Friday, February 23, 2018

The alarming case of Mark Bassant

OVER THE years as a journalist of our Caribbean region, I have been both a witness to and victim of the politics of a few government leaders and cabinet ministers that resulted in geographical dislocations, and worse, including loss of employment and threats.

Thankfully, however, I never genuflected to the powers-that-be or compromised the fundamental tenets of the profession I continue to share with national and regional journalists—among them some of the best—here in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and elsewhere.

But never have I had to read the shocking account of a professional Caribbean journalist who felt compelled to speedily abandon his job and flee for his life after learning he had been targeted for murder by elements of his country’s criminal underworld. 

And what is worse—in fact scandalous and terrifying—was the information that a few members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, whom this investigative journalist—the CCN’s Mark Bassant—had been accustomed to cooperating with, on the assumption of shared commitment to fighting crime, were involved in treachery that sent him fleeing from work and country.

I cannot recall ever meeting Mr Bassant, either here  in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere. Nevertheless, I fully share the outrage of all journalists, media enterprises and organisations that have been denouncing and lamenting the shocking claims of collusion and conspiracy against a journalist who naturally trusted his police connections. After all, they were claiming ‘partnership’ with him in combating criminality, including gang-related murders.

Based on the coverage in the local print and electronic media, and in particular reports and commentaries in the Express, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams may well have done himself a  terrible injustice by his  own convoluted response to what Mr Bassant had reported.

In particular, given the gravity of the implications of Mr Bassant’s identification of the cops whom he said he was working with, was it really necessary for Commissioner Williams to go public with a response that conveyed the impression more of bias, or to focus on what he says are past errors on the part of the CCN journalist? Shouldn’t he have been questioning alleged misbehaviour on the part of certain police officers instead?

While understandably anxious to protect the Police Service he still heads amid mounting criticisms and disenchantment over lack of successes or breakthroughs in cases of murder and assassination, Commissioner Williams may well have inflamed passions beyond the corridors of the CCN enterprise that the Express so passionately reflected in its editorial of May 26. 

Indeed, the Express went as far as to declare that the acting top cop was “unfit for the office of Police Commissioner”. In so doing it fortified an earlier call by the respected senior counsel and columnist Martin Daly who last week made clear his gut feeling that Williams “is not the right man for the job of Police Commissioner”.

Whatever the future of Stephen Williams in the T&T Police Service, the immediate challenge remains to bring to justice  those who have been identified—cops and criminals—by Mark Bassant when he felt compelled to go public with his horrifying disclosure of the situation that triggered his hurried flight for physical safety.

This is an unprecedented development in the local media world—less than a month after the shocking assassination of the courageous senior Counsel Dana Seetahal. What next?

Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born Caribbean journalist