In what was the most vicious attack on the local media by a sitting Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday accused the two largest media companies of not being independent but rather dancing to the tunes of their owners.
Here is the Prime Minister in his own words: “In Trinidad and Tobago we don’t have independent media houses…. what we have are media houses that have interest to protect.”
He went on: “One media house is owned by a business conglomerate that has interest and the Government has taken decisions that’s unfavourable to their interest. The other one, right, has business with the state which the Government is not facilitating and then obviously the Government is making enemies because they have interest to protect, we have interest to protect.”
We do not propose to speak for our counterparts on Independence Square who have a record of ably defending themselves against scurrilous attacks. We in Guardian Media vigorously condemn Dr Rowley’s diatribe. For more than a century, we have chronicled the history of our nation while standing up to hostile and raving leaders. We will never cower from misrepresentations, slander and threats. On behalf of our readers, we will remain resolute in seeking the truth and faithfully reporting it.
To deal with Dr Rowley’s attack, let us reinforce that Guardian Media’s journalism and editorial policies have always been independent of our parent company, which has maintained a hands-off approach.
It’s an independent company which trades on the stock exchange, with a board of eminent professionals.
We have seen attacks on our local media before but Dr Rowley’s is by far the most brazen. Here is a shortlist of the sitting governments’ greatest hits:
The country’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams routinely attacked the Guardian; Basdeo Panday attacked then minister Ken Gordon personally; George Chambers infamously threw the media out of a PNM meeting in Arima.
But Dr Rowley went a step beyond, questioning the integrity of the media for deigning to ask questions on how a shipload of fuel from a state-owned oil company may have ended up in Venezuela, not long after the prime minister met with Venezuelan vice-president Delcy Rodriguez, who has faced stiff sanctions from the US and European Union.
Journalists merely wanted to know how oil purportedly destined for Aruba never made its way there and why the Government’s accounts of the incident kept shifting.
Instead of addressing the questions, Dr Rowley cut loose, accusing the media of “harassing people with lies.” At the end of his rant, we still do not know why a day after his meeting with Rodriguez, purportedly to talk about COVID-19 security matters, Paria Trading Co initiated the sale of fuel that may have ended up in Venezuela.
We still do not know National Security Minister Stuart Young declared that US Ambassador Joseph Mondello did not raise with him that T&T might have violated the Rio Treaty only to be confounded days later by the ambassador. And we still don’t know why some of Venezuela’s top oil officials came to the prime minister’s office and who might have met with them.
After decades in politics, Dr Rowley should understand that reporters are not paid to provide public relations for his Government, which has a small army of state propagandists to do so. By asking questions on behalf of the public, reporters were merely doing their jobs.
We can only wonder why Dr Rowley chose this moment to launch a broadside against the media. Does he know that what he said could have a corrosive effect on our democracy? And does he care? Does he expect the media to now cower in a corner like a battered victim and not stand up for itself?
Citizens need to sit up and take note because when politics starts going down this route it imperils the very democracy we cherish.
As the guardian of democracy, we and the people of Trinidad and Tobago will always fight for a vibrant and free media that will ask the tough questions and hold the powerful to account. We owe our nation no less.