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Commentary: Desperately seeking bad news in Trinidad and Tobago
Published on April 8, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Phillip Edward Alexander

Reading the newspapers should not require the further effort of sifting fact from fiction, but it seems this is precisely what the reader is being asked to do. There was a time that words like journalistic integrity was so important, one would not dare question what was put in print in the dailies, but with journalistic integrity now fully replaced by economic policy and the need to move 'product,' it seems that the management and editorial staff of all publishing houses are far more concerned with selling papers than they are with accuracy.

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Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
There is a complete absence of fairness and honest reporting if one were to just push past the headlines, and i say that without fear of contradiction and in the past month alone the loose relationship the headlines actually had with the meat of the stories they sold bear me out. Or to quote the Gospel of Matthew, by their fruits you shall know them.

One of yesterday’s dailies printed a story so obviously concocted about a now disgraced former government minister that by seven pm he had had to put the matter into the hands of his attorneys and put out a release saying the story was a clear fabrication and he was going to take legal action. This story follows the trend of the following, and I only name these few to make the point, you decide the motive behind the behaviour, I have already formed a conclusion of my own:

A story was run on the front page of a paper where former senator and PNM minister Fitzgerald Hinds claimed that he had been approached on a walkabout by someone he would not name, who told him of a dinner he attended that was full of former PNM ministers and financiers but he refused to divulge either time or place, and at that event someone whom he preferred to remain anonymous told him that Dr Keith Rowley might be too black to be prime minister. Now, if you’re reading that and are reminded of the children’s game ‘pass the message’ you would be using critical thinking, so I ask you, why would an editor of an established newspaper not only run that nonsense of a story, but see it fit to make it a front page story complete with headline?

Let's move on.

The story that put the nail in Glenn Ramagharsingh's career was so riddled with inaccuracies and terribly bad reporting that, had he been a minister that the government wanted to keep, a better effort would have been made to expose the political agenda behind his manufactured fall from grace. Is he arrogant and egotistic? If one were to listen to the accounts over the years of some of his more outlandish behaviours one would have to conclude yes, but is that a reason to remove someone who is also rumoured to be, even by his harshest of critics, one of the best performing, hardest working ministers of social development that this country has ever known? You decide.

Contrasted with a time when a high ranking then PNM minister literally had a plane grounded and the crew leave in disgust over his handling of a flight attendant who refused to sit with him, a minister who then went to hold higher and higher office in that government you would see the double standard and ask, why would there have to be one?

The story about Chandresh Sharma and his accuser did not compete with journalism; it competed with scandal and bacchanal. Clearly working in tandem with an opposition funded attack on the Minister to dislodge him from office, now that the facts of the matter are flooding into the public domain it is my view that the editor in chief of the Sunday Guardian needs to be fired for what amounts to journalistic assault.

Simply reading to understand one has no choice but to conclude that the story as written made no sense and did not add up, and again, if Sharma was a minister the government wanted to keep the story as written would have ended up in a court of law, with Guardian Media as defendant in a libel lawsuit. Again, is he a known adulterer and a player with the groupie set? Based solely on his own reputation that he himself has done nothing to deny then sure, but is that a reason to fire him as a minister?

So what is the reader to do? I don’t know, that is an individual choice. For my part I have stopped buying newspapers altogether as I get my news digitally on social media for many reasons, but most importantly because of the discussion that is sure to follow anything of substance that is shared. If there are any truthful or factual stories in any of the dailies they would be shared there and discussed, if there are any fallacious and obviously contrived or concocted ones, they are ripped to shreds, because on social media, critical thinking and logical deducing are very much alive.

I cannot begin to recall the amount of times I, having read a thing and fully arrived at my own opinion only to end up wondering after a point was raised in the discussion that I had not considered. That is the real value of social media, the freedom from the control of 'groupspeak,' the essence of the herd mentality once so properly controlled through the dissemination of information.

Now the power lies not so much with the ability to own a media house or to publish under a byline, but to think and to enunciate in a way that is easy to understand, and on social media that is instantly rewarded by the amount of people who follow your discussions and pay attention to what you say. That does not mean that you will not be challenged if your position is based on nonsense, but that is the beauty of the thing. It self regulates and sifts out its excesses. You could win an argument today only to have your position thrashed tomorrow as new information comes to hand, and in the constant struggle to be alpha dog in the conversation, rest assured that no one worth their salt are giving in to your position 100%, they are simply ceding the point and buying time, looking for further proof that your premise might be wrong.

But I digress.

To me it seems that whatever the motive, the fight to stay afloat in a time when the generation that relied on newsprint for news is dying out, to compete for the ever shrinking market share, or for other more sinister and agenda driven reasons, what is put to the public as reliable and honest news has been replaced by sensational nonsense and it is my view that the days of daily newspapers as a source of real news are behind us.
 
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