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Trinidad & Tobago Media Reshuffle Viewed as Threat to Press Freedom

There is controversy brewing in Trinidad and Tobago over freedom of the press following a reassignment of key media personnel (including the Editor-in-Chief) at the Trinidad Guardian newspaper – a move which some are claiming came about because of political pressure.

TNT Finder was posting about about the story as it developed, even as Facebook users were speculating as to the reason for the new portfolios:

Reports today of ‘discomfort’ among staff at the Trinidad Guardian newspaper arm of Guardian Media Limited, as its Editor-in-Chief has been instructed to create a new vision and mission for the paper within one month.

It is understood that while Editor Judy Raymond has been given the new assignment, the paper’s Business Editor Anthony Wilson will act in her post along with Irving Ward. Ward, we are told, was employed at T&T Guardian for just 3 months.

Sources say the Guardian Media board has been receiving political pressure from the powers-that-be on certain stories being published at the paper…

Late yesterday, the same site reported that:

Editors and Journalists of the T&T Guardian newspaper…walked out the St Vincent Street building this afternoon in protest against what they say is ‘political interference’ in their operations by people acting on the part of the PP [People's Partnership] Government.

The workers said their profession and integrity are under attack and they will not work under such conditions.

Journalist Dr Sheila Rampersad said ‘We were told on Monday by the Managing Director Gabriel Fariah that somebody will be coming to the newsroom to sit in and presumably to report back on our Editorial meetings.’

She added there was an attempt to impose an unrealistic and unsustainable expectation of serious journalists.

Dr. Rampersad, who is quoted in that story, is a popular columnist with the Guardian; she was allegedly affected by the reshuffle as well. The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago wasted no time in issuing a statement about the matter on the Association of Caribbean Media Workers’ Facebook page:

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago is monitoring with serious concern developments over the last 24 hours at the Trinidad Guardian newsroom that appears to be a major threat to press freedom.

Reports thus far indicate that senior Government officials have questioned the newspaper's editorial line and this pressure is reportedly resulting in an editorial reshuffle at the newspaper by its publishers.

The Media Association stands in solidarity with MATT President Suzanne Sheppard and MATT Vice President, Judy Raymond, both of whom are are part of the Guardian Newspaper's key editorial team and are reported to be personally dealing with fallout from this political interference on the newsroom.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and MATT views with alarm this reported attempt to muzzle and intimidate our colleagues in the newsroom.

MATT will release further information as it comes to hand and we urge both politicians and media owners to respect the right of press freedom which is enshrined in our Constitution.

The statement was also published on its own Facebook page, along with several updates, including this one, which gives a preview of the newspaper's next issue. (The headline reads “Guardian MD denies political interference; NOTHING HAS CHANGED”):

The Guardian Media Ltd remains committed to the highest principles of journalism. Managing director Gabriel Faria yesterday assured that the media entity was in full support of ‘fair, balanced and accurate reporting by its reporters.’ He said he has been fully supportive of the media team, and that the group has been providing the necessary training and equipment to compete at the highest level.

Most citizen media discussion seemed to be happening on personal Facebook walls, but Twitter provided relevant commentary as well:

@LifeSupportTT: “BUCKLING” under political pressure turns to “BUCKUP” or “NO BUCKs” if citizens don't buy the #Trinidad #Guardian for a week. #freemediaday

@HaydnDunn: Looks like press freedom in T&T is under serious attack!!! @samnanton RE Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago Press Release.

@LifeSupportTT: Power struggle, #Media want govt #advertising funds, Gov't want media coverage. Who has the upper hand? #moneymedia #socialmedia #freemedia

The most searing commentary thus far, however, has been by Wired 868‘s Mr. Live Wire:

It turns out that the sacking of Manohar Ramsaran, who got his marching orders for jumping up in the wrong band during the UNC’s Chaguanas West screenings, will not go down as the most bizarre political expulsion for 2013.

Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond did not even realise she was holding a political seat!

Raymond was hired last year to help the Guardian bottom-line: Increase sales. However, Mr Live Wire understands she ran afoul of the company’s motto: Stay close to the Government.

The post continued:

In a politically aware country, although not necessarily a politically intelligent one, Raymond’s Guardian won nationwide acclaim for a string of exclusives including the stunning Section 34 scandal.

So, the Guardian board…felt it was time to ‘refocus and redesign’ the newspaper again since soaring popularity, increased sales and respectability are clearly overrated.

The fall-out has so far prompted the departures of Raymond, public affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad and investigative reporters Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne. The remaining staff will work under stand-in Anthony Wilson, whose leadership prompted Raymond’s hiring in the first place.

He closed by suggesting that the newspaper should change its logo:

The saintly angel just does not fit the mood for that St Vincent Street business place where politicians can drop a few ads and expect the pages to open up invitingly.

Perhaps a mascot that suggests a combination of sensual activity for political fat cats and the mindless decapitation of discerning readers would be more appropriate. Like Xena Warrior Princess.

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