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Press Freedom Déjà Vu in Trinidad & Tobago

All anyone seemed to be talking about today in Trinidad and Tobago was the walkout at the Guardian newspaper and whether there is more in the mortar than the pestle. A handful of bloggers had some time to think about the ramifications of the newsroom “reassignments” and they wasted no time in sharing their perspectives…

Plain Talk was confused about the Guardian's official response to the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago's denouncement of the move:

This was followed by a verbal statement/interview given to the Guardian's sister station CNC3 by the same Managing Director Gabriel Faria named in the…statement, where he had cause to put a different spin on everything…except to acknowledge that at least two employees out of about (his words) a hundred and sixty had resigned.

He debunked the idea that Ms. Raymond had cause to resign in protest over anything and that all of this was essentially some bad weather in a teacup and that she was in fact, happily reassigned to a new and more challenging post within the organization.

The blogger, Phillip Edward Alexander, had a lot of questions:

What DON'T we know?

Why was the Trinidad Guardian Editor Judy Raymond effectively reassigned?

What exactly is a ‘robust editorial policy’ and why would it take replacing the replacement Editor with the man she replaced so that she could personally work on that?

Why was her reassignment enough to cause some very seasoned and highly respected journalists and at least one Editor to resign their jobs in protest?

Why would her reassignment cause the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago to put out a statement heavily critical of the Trinidad Guardian's management?

Why would the statement put out by the Media Association be so severely contradicted by the Guardian's Managing Director in his own statement?

Why has the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago not come out in defense of their own statement or, failing that, not retracted and offered a full apology to Guardian Media and to Managing Director Gabriel Faria, whom their statement makes a teller of untruths?

Alexander added that he had “further information” that required verification before he could blog about it, but ended by saying:

Until then I will say that i believe that what took place today was a serious attack on the freedom of the press and of journalistic independence…

The Eternal Pantomime was taking Guardian fiasco very seriously. She opened her post by saying:

We’re down to one functioning daily newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago…a country that used to have 3.

Press and Media have taken a massive hit under this government in multiple ways. If we don’t have journalists selling themselves off to the government and handling their PR, then we have Government Ministers and state figures threatening the media.

In just 3 short years we have seen Police officers raid newspaper offices twice!

We’ve seen Jack Warner, then Minister of National Security threaten the safety of both Asha Javeed and Denyse Renne on state television using state resources. Yet today, that same Warner is being touted as a saviour by people too greedy to know true tyranny when they rubbing up against it.

She continued:

Yesterday’s meltdown at the Guardian, in which several writers walked off and it is alleged the Editor in Chief has been reassigned, is simply more evidence, to add to the evergrowing, that under Kamla’s Small Goal side we have no real democracy and the dictatorship isn’t creeping…it is already here. This isn’t the first time since getting into office that people have had to leave media houses.

And even with this…people still defend the party. Well aware that we need an independently functioning media to have a functioning democracy, they still support the antics of this government and its collaborators.

What the Guardian Meltdown should teach us though is deep into govenment pockets Big Business is…and we still think Beetham, Laventille and Sealots are the leeches in society?

Clearly the Guardian of Democracy tagline is just a front. Those of use old enough will know that this isn’t the first time there have been meltdowns at the Guardian under a UNC Government. In 1997 editor Jones P Madeira led a walkout of several journalists from the Guardian.

Rhoda Bharath also took issue with the newspaper's official explanation:

Guardian Managing Director Gabriel Faria seems to be talking out of several sides of his mouth. In one instant you are hearing he was fired, then last night you saw him speaking in his capacity as Managing Director saying everything was fine, the Guardian was still committed to the highest levels of journalism and that their two top investigative journalists had resigned because they were refusing to do more work and harder work.

Now therein lies the rub. According to Gabriel Faria, Guardian Media Ltd’s idea of fair and responsible journalism is to have Sampson Nanton question just the Managing Director about a staff walk out. Not one member of the Guardian’s staff was interviewed. Balance in we pweffen!

If lopsided journalism is the hard work people were running from, then I wish Misses Renne and Gumbs-Sandiford godspeed. These two reporters buss more mark on this government than any tsunami Warner has promised and it’s sad they have to go through this kind of upheaval.

Bloggers across the region were also taking notice. Over in Jamaica, Active Voice wondered whether journalism in the twin island republic was in crisis:

Trinidad Guardian Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond had reportedly walked off the job, followed by…several other conscientious journalists in an atmosphere rife with allegations of political interference. Then today both the government and the Guardian refuted the charge of political interference. As Patricia Worrell ‏@bytesdog succinctly put it ‘This Guardian story have more twists and turns than Lady Chancellor or the road from Maracas.’

Annie Paul also republished some of Raymond's tweets in the midst of the goings-on:

Raymond’s laconic Twitter account @HeyJudeTT doesn’t yield much at first glance. Her last three tweets are suitably cryptic but the Orwell quote ['Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations'] is telling.

Interestingly enough, a few days prior to the fallout at the Guardian, Paul published this post, which examined “what ails Jamaican journalism”. In it, she refers to an article in the the June/July 2013 issue of The Journalist, “a magazine of the national union of journalists in the UK”, which carried an article titled “The scourge of poverty” by British journalist, Jeremy Dear:

In the article, Dear…outlines the parlous state of the Jamaican media with journalists so poorly paid that they die in poverty and while alive, are susceptible to bribes, threats, and gags of all sorts. In effect the impression is given that the Press corps in Jamaica has been castrated, and is ineffectually limping along, while going through the motions of aping a free and dynamic press.

If what is claimed in the UK article is true then this is an extremely serious situation.

Of Trinidad and Tobago's position where freedom of the press is concerned, she asks:

How will this situation be resolved? The region watches and waits with bated breath.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Freedom of the Press”, is by Khalid Albaih, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Khalid Albaih's flickr photostream.

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