pervasive wrongdoing is attri­buted to those roughly understood to comprise the Government. So that “our only recourse is often the last resort of embarrassing authorities into doing the right thing, by highlighting them in the media”, wrote Marlon Bascombe. The media, including letters to the editor, end up being pressed into service as Everyman’s bully pulpit, against everything that’s gone wrong, and for which those in charge are to blame.

Eventually, it seems, the “authorities” being blamed react as if punch-drunk, flailing out like Mr Ramlogan. Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, presumably on the make toward status as one of the “authorities”, rehearses retaliation against whomever in the media he is persua­ded qualifies as his tormentor. 

In time, the media gain recognition as constituting a free fire zone. We take blows not only from political and official figures striking back against “lick up”, but also from citizens who see in media potential an untold corrective power that is not adequately brought to bear in protection of the good, or in promotion of the better, society that T&T could be.

People like me, long-time inhabi­tants of the space, take alarm upon discovery that so much is expected of the media. We have to insist on realising media capacity to have and share what used to be called “fun”.

Some satisfaction is derived from giving effect to the rule of “publish and be damned”. Following that impulse, no editor should feel obliged to learn whether disclosure of a verifiably authentic document has been approved by the Prime Minister or the National Security Minister.  

In my own media-related wanderings, I plucked this sentence, attributed to Major Garrett, correspondent of American TV network CBS, because it contains a hopeful notion that connects somehow with T&T realities: “Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalised ideas in the public consciousness.”

Jack Warner, now also a publisher, in his latest full-court press, actually damns the media for falling short: “This local press... cannot even inform us about outstanding stories such as emailgate, the multi-million-dollar drug bust, the hit and run of a Chaguanas West constituent by the Attorney General’s driver, the use of confidential information from a police file...”

Maybe the Warner media will go bravely into the wasteland after stories other media lack the daring, the luck or the know-how to break. Including perhaps the treasure trove of Jack Warner stories?