By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Rumours of the firing or suspension of the Trinidad Guardian’s editor-in-chief Judy Raymond as a result of alleged political interference are making waves within the media industry in Trinidad and Tobago.
Ironically, at the core of the matter are executive members of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT).
The apparently volatile situation at one of the country’s leading media houses is said to have been provoked by disgruntled top government officials who have been complaining about some of the exclusive reports that have been published by the newspaper.
In a meeting with staff members on Tuesday, Raymond, who is the vice president of MATT, denied that she was dismissed from the Guardian media group, which is owned by one of the Caribbean’s leading conglomerates, ANSA McAL Limited.
Raymond also sought to dispel reports of the resignation of the group’s managing director, Gabriel Faria.
Caribbean News Now understands that Raymond was instead given a new assignment: to develop a plan for taking the Trinidad Guardian forward. She has one month to do so, but is expected to quit.
This new revelation was posted on Facebook by long standing journalist and Trinidad Express newspaper columnist Raoul Pantin.
Pantin is also predicting a backlash for the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led People’s Partnership government in this matter.
“’Political pressure’ was put on top ANSA McAL directors to stop the Guardian from publishing the investigative series it has been producing of late. Managing director Gabriel Faria has resigned after refusing to carry out a directive to suspend editor-in-chief Judy Raymond, who has been reassigned and is very likely to quit. So will several other editors and reporters. And this story could very well be the final ‘fisaco’ of the Kamla-Persad Bissssar government. Mark my word!” Pantin wrote on his Facebook page.
Caribbean News Now was also told that reporters and editors walked off the job on Wednesday afternoon.
Latest reports indicate that Guardian columnist and public affairs editor Sheila Rampersad has resigned from the paper, along with investigative reporters Denyse Renne, who was also at the centre of the recent parliamentary email scandal, and Anika Gumbs Sandiford.
In an interview on i95.5fm radio, Rampersad made the disclosure and also said the pressures at the Guardian accumulated over time. Rampersad also revealed that the group’s managing director Faria may have resigned based on information reaching the newsroom staff but may be rethinking his decision to resign.
Rampersad said they see the reassigning of Raymond as a sidelining of the editor-in-chief.
Head of the business desk, Anthony Wilson, is now the acting editor-in-chief.
Some of the reporters from the newspaper have been updating their Facebook pages with the situation unfolding in the newsroom. One reporter said they were not able to run certain quotes in their stories and were told to stick with the facts of the story.
Business editor of the Guardian, Suzanne Shepherd, is also the president of the media association.
At approximately 4:00 pm on Wednesday the media association issued a news release saying it is keeping a close eye on the circumstances affecting journalists and editors at this time.
“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,” MATT said.
According to late reports on Wednesday, four journalists have now resigned from the Guardian.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said on local television on Wednesday evening, "I have never interfered with the freedom of the press. I am committed to freedom of the press, with respect to what happened at the Guardian I don't know."
The following is the entire news release from the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago
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 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.
MATT Executive 4pm July 10, 2013.