The ten-week-old Voice Today newspaper is being managed behind the scenes by chief executive of the State-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) Ken Ali and communications manager in the Office of the Prime Minister Kevan Gibbs.
And it was former adviser to the Prime Minister Sasha Mohammed who started recruiting staff for the paper before an abrupt exit.
Mohammed is a former journalist.
Three members of its editorial staff have exited the organisation in the last month. Newspapers are being distributed freely in some residential parts, and other outlets and are even being turned away at the gates of corporate entities.
Ali’s role, after he has repeatedly denied any involvement, was uncovered last week after e-mails were given to the Sunday Express to prove his connection to the newspaper.
“We are being told that not all members of Cabinet receive the paper before their weekly meeting,” wrote Ali, who said he is only a columnist at the paper, in an e-mail to Voice executives on July 7.
On July 10, an electronic copy of the newspaper was e-mailed by Gibbs, communications manager at the Office of the Prime Minister, at 9.53 a.m. to a list which includes Government officials and media managers, except the Express newspapers.
Gibbs is also the designer behind the publication.
Ali, who has consistently distanced himself from any managerial responsibility from the three-month-old publication, penned an e-mail to Gibbs; Alana D’Abreau, the newspaper’s editor; and Neil Ramdath, its office manager and advertising manager, just three days before with concerns.
The e-mail stated:
• Our last edition erroneously had at the foot of the back page that we are “printed” by Voice Media Limited. This should be “published.”
• The attorney is asking if we can submit the material earlier for review. I recommend we send the first half of the paper sometime this afternoon.
• We are being told that not all members of Cabinet receive the paper before their weekly meeting.
• Kevan, a reminder to discuss the distribution of the paper—as earlier agreed—with Khadijah Ameen (UNC official)
• Alana, I recommend we change the title from “Editorial” to “Our Voice”.
Since the launch of the newspaper, it has been criticised by Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner as a propaganda paper for the People’s Partnership.
Unlike other weekly publications, the Voice is the recipient of several full-page Government advertisements from the Ministry of Food Production, Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Land and Marine Resources, which are priced at $6,000.
Advertisements promoting the paper are also being aired nightly on CNMG.
Ali on the Voice
Contacted yesterday for comment on his direct involvement in the publication, Ali questioned the intent of the Sunday Express.
“I am most humbled by the fascination by the Express in my career,” he responded, noting he has been a journalist for over 40 years.
Asked about the content of the e-mail, Ali said it was private e-mail and accused the Express of hacking into his e-mail account.
“You have hacked into my e-mail account. You are asking me to comment on private e-mails and I am troubled by the fact that my e-mail has been hacked,” he said, noting the Government intended to bring cyber laws into effect soon.
Ali also sought to distance himself from the editorial concerns raised by former employee Camille Hunte when she tendered her resignation on June 27.
“What is the basis for asking me? Am I supposed to be paymaster?” he queried.
Work for cash
In an e-mail, Hunte explained the decision was difficult to make “but one that I feel is right”.
“The paper is nothing like I was told it would be when I was initially interviewed by Sasha Mohammed. She told me the paper would be community oriented and a ‘voice for the voiceless in society’. There has been nothing in the last 8 issues to indicate this.
“Instead, as can be clearly seen in last week’s and the previous week’s issues, the articles published in the Sunshine were not far off the mark.
“Frankly, I am tired of being asked questions about this paper. I am tired of reporters calling my personal cellphone asking for information. I am tired of trying to defend it and denying that it is Government affiliated when the evidence shows otherwise.
“I am tired of my friends, family and ex-colleagues warning me that I am ruining my reputation being involved with this paper. And I am tired of working under unprofessional conditions.
“After three months, no contracts have been offered, no NIS payments have been made, I am being paid in cash like a criminal and I have not received a single payslip to verify my employment.
“This, along with the constant name-calling and confusion in the office over simple things like juice and water and lunch and travel allowances is the reason I have decided not to return,” she said.
In her e-mail, Hunte apologised for her abrupt departure but “without a contract, I am under no obligation to give notice”.
“I am in no way ungrateful for the opportunity that I was given as a new reporter trying to make a name for myself. But this is not the kind of name I want to have.
“I want to be respected, and being associated with the Voice Today has brought me only ridicule and disrespect at countless assignments,” she stated.
Hunte, along with reporters Rhondor Dowlat and photographer Wendy Ann Duncan left the publication in the last month.
Contacted yesterday on her involvement in the recruitment of staff at the Voice, Mohammed replied: “Any business I do is highly confidential,” and directed the Sunday Express to focus on what Hunte said.
Hunte said Mohammed had invited her for lunch at a restaurant in MovieTowne and had hired her on the spot.
In response to Mohammed’s involvement, Ali said: “You’ll have to ask Sasha. I knew she was involved at the start but heard she had resigned.”
Businessman Oral Bedessie yesterday said he was not a financier of the paper.
The Sunday Express was informed Bedessie and another contractor were the men behind the publication.
But Bedessie yesterday said he was not affiliated with the newspaper.
“I talk to the people there if they need anything,” he said.
“Anything like what?” asked the Sunday Express.
“If they want to find out anything, I will offer advice,” he replied.
Asked his thoughts on the publication, he said: “I think it is different. It offers another side of things.”
“How do you respond to the criticism that it is propaganda?” asked the Sunday Express.
“I don’t think it is propaganda. It is not about sex and scandal. All the information is good. This is what the country needs,” he said.
No propaganda paper
Office manager Neil Ramdath told the Sunday Express while there is always a perception newspapers are swayed in some way politically, the Voice was an independent publication.
“Once you’re in the market, you have that perception,” he said.
The Sunday Express also obtained e-mails from a distribution manager, titled “Pt Lisas Ind Estate”, which stated:
“TCL security was told not to accept any papers
Desalcott security was told not to accept any papers.
IPSL security was told not to accept any papers
NUIRON security was told not to accept any papers
NGC security was told not to accept any papers
Methanex security was told not to accept any papers
Welfab security was told not to accept any papers
CASL security was told not to accept any papers
...they stated that they were informed by their superiors not to accept any newspaper from VOICE MEDIA personel.”
Asked to account why the publication was being refused by the Point Lisas-based firms, Ramdath explained it was a marketing initiative.
“We are a new publication. It costs us to print the newspaper so there is a fee attached for it. But being new to the market, we thought it would be a great way to reach out to the population and get the product out there,” he said.
The Voice, which is priced at $2, is being printed by Guardian Media Ltd. It is also distributed free in several residential communities.
Asked to account why salaries were being paid in cash, he replied: “Some people choose to have cheques, some people choose to have cash. I don’t see that as a problem.”
Questioned on why Mohammed departed the paper, he responded: “I won’t be able to comment on that.”