WALKOUT: Guardian Public Affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad, right, and investigative reporter Anika Gumbs-Sandiford leave their offices on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, yesterday after resigning.
Journalists resign citing Govt interference
Ria Taitt Political Editor
Turmoil in the Guardian newsroom which began on Monday solidified yesterday when three senior members quit.
Guardian Public Affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad and its two key investigative reporters, Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne, resigned following what has been described by Rampersad as the virtual sidelining of its editor-in-chief, Judy Raymond.
The apparent stripping of Raymond’s authority, according to Rampersad, involved her retaining the position of editor-in-chief but performing none of the functions of the job. “Our understanding was that this was an alternative to Judy Raymond either being suspended or fired,” Rampersad said.
The Express was also informed that David Inglefield has been relieved of his position as ANSA McAL’s Media Sector head but has retained his position on the board.
Raymond refused to comment but sources close to her said she would make a decision about her future at the company by the end of the week. “Judy thinks it is unfair to leave people in the newsroom hanging on,” the source said.
“It would be difficult to see how it would be possible for her to stay on. It would have to take a major turnaround in the position of the ANSA McAL board,” the source close to Raymond stated. The source said Raymond went to work yesterday because she felt that she needed to offer “moral support”. It is understood that the newsroom was still in shock.
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 sources 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.
Speaking with the Express, Rampersad said the three left because there had been an accumulation of external pressure on the editorial processes and the editorial product in the newsroom. She said that pressure, which accumulated over months, came to a head somewhere between Sunday and yesterday.
“After a very harrowing Monday and Tuesday, we took a decision that by today, the conditions under which we were being asked to operate were unsustainable and that even an elemental journalist would find it unacceptable. So we decided we were not going to work under those conditions,” she said.
Rampersad added, “It is our expectation that there would be resignations to follow.”
On Monday, Raymond was given an assignment which would have “physically extracted” her from the newsroom. “Whereas she was allowed to retain the title of editor-in-chief, she was performing none of the functions of an editor-in-chief. We were told further that a body was appointed to come to our editorial meetings and, as you know, that meeting is sacrosanct and is the forum at which we decide what is going into the paper the next day,” Rampersad said.
She said when editors queried the reason for this, no clear reason was given. “So we assumed that the purpose of that was interference, that somebody was supposed to monitor and report what we were putting in the paper the following day. “For any amateur journalist, much less senior journalist, that is totally unacceptable to us,” Rampersad said.
Raymond was assigned to work with a team on a document which would help to educate the ANSA McAL board about where their boundaries were and to come up with an editorial policy, Rampersad said.
She noted that herself, Raymond and Rosemary Sant had only recently come up with a code of ethics for journalists in the group. She said this code went to the board, came back to them for review and was in an advanced process. In fact, she said, the public launch of that document was imminent, so the public could have understood the rules by which that media house functions.
Rampersad pointed out there have been a number of very important stories which have come under Raymond’s watch, such as the Section 34 fiasco which was written by Renne, the Flying Squad and firetruck stories which were written by Gumbs-Sandiford and the botched Sea Lots probe written by Rampersad.
She said the editors were not saying they were infallible, but a free press requires room to make mistakes and improve the product and quality of journalism.
Renne was the journalist referred to in the emailgate affair as the reporter who high office-holders attempted to discredit and injure.
In April 1996, nine Guardian editors, led by the editor-in-chief Jones P Madeira, resigned. The mass exodus came because ANSA McAL was reportedly uncomfortable with the reporting on the then UNC government and had fired the CEO, Alwin Chow. The company also attempted to introduce an editorial policy which, among other things, said the paper had to support ANSA McAL’s business interests, as well as uphold the government of the day.
• See Pages 4 & 5