YOU can easily tell when popularity starts slipping away from governments. They tend, more often than not, to begin seeing ghosts where none exist and, even more stupidly, resort to blaming everyone but themselves for their self-inflicted misfortune.
The most current example of this is the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, whose chief servant, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, last week sought to pin on the media — politicians’ favourite whipping horse — the obvious failure of her Administration to communicate to the electorate its achievements.
“The evidence we have been seeing is that some so-called media professionals are not being fair to this Government and are not reporting on the achievements and successes of the Government,” Prime Minister Persad- Bissessar was reported as telling members of her ruling United National Congress.
Sob! Sob! Boo hoo!
According to the prime minister, these ‘unfair’ journalists are rogues who have now resorted to distorting the facts and were “either wilfully or unwittingly misinforming the society”.
For this apparent sin against the Administration, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar asked the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) to hold some of its members “accountable” while it performs the role of watchdog in defence of journalists. The MATT, she instructed, should “uphold old-fashioned journalism, in which the naked facts represent the holy grail”.
What we find most amusing about the prime minister’s complaint is that she did not identify these ‘rogue journalists’, neither did she specify what they have done to be so labelled.
That very point was made by Ms Suzanne Shepherd, the MATT interim president, who also pointed out that Prime Minister Persad- Bissessar’s call for the media to “uphold oldfashioned journalism” really has no validity, because the media’s values have not changed.
We share the concern of Mr Wesley Gibbings, the president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), that our thoughts should be directed at what Mrs Persad-Bissessar and her Government propose to do about the charges they have made. For that, we believe, is where the real danger gravely lies.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar told her party members in that address that her comments should not be construed as an attack on freedom of the press. However, we have many examples in the past, across the Caribbean, of politicians launching these verbal attacks on the media in an obvious attempt to intimidate journalists into self-censorship. In jurisdictions where blinkered and fanatical support for politicians and political parties can lead to violence those kinds of vitriolic statements often fuel rage among unthinking supporters who then pose a threat to journalists doing their jobs.
Given the nature of politicians, especially when they are in Government and are being criticised, we don’t expect Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to apologise or withdraw her comments.
We hope, though, that the people of Trinidad and Tobago who adhere to the view that in a democracy all views must contend, will not be swayed from ensuring the survival of that ideal.