by Robin Montano
The uproar in the Press to the Prime Minister’s allegation earlier this week that there are rogue elements in the media was entirely predictable. The media in Trinidad & Tobago are notorious for never apologising for anything they do whether right or wrong (and especially when they are wrong) and for guarding their turf jealously. This is a pity, because more often than is happy the media say and do things that are just plain wrong, and there is little or no redress other than a very expensive and time consuming law suit for defamation. They know this full well and tend to take advantage of it. For every law suit for defamation there must be at least twenty instances of the media being “naughty” and wrong.
Don’t believe me? It happens all the time. Look, just the other day the Express newspaper published an article with a headline to the effect that the Attorney General was denying that a certain Rolls Royce motor car belonged to him. The article was even accompanied by a photograph of the car complete with a Trinidad licence plate! Most of the article (and the headline) was about the AG’s denial that the car was his, but towards the end of the article it was reported that the car in fact was registered to a very well known company and quoted the managing director of that company as saying that the car was his and that he had owned several Rolls Royce motor cars previously. But you had to read the whole article to get to the truth. So, why the headline and the article? This surely wasn’t news?!
The only reason that I can think of was that the Express wanted to embarrass the Attorney General. I can think of no other reason. What is news worthy about a Government Minister NOT owning an expensive motor car? The answer is: nothing! Nothing at all!! So, if they weren’t trying to embarrass the AG why would they print such an article? Nothing else makes sense. If anyone can give me another plausible reason as to why the Express would print such an article I will immediately apologise.
This is the second time that the Express has attacked the Attorney General in this manner. The first time was over some apartments that he bought shortly after taking up office. Again, in that article (as in “the Rolls Royce article”) the reader was left with the distinct impression that there was some sort of ‘hanky panky’ … or to put it more bluntly, corruption … taking place but that the paper just can’t prove it. Certainly, that was my impression.
But this surely is wrong. A newspaper shouldn’t be allowed to print an article like “the Rolls Royce article” without some more facts. If the newspaper suspects that the Attorney General is involved in some sort of corruption then it should say so … and not slide around the issue in a manner that, frankly, reeks of dishonest and malicious reporting.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The Guardian has also stepped into the act with some rather serious attacks on the erstwhile and very voluble Sports Minister, Mr. Anil Roberts. Basically what happened was that there seems to have been some rather serious allegations concerning the Boxing Board, the end result of which has caused the Integrity Commission to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Guardian reported that amongst those being referred to the DPP was the Sports Minister. This turned out to be incorrect.
Now, any referral of any matter to the DPP is serious.And a report like this one is bound to make the ordinary citizen look twice at the Minister. But it wasn’t true. What is true (at least from all that is in the public domain) is that there are some rather serious issues to be looked at that could possibly constitute corruption of some sort by certain people. But (at least for the moment) the Minister is definitely NOT one of them! The story is clearly not finished and, I dare say, a lot more will come out. But at the very least, surely the Guardian could have and should have published a front page apology to the Minister … especially if there was no ulterior motive but just a desire to report the facts. So, why hasn’t such an apology been made? It doesn’t make sense … unless, there is something else behind the article. But what?!? Does the Guardian have more facts that implicate the Minister? If so, then they should come out and say so. Or is there another more sinister and (ultimately) dishonest motive? What? And if there was no malice, why didn’t/doesn’t the Guardian apologise? It doesn’t make sense!
And I am not getting into the counter allegations of the Minister against the reporter, nor of her responses to him. I am about what is right and about doing the right thing and about what are the undisputed facts. I do not accept the media’s brushing aside the fact that it wrongly reported that a matter involving Mr. Roberts was referred to the DPP and effectively refusing to apologise for their mistake. It is right that someone should aplogise when he has done something wrong, especially if the mistake was a genuine one. (Of course, it is harder to apologise where the mistake was deliberate and not accidental!) I think that Mr. Roberts was right when he said that the media should be held to as high a standard as possible. I do not accept that freedom of the press means licence to print or broadcast anything that you want. I do not believe that the Prime Minister’s statement about rogue elements in the media can even be remotely construed as an attack on press freedom. I do believe that there are rogue elements in the media, and by that I mean elements that have their own agendas, some of them hidden, and which have nothing to do with reporting the facts but everything to do with the furtherance of their particular agenda or agendas. And nothing that I have seen or heard over the last many years has convinced me otherwise.
The best expression of how I believe the modern media should operate comes from a man called C.P. Scott (1846 – 1932) who said:
“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly,
and its first duty is to shun the temptations of a monoploy.
Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of
its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in
what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode
of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer
wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred.”
Our media certainly cannot put its hand on its heart and swear that this is exactly what it does. Lightning would strike them down if they did that!
Perhaps now might be an appropriate time for a Commission of Enquiry into the operations of the media in Trinidad & Tobago?