Friday, May 23, 2014

Death and other threats The Ash Wednesday syndrome

Death threats to journalists?
Is Trinidad and Tobago, the media, and related organisations just waking up this foreday morning?
Mark Bassant, forced to flee from death threats, as the reports say, is not an isolated case and did not surface overnight as I am sure his superiors and colleagues and others in various media and other institutions may well know.  (See related article below. Pls note date of publication.)
This blinkered shortsightedness must be Ash Wednesday syndrome in Carnival city.
The current climate of unease and unrest did not start with last week's murder or drug haul.
That journalists, who dare to go beyond the boundaries of 'he said she said" or soapbox reporting are intimidated, threatened, face withdrawal of support, and even chased out of town in one way or the other, not just by some external third parties, but very much also from within the jurisdictions within which they function is not the new nine-day wonder.
That some must battle daily with their conscience on the personal price of their professional pursuit, without any support, systematic or otherwise, is not the new wonder drug in town. Guarding democracy could be a very lonely place even in a place clamouring for guards to guard t he guards and there is no where to turn, except grit one's teeth and bite the bullet, literally, as in the case of #DanaSeetahalAssassination.
This Ash Wednesday syndrome surrounding Bassant's plight only point to the degree to which even the media, and watchdog institutions are so mired in admiring their own reflection in the limelight as defenders of democracy that they fail or just plainly refuse to see or admit the presence of the shadows hanging over their colleagues in danger; some even taking great delight in feeding the climate of unease and unrest in the interest of a great sound bite or headline or to poke some political ire - until the next one takes the limelight.
The long sleep-perchance-to-dream state of the body politic and now this Ash Wednesday reawakening until the next band rolls along has our democratic institutions - the media, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature - on the sapotay soil that we now seem to find ourselves, and not altogether not of their own making(double negative intended). If only we would subject ourselves to some serious self analysis and self scrutiny and acceptance of responsibility and ownership, which surely must, like charity, start at home.
We must be one of the few countries in the world where the free media does more to censure itself, if by default, inaction or uninformed, ill informed or incredibly blinkered actions, than anywhere else I can think of, offsprings of the chicken and egg paraducks. (clarified below)
Do media institutions provide a facilitatory environment for journalists to function and also to voice complaints?
Does the media fraternity provide a safety net and support system for their colleagues who may feel threatened, outside of the driven need to sensationalise such cases in the interest of a soundbite, headline, the next day's news; the impulse to stir unease and unrest for ratings or pander to some political interest or the other?
If we were to think of a correlation between the rise of crime news, for instance and the crime statistics we may want to ask which come's first, wouldn't we? The proverbial 'chicken and egg paraducks'. (See article below. Note date of publication).
So seduced by our Carnival mentality, we have so lapsed in developing and strengthening healthy mechanisms for exhalation of the social toxins.
If we cant cultivate a society that appreciates independent thought and action, debates, transparency and challenge, should we be surprised that attempts at contradiction seem to stimulate trigger happy responses in spouses, in the police, and from those in whom we ought to be able to place our trust.
Come on my friends, colleagues. countrymen! Wake up, my people!
 Or wake me up when 'tis all over.
This would be news.

Sunday 11th May 2003 (Guardian)

Dr Kris Rampersad
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Laventille’s chicken/egg paraducks
A radio talk show was asking callers last week who was responsible – the people or the politicians – for the problems of Laventille, manifested most recently in increased killings in that area. It might as well have been asking the proverbial impossible question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The implied paradox in that brain teaser has been that one must have eggs to hatch chickens. At the same time, any poultry farmer with commonsense knows it is the chicken, in the first instance, that lay the eggs that hatch into chickens. So, is it the politicians who have nurtured the culture of violence in Laventille? Politicians of the PNM can cockily profess Laventille’s rebellious spirit predates the PNM, and anyone with even a layman’s sense of the evolution of Trinidadian society and politics knows that to be fact. And every school child knows, too, that it was from among Laventille’s gangs came the divinity of steel pan music, for instance. And then came the PNM/politicians. (Now that may imply the PNM/politician is chicken; the people of Laventille, egg – something that certain MPs may want to roll up sleeves and tear off jackets to scuffle over, but in the interest of completing this evolution theory, can we not just ignore that, and obliviously take a line out of the Prime Minister’s book and pacify ourselves, if for the moment, that that question does not arise?) If the PNM did not create Laventille, then Laventille must accept responsibility for the politicians/(community) leaders it has spawned. Those who called in with that view reasoned the district voted for, hence created, its politicians. A contentious thought, but support for this view can be had in scientists’ attempt to crack the question: Chicken leads to egg; or egg to chicken. The answer actually proves wrong all poultry farmers, and similarly others who pride themselves on their commonsense, like politicians, Ministers etc (see “Virgin Births” inset). They conclude since a zygote (a non-chicken) must first split into cells that form the whole chicken, the egg must come first. If the scientists are to be believed, then it must be that “core” and “grassroot” supporters who egg on political parties/leaders in districts like Laventille (and in the case of the UNC, Caroni) are responsible for hatching their own problems – politicians. Their unflinching support “…no matter what; ’til ah dead,” is really a licence to their leaders to do as the leaders damn well please. And they do. It can hardly be in the politician’s interest to make his supporters less dependent financially or ideologically upon him. It must be in the chicken’s interest to make the egg believe without chicken, egg would not have been laid. The politician’s stable guarantee of core support – that is born out of their supporter’s ignorance and deprivation – may be upset when supports’ conditions improve. DEWD, URP, CEPEP ensure temporary appeasement, and permanent dependency, hence loyal support. Better education, greater income security may increase voters’ desire to choose leaders on the basis of criterion they set for themselves, rather than what is set by the leaders. All this implies, of course, that the country’s political situation – the inability of government to pass legislation it wants – is essentially not in Parliament or with the politicians at all, but rather rests with the grassroots, like Laventille and Caroni, where, assured of support no matter what, politicians have no real reason to effect change. If the egg knew it did not need the chicken to be, it has already turned the power tables on the chicken. If, then, as with the virgin growth, the eggs are made to know (or tricked into) a different method of hatching its leaders – a way of fertilisation that would produce disease-free cells – from the many good people of Laventille – that would multiply to create disease-free organisms, wouldn’t we have found a cure for the lesions on the body politic? For, certainly, if scientists believe that by using good eggs, they can produce good chickens, can’t one infer that it is the rotten eggs that are hatching such rotten politicians?




Friday, May 23, 2014

Bassant has since left the country.
In a video clip on the TV6 news on Wednesday night Bassant said on May 7 he got a call from an underworld source to say certain criminal elements wanted to harm him because of stories he wrote recently. “I made a report on it. The next day I was liaising with certain police officers involved in a specific investigation, only to later learn from other trusted sources that these same officers who I had spoken to earlier were leaking information about me and what I knew to the said individuals who organised for my demise,” Bassant claimed.

He said he then informed a high-ranking intelligence source and another trusted senior intelligence officer. The senior officer, Bassant added, later told him his name was on a hit list, together with others. “In fact, he told me they had already been given the order to engage the targets, including me, and that the hit against me was starting at $20,000,” Bassant added. He said the incident had left him angry, especially since journalists, who work for the people, could easily be threatened. Contacted yesterday, TV6’s head of news Dominic Kalipersad said when the threat was reported to Griffith he said the suspect was “ruthless.”

Griffith also assured the police were monitoring the situation closely. Kalipersad described Bassant as a strong and committed journalist who would not want to be put in a position which prevented him from performing his calling in a fair manner. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams yesterday promised the police were doing all they could to ensure the matter was properly investigated and said Supt Kenrick Edwards, head of the Criminal Intelligence Gang Unit, was leading the probe.

Media groups concerned
The Media Association of T&T (MATT) also has expressed concern and urged the police to move swiftly. In a press release yesterday the association said if the allegations were proven to be true, law enforcement officers must bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that a free and fair press was important to the country’s democracy. “A free and fair press is crucial to the functioning of all institutions and right-thinking members of the society should also condemn any threat or attack on members of the media. “These threats can result in a journalist operating under fear which weakens the role of the fourth estate as a watchdog,” the association added. On its Facebook page the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) said the fact that Bassant had been forced to flee the country underscored the seriousness with which both his media institution and the State’s security forces were treating the matter. “We join with the Media Association of T&T in calling for urgent action to get to the bottom of this situation. “Our international partners are similarly concerned and we all look forward to a thorough and expeditious investigation and the prosecution of anyone found to be behind this threat,” the ACM added.