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Ugly Gonsalves-BBC drama

By Rickey Singh

THOSE of us in Caribbean journalism who have long come to appreciate the excellent standards established by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will always share the disappointment and sense of hurt whenever colleagues of this internationally renowned media institution fall victim to improper behaviour and activities.Consequently, colleagues of regional and national media organisations would have empathised with those at the BBC and the British National Union of Journalists when the shocking exposé came last year of the Corporation’s internal sex scandal involving its high profile Panorama television producer Jimmy Savile.Now, the BBC, whose television and radio journalists have set such high professional standards in investigative journalism, may well have to probe a complaint which, though quite insignificant compared with the enormity of the Savile sex scandal, is of much importance to this region’s media, government, private and other sectors.The case involves the harrowing experience, involving rude and unprofessional conduct, to which the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, was subjected last week on a LIAT aircraft en route to the Caricom Summit in Haiti.Having been briefed on the humiliating episode by the Vincentian Prime Minister, his Caricom colleagues were to include in their end-of-summit communiqué, a sharp rebuke of the disrespect demonstrated by the two identified journalists of the BBC.Dr Gonsalves has since forwarded an official complaint to Lord Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC’s Board of Trustees, against the two journalists, Paul Kenyon and Matthew Hill, while contemplating further action that could also involve his domestic political opponents of the opposition New Democratic Party. At the core the confrontation on the LIAT aircraft were allegations raised by the journalists that the Vincentian leader had received a substantial sum of money from a foreign entrepreneur, identified as Dave Ames, who heads the Harlequin Company that has constructed a resort at Buccament in St Vincent. As outlined in his letter to Lord Patten, the Vincentian PM, who was on board with his wife and his ambassador to Caricom, Ellsworth John, was suddenly approached by Kenyon with a recording device and a query to the effect: “Prime Minister, there are three witnesses who will testify that Dave Ames went to your office with a brief-case of money and left without it. What do you have to say to this?...”Gonsalves said he reacted by telling the inquiring journalist while his colleague (Matthew Hill) was filming, that if he “requested an interview properly I would grant it.. He (the journalist) replied that he was interviewing me now. I ignored him but he persisted…I told him his allegation was foolishness, nonsense and idiotic…..”In his letter of complaint to the BBC’s Patten, Gonsalves provided information on how, he said, the two journalists had given false information to immigration on arrival in St Vincent on February 12 by listing themselves as “tourists”. But as it turned out, between February 12 to 15, he said they had interviewed the Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, and were being “chaperoned around St Vincent by a female opposition parliamentarian…” Gonsalves said that he was to discover that Kenyon and his colleague had arrived in St Vincent to pursue “reportedly, an investigation into Harlequin Properties and Mr Ames”. Dr Gonsalves categorically denied having received any financial payment from the foreign entrepreneur (a naturalised Vincentian citizen)…I have never sought or received one cent from Harlequin and/or Mr Ames...even as political contribution for an election campaign…”In their statement of support, Caricom leaders expressed “grave concern with the manner in which Prime Minister Gonsalves, a sitting Head of the Community, was reportedly confronted”. They emphasised “that the dignity of office of Head of State or Government is equal to that of any other nation, as are the attendant security concerns and expectations…This dignity and security cannot be violated by unidentified representatives of a foreign press service who, for whatever reason, expect a level of access to Caricom Heads of State or Government that they would not receive from Heads of State or Government in their own countries of origin…”The Caricom leaders’ response to the confrontation on board that LIAT plane by the two BBC journalists was included in the Prime Minister’s letter of complaint to the BBC.Over, then, to Lord Patten for a response!
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