Media melee

journalist accuses government of compromising the media


PORT OF SPAIN — Media consultant and journalist Sunity Maharaj said yesterday she believes no other Government has attempted to compromise the media more than the People’s Partnership Government.

However, she said the government was doing so “with the fullest support” from members of the media themselves.

Maharaj, a former Express editor-in-chief, was commenting on the fiasco at the Guardian newspaper where three journalists resigned on Wednesday, following claims of political interference from the government.

Maharaj, who was among seven editors to resign from the Guardian in 1996, is not moved by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s denial of political interference at the Guardian.

“The three people who have left have located interference as the core issues in their decision to leave the Guardian. The core issue seems to have been the coverage of the Government and certain people in the government,” she said

Maharaj added: “I think that no government has attempted to compromise the media more than this government, and I might say, with the full support of a lot of people in the media.”

She pointed to a pattern of behaviour which the government has employed since it came into office in May 2010, which included the hiring of media practitioners and the frequent media lunches and free hampers, which she said were intended to stave off any fight with the media.

“From the very beginning, this government has taken a position that it does not want to have a fight with the media. It wants a media that is supportive, that is on its side. We have seen through history that getting into a confrontation with the media does not work for the government.

“Very early, the government hired a set of people who worked in the media, who have friends and associates in the media, and who could be their liaisons.

“We saw the hosting of the media lunches and hampers, and so on. I think that that was not however an attempt to have a professional relationship with the media, but it was an attempt to ensure that they have the media on their side,” she said.

According to Maharaj, “when that did not happen, there were instead attempts to humiliate the journalists, including Asha Javeed, Ani­ka (Gumbs-Sandiford) and Denyse (Renne), and so on”.

As to the Guardian’s situation, where editor-in-chief Judy Raymond, up to press time last night, seemed ambivalent as to whether she should resign, Maharaj said Raymond will have to make a decision “about her place in that company”.

Under Raymond’s leadership, the Guardian has been accused of adopting an anti-government stance by the People’s Partnership administration, which seemed to have caused some discomfort at the Guardian Media Ltd and the ANSA McAL group.

“When you have a difference of opinion between the company and product and the company is taking a decision in the interest of the product, and that decision conflicts with what the editor and the journalists understand their responsibilities to be, then we come to this point where a line is drawn and people on both sides have to decide what they want to do,” Maharaj argued.

“The owner in this case, as happened in 1996, in taking the decision to reassign the editor-in-chief, is saying that ‘we have no confidence in the leadership of the editor-in-chief to be the editor we want her to be’ and that, of course, would be a compliant editor.

“Three reporters have taken their positions, and I think that Judy Raymond is taking her time to mull over, seek advice and consider the people whom she has brought to the job, and while she works out those issues, I think she must also work out the decision she must take,” Maharaj said. (Express)

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