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Ford’s letter

...Opposition calls for ‘transparency’

7th July 2014

 

Sir Fred Gollop

Chairman, One Caribbean Media

c/o Express House

35 Independence Square

Port of Spain

Trinidad

 

Dear Sir Gollop (sic),

I write as General Secretary of the People’s National Movement, the longest serving Political Party in Trinidad and Tobago and one which, according to all reputable pollsters, is destined to form the government following the next general election due shortly. I wish to draw to your attention what seems an orchestrated campaign against the PNM Party by the publisher and/or editorial writers of the Trinidad Express Newspapers Ltd.

 It was under the PNM, contrary to the opinions expressed in a misleading Express editorial of Wednesday March 26, 2014, that freedom of the press was entrenched in the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution. We take this commitment seriously and while given the healthy tension which should always exist between Political Parties and the Media, we consider the ongoing antagonism being displayed by the Express editorials to the PNM to be unwarranted and unsettling.

 The record will show a consistent pattern of Express editorials that seem to belittle our leader and party and based generally on information, that bear little relation to the facts. One error could be forgiven as a mistake, two would constitute a pattern, but three or more represent a concerted attempt by the Express to portray the PNM and its Leader as unfit for government.

Attached to this letter you will find a series of letters written to the Editor of the Express correcting factually misleading statements in the Express, which all appear designed to bring the Party and its Leader into disrepute. The PNM noted such patterns prior to the last two general elections, when the newspaper took a similarly hostile approach to the then PNM government. We noted then, that some of the leading protagonists in the CCN group, subsequently found themselves employed by the People’s Partnership administration in lucrative positions or were nominated for Board appointments.

Then, as now, many of the reports had no factual basis, but were the grinding of political axes as can be seen by the recent libel matter in the case of the Trinidad Express versus  Prof Ken Julien. In that case the judge found in favour of the former University of Trinidad and Tobago Chairman, Prof Julien against the Express newspaper, and give one of the highest libel judgments ever awarded in this country for over $500,000. The campaign against Prof Julien, a State Board official, was one of the highlights of the then United National Congress campaign, and subsequently the People’s Partnership, in its quest to win government. It had the witting or unwitting support of key members of the Express newspaper.

In his April 2, 2014 judgment, the learned judge Devindra Rampersad found:

“It is highly probable that the claimant and his family would have suffered humiliation and would have become the brunt of negative remarks and comment out of what was termed to be an ‘investigative’ series in one of the leading daily newspapers in T&T which would have carried a high degree of weight in the mind of an ordinary person.”

He also noted of the Express reporting: “This does not reflect responsible journalism but, rather what one might expect from a sensational tabloid writer…”

We are seeing a tendency of the Express to operate along the same vein, as we approach another general election. While the courts are always a remedy for those injured by a newspaper, there is no reward that a court can make to counteract the manipulation of public opinion by a newspaper, to produce a desired outcome in a general election. You would also be aware that the Express has recently retained, as a columnist, a card carrying member of the United National Congress (one of the partners of the ruling coalition), who is part of his party’s strategy team. He has been awarded a weekly column in which he attacks the PNM Political Leader as part of what has been revealed recently, to be a PP General Election strategy.

What is dishonest about this is that he was advertised as an independent columnist writing “from a distance” and, although he has since been unmasked as  a member of that party’s strategy team he continues to be afforded the opportunity to attack the PNM. It should be noted that the PNM has not been afforded a similar opportunity of a having a columnist advance the party’s position in the Express newspaper.

It is clear, from these incidents outlined above, and from the several letters attached in which I have personally complained of the Express editorials bias to no avail, that your newspaper has taken a position hostile to the PNM. I am also aware, that historically, the leading personalities of the CCN Group, including the founder Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive, have  generally found support in Political Parties that are opposed to the PNM. This too is allowed under the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of association. We simply wish to alert you that, although we would have wished to see the Express as an unbiased journalistic enterprise, the PNM will defend the right of your newspaper to take any editorial position that it sees fit.

We only ask that the OCM Group and the Express Newspaper, as an exercise in transparency, alert the population to what seems a clearly entrenched position.

Regards, 

Ashton Ford

 

cc.:  Dawn Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, OCM
Shida Bolia (sic), Chief Executive Officer, CCN
Omatie Lyder, Editor-in-Chief, Trinidad Express

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