The news media is in a feel-good moment. Denyse Renne, our colleague over on St Vincent Street, was the first to name the notorious Section 34 and its potentially stunning outcome, i.e. the dismissal of court proceedings against the duo known to the country as Ish and Steve. Renne, while at this paper in January 2011, was also the journalist who broke the story on the equally notorious appointment of Reshmi Usha Ramnarine as director of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA). Combined, these are arguably the two biggest scandals to be exposed by the news media during the tenure of the People's Partnership government.
Renne, and news media generally, would be justified in revelling in the moment; these instances don't last. We serve the public interest to various degrees daily, but not often with stories of this magnitude and infrequently with the acknowledgement of prominent figures and ordinary citizens alike. In this industry, we know that we are only as good as our last story; that in the newspaper world we function within a 24-hour news cycle; that unlike perhaps any other industry, we offer a new product every day of the year; and that feel-good moments are hard to come by and much harder to sustain.
And so it has unfolded: the Guardian is in receipt of a pre-action protocol letter for a related story from the Attorney General, who has also penned a Letter to the Editor taking issue with Wednesday's editorial; Renne, meanwhile, has been targeted for vicious ad hominem assaults circulating online.
Here, a Sunday Express story headlined "AG's $3 million townhouse" aroused similar ire and a similar response. Express reporter Asha Javeed has also been roundly maligned; online comments maliciously reference where she lives and with whom she associates, among other personalised condemnations.
Perhaps related, there appears to be a "Don't Touch Anand" campaign being conducted online and elsewhere in response to demands for the AG's resignation or dismissal from Government over Section 34. The campaign includes questions such as "Remind me what the AG has done wrong?" and "Is someone out to get the AG?" The thinking being promoted is that Opposition Leader Keith Rowley wants the AG removed because of the number of civil suits filed by the AG against influential partners of the People's National Movement (PNM), never mind that legal action can continue, should someone else occupy the AG's chair.
It is all well and good that members of the public engage, passionately and dispassionately, with information circulated by the news media. Indeed, it is desirable, demonstrating as it does public awareness, political involvement, and necessary scrutiny of the Fourth Estate by readers, listeners and viewers at whom the information is directed. It is another matter, however, to be rolling out personal attacks on journalists when someone does not like or agree with particular stories.
A legitimate objection can be made, in my view, to the prominence given to a story about what the AG owns in the absence of evidence that he acquired same illegitimately. That the AG was formerly a successful attorney and can likely afford these investments is a sound position. These, and other arguments, can be made and the Express as well as other media outlets ought to receive them respectfully and use them to initiate conversations about journalistic best practice. But to attack the writer, accuse her of bias without evidence, attack the newspaper and accuse it of bias without evidence, cannot be acceptable.
For all the Government's official commentaries and commitments to freedom of the press, I observed that National Security Minister and United National Congress (UNC) chairman, Jack Warner, participated in the same ad hominem strategy Wednesday night during a paid for, politically-staged interview. Holding up a copy of the Sunday Express, he said, in response to one of his colleagues' question about who wrote the story, "Asha Javeed of course, we know her, know her story. How she leave Guardian, gone Express, where she lives, who pays her bills and so on and so forth."
There is obviously a coordinated strategy at work here, and its elements include personal attacks on journalists. As obscene, vulgar and inconvenient as the Wednesday night mock panel discussion was, the Partnership is entitled to engage in their propaganda. They are entitled to their rallies. They are entitled to suggest, however wrongly, that the country is past Section 34, as they are entitled to tell us to move on, as the Prime Minister did following disclosure of the outrageous Reshmi Ramnarine appointment.
The media, however, is equally entitled to not do as they are told, to pursue issues relentlessly even as we engage in discussions about this propagandist environment and how well or not we have been functioning in it.
The country, having recently seen evidence of the important role the media plays in a society, and the media itself, having regard for all the political elements operating inside and outside newsrooms, must counter with their own strategies to safeguard journalists, journalism, the public interest, and the reputations of the same leaders who have trained their guns on us.
To all regular readers of this column, I thank you for your engagement. This is my last column for now. I am in transition and will resurface soon.