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Media duty to be fair and free from political bias

Dear Editor:

That the Express newspaper would use the internal problems at the Guardian newspaper to score cheap points against its competitor, under the guise of standing up for independent journalism, is unfortunate. How a media house’s attempt to improve the quality and standard of its journalism becomes the most important news item of the day is beyond me. 

There is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate claims about political interference, but Sunity Maharaj uses the opportunity to attack the Guardian newspaper and the Government. 

No media house is perfect. They all have their bias and agenda. Sunity Maharaj recently wrote a glowing column in support of Ken Gordon, at a time when there was unanimous and universal condemnation of his secret meeting with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley at his home to discuss a political investigation against the Government. The Express wrote an editorial in support of its former chairman. It could find and see nothing wrong in his conduct, despite criticisms by the Law Association and eminent persons such as Senior Counsel Reginald Armour and Dana Seetahal. But this is not a case of bias—it is unbiased, principled journalism. 

Recently, the Express lost a lawsuit and was ordered to pay over half a million dollars to former journalist Darryl Heeralal because he refused to disclose his source. This, of course, did not make front page. To the Guar­dian’s credit, it did not seek to profit from the Express’s misfortune by accusing it of being convicted in a court of law and of undermining good journalism (a reporter’s source is, after all, sacred). Staff resign and move on all the time in the media. It stands to reason that if they are not happy, they will move on to greener pastures. This cannot be a major news item. Indeed, Ms Judy Raymond herself left the Express and joined the Guardian. Where was the front-page story then?

As is evident from Sunity’s columns, she has nothing positive to say about the Government. Like the columns of the late Lloyd Best, they follow the same theme of fulmination, recrimination and protestation without critical solution. If anything revealed her political bias, however, it was her open attack on the Government for hiring media practitioners. This one really made me laugh. Sunity hypocritically acts as if this is the first government to do this, and even expresses alarm. 

The irony of it all was that Sunity was speaking to a reporter who was herself in the employ of the PNM (People’s National Movement) administration. Irene Medina was, after all, Martin Joseph’s right-hand communications agent in the Ministry of National Security. The pious pontificating and holier-than-thou attitude crumbles on the altar of truth, it would seem. Permit me to remind Sunity of the names of a few media personnel who were hired by the PNM, at a time when her silence spoke louder than her current reprimand:

• Wendy Campbell—Ministry of 

National Security, TTPS (Trinidad and Tobago Police Service)

• Maxie Cuffie—Ministry of 

Attorney General 

• Irene Medina—National Security 

• Alicia Carter-Fisher—Energy

• Jones P Madeira—Judiciary

Earl Manmohan—THA (Tobago House 

of Assembly)

Paige de Leon—OPM (Office of the 

Prime Minister)

• Ucill Cambridge—National Security, SAUTT

(Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad 

and Tobago) 

• Curtis Williams—Energy

• Joannah Bharose—THA 

Incidentally, many of these journalists were hired directly from the Express. Where was Sunity then? 

The hosting of media lunches and the giving of hampers at Christmas is nothing new. Again, why didn’t Sunity object when the PNM did the same? This is a normal part of government relations and exists in most developed 

countries. It is silly that Sunity would take something so civilised and appre­ciative and twist it into an attempt to bribe journalists. 

It certainly doesn’t say much about her opinion of her colleagues in the media if she thinks their professionalism and integrity can be bought by a hamper and a drink at Christmas. Has the media been kind to the Government as a result of these annual functions? If Sunity feels so strongly about the matter, why didn’t she, when she was editor, stop her staff from attending such events when the PNM was in power? Did she object when the PNM was giving contracts and houses to certain journalists that were “cosy” with the government? 

The attempt by the Express to use the Government as a scapegoat for the internal problems between the management and staff at the Guardian newspaper is ridiculous. The newspaper has been on the receiving end of several lawsuits as a result of inaccurate and defamatory stories that made front page 

without any factual basis. The management has a duty to act in the best interest of the company, lest it folds up in the face of 

constant litigation that does not affect the pocket of the errant reporter who may or 

may not have a political agenda. 

I reject, outright, the dangerous policy position taken by the Express that “a media which is truly free must also have the freedom to be irresponsible”. Freedom of the press does not give journalists an untrammelled and absolute right to publish false and malicious stories. One untrue story can ruin a citizen’s life and do irreparable harm. I submit that the media has a duty to be fair and responsible and free from political bias in the pursuit of the truth. 

Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, MP

Minister of Local Government


editor’s note: The “lawsuit” involving former Express reporter Darryl Heeralal described in Minister Rambachan’s letter is actually properly termed a trade dispute and it is the trade union against the employer.


 

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