Friday, December 15, 2017

What thought make a man do


Donstan Bonn

 At a time in the country’s development when the environment is continuously suffused with poli­tical charge; when media houses and individual journalists, quite rightly, are under intense examination by those who make and those who consume the news we report; and when an unprecedented number of tense election battles has featured sensational disclosures and counter-disclosures, it is unsurprising the walkout from the Guardian of three senior journalists—and the bizarre circumstances that followed—would be a platform reference.

Given that the July 2013 walkout created bitterness and division among journalists that have not been addressed, and given too that the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) involved itself in the unfolding events, not to bring clarity but to add to the wackiness, it is also unsurprising that journalists assigned to cover political meetings may have some difficulty determining, in the first instance, whether those references are newsworthy, and then how to represent them in a news story if they consider the comments worthy to report.

With this understanding, it was not strange to me the Guar­dian, importantly an involved rather than an objective party to the events surrounding the walkout of July 10, 2013, presented clumsy reporting of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s comments about the media last Saturday night at a Rio Claro meeting.

Having chosen to involve itself in the public exchange between Lennox Grant and the Express and Dr Rowley and the People’s National Movement, the Guardian placed itself in Dr Rowley’s gaze. He responded, and part of his response referenced the irony of the journalistic high ground taken by the Guardian in an editorial when the Guardian itself was accused of political interference by three of its own who walked off the job.

So far, none of that is deser­ving of this column space. But the Guardian’s editor’s note attached to the story published on Monday, March 24, 2014, is. The Guardian was attempting to correct factual errors with factual errors, a superb irony given the theme of the news story was also factual accuracy.

It is not for the Guardian to tell the public why Denyse Renne, Anika Gumbs and I walked out of its newsroom; that is for us to do. The Guardian obviously can state its own position but not ours. And the three of us will not allow history to be rewritten as the St Vincent Street paper moves to recuperate from the events of July 10, 2013.

I cannot speak to what obtains in the Guardian newsroom at present, but the paper is inaccurate to state as fact that its editorial staff “were not... directed ‘what to do and what not to do’”. Following a flood of explosive stories on wrongdoing that affected the current Government, stories which included Section 34, Dr Roodal Moonilal’s Range Rover, the return of the New Flying Squad Unit, the $6.8 million fire truck retrieval, the CV of 1990 attempted coup enquiry commissioner Hafizool Mohammed and the botched police probe into the fatal Sea Lots vehi­cular accident, I was in a meeting on July 9, 2013, when editors were told to “tone down” the paper. At that meeting, editors were also pointed to a particular story and told it contained “too much Rowley”.

A Guardian editorial published the day after the walkout stated, “We are loyal to the democratically elected government.”

The Guardian’s editor’s note further states, “Last July concerns were raised at management level at the T&T Guardian over what were thought to be factual errors in reports published in the paper.” That’s deliberately reticent. Our contention then and now is that Guardian Media Ltd’s board of directors was under pressure from political office holders and that pressure came from the board, via management, into the newsroom.

Indeed, on the day of the walkout, a source close to then and current editor-in-chief Judy Raymond, who was stripped of her duties and famously sent “offline”, told the following to the Express: “The source said there have been complaints about some stories. For example, last Thursday, there were complaints about a couple of front-page stories which were deemed to be anti-Government. ‘We could not see what they were talking about, and we pointed out that they (the stories) were just statements of fact,’ the source said. Then the source said on Sunday, the editor-in-chief was informed that the paper should not run any story criticising anyone unless the journalist had verified all the facts in the story with the person (criticised) first. ‘If that were the case, there would be stories, for example, by-election stories, being carried three days or more after (the statements are made),’ the source said. ‘They just seemed to be making up new rules as they went along. And all this stems from a lack of respect for journalists. Our newsroom has some of the most senior people in the business,’ the source added.”

In the case of its editor’s note, therefore, it is the Guardian that is labouring under a misconception that its strategy of gaslighting which started soon after we left the paper is productive and efficient.