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July 28 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Will Warner Win?

Austin “Jack” Warner has held many important posts in his lifetime, including FIFA Vice President (beleaguered though his tenure was) and Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago. Tomorrow, he will be fighting to reclaim the title of Minister of Parliament for Chaguanas West, the post from which he voluntarily resigned on the heels of his resignations from Cabinet and as Chairman of the United National Congress, one of the political parties that forms the governing People's Partnership government. He will be contesting the by-election under the banner of his newly-formed political entity, the Independent Liberal Party.

The “Green Party”, as it is called, has been holding elaborate political rallies almost every night in the lead-up to the polls, many of which have been broadcast by mainstream media. The large crowds, questionable campaign tactics and race-centric rhetoric have prompted heated discussions on Facebook, but bloggers have also been sharing their perspectives.

aka_lol expained, tongue firmly in cheek, that the key issue in this election is box drains:

Despite all the learned talk, the Chaguanas West by-elections is not about good governance since the average citizen of this country has no idea what that means or care to Google it. The successful candidate in this election, aka voters’ choice, will be the person who the majority wants to be in charge of their most primal need, the need for proper box drains.

He continued:

In choosing a box drain leader, the people of Chaguanas West will have to go with their guts. We all know that Jack, the owner and CEO of the Independent Liberal Party’s (ILP), has listened to more box drain woes from citizens of this blessed land than any person on the planet. Because of his compassion for the box-drain-challenged, Jack is considered by many to be the foremost box drain authority in the country and probably the entire universe. I am not sure how much Kadija, the United National Congress (UNC) candidate, actually knows about box drains but she has been campaigning in the area with the Prime Minister, giving out gift boxes which might be symbolic of both future box drains and empty promises inside. Avinash, the Peoples National Movement (PNM)’s candidate, is a farmer and because of his party’s track record may prefer to build an aluminum smelter or church with state funds.

The Rag, a blog by Robin Montano, understandably had a lot to say on the election. Montano, a former senator for both the People's National Movement (currently in opposition) and the United National Congress, has joined Warner's new party as interim Chairman. The upcoming Chaguanas by-election got him talking about race in politics:

For the very first time in our modern political history the country has an opportunity to turn away from the traditional racial voting and trying something ‘new’ (and I put that word deliberately in inverted commas). The PNM has always been openly, if not blatantly, racial.

As for the UNC, well under Basdeo Panday it made a serious effort to move to the centre and be ‘all inclusive'. It's predecessor, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was a right wing Hindu party where only Hindus needed to apply. Panday, to his great credit, was much more secular and pragmatic in his thinking…which brings us down to today. The present leaders of the UNC certainly held themselves out to be ‘all inclusive’ in the Panday mode…but since the by-election was announced, the gloves have come off and all pretence (sic) about being a national and a nationalist political organisation has been dropped. Just about every single person in the top brass of the UNC from Prime Minister Persad Bissessar on down has come out and preached a line that sounds dangerously close to saying to the people ‘vote race'.

And here is where the opportunity for the country is rearing it's head. If Jack Warner was to win in next Monday's by-election it will send a very loud signal … an almost earth shattering one … that the old way of thinking is well and truly dead. No longer can politicians come to us and say ‘vote for me because I am African/Indian'. Now they are going to have to come and say ‘vote for me because I can and will perform!’

Unsurprisingly, the post predicts that Warner will win the Chaguanas West seat, saying:

It is clear that only Mr. Warner has approached the electorate with a modern 21st century mindset. Mr. Warner has basically said ‘look, I am a performer. When I was your MP I performed and delivered those services that you required. Further, when serious allegations were made against me (all of which I deny) I resigned my seat to give you the opportunity to decide whether or not you still wanted me to represent you in the Parliament of our country'.

A Trini Speaks, a blog written in the slang of Trinidad and Tobago, was also leaning towards a Warner win:

When people wake up on de mornin’ ah July 30th, it go be tuh de realization dat Jack Warner representin’ Chaguanas West again. I tinkin’ it go only be one set ah people who go be surprised doh – Kamla an’ she peeps.

Dis is ah increasingly dutty fight Kamla havin’ wid Jack. It just happen tuh be in Chaguanas West. Yuh eh go be able tuh dodge de unparalleled bacchanal dat comin’ wid Jack’s victory doh.

The blogger took issue with the level of “electioneerin” by the United National Congress, the party of the current Prime Minister:

Who is Khadijah Ameen?

Yes, she is de UNC candidate fuh Chaguanas West.

Maybe ah should ah ask who is de UNC candidate fuh de seat. Den yuh would ah start tuh say, ‘Kaam’, den cyatch yuhself. De way Kamla been campaginin’ it look like she, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is de real candidate.

Why Kamla refusin’ tuh remember de larse election? She fuhget how she waltz over tuh de sister isle an’ try tuh take over? Actin’ like she presence alone would sway voters? She figured eef she convince dem dat cat in bag is ah good buy, dey would ah buy all de candidates she had in dem bags. Well people in Tobago eh dotish an’ Kamla end up holdin’ de bag an’ covered in whitewash.

It eh de same strategy in Chaguanas West only more personal an’ stinker? Kamla’s goal is tuh destroy Jack at all costs…She was perfectly fine tuh have him in she inner circle when he was dis hardest wukkin’ minister, buh now, she more den willin’ tuh criticize all de tings she didn’t have ah problem wid before.

He continued:

Although ah say plenty times me eh no fan ah Jack Warner’s politics, dat eh have nuttin tuh do wid he intelligence. Eef he was dotish he wouldn’t have dis bottomless pit ah money dat Kamla only now questionin’.

Jack eh just catch ah vaps an’ resign he seat den say he goin’ an’ ask he ex-constituents tuh re-elect him. He have ah plan.

The post also made the point that Warner has strong ties with his constituents. The blogger should know; he lives in Chaguanas West:

Certified or not, ah know it have someting between Jack an’ he constituents. It eh tribal politics an’ Kamla tactics eh breakin’ dat bond. Jack is dey don.

He ended by revealing who he will vote for tomorrow:

I so reach mih limit wid dis campaign. While ah not ah vengeful person ah cyar see mihself votin’ fuh de UNC/PP.

Me eh care eef he was de hardest wukkin’ minister. Not even eef he eh spend plenty time applyin’ fuh houses fuh people outside he district. Ah parsin’ on Jack. Plus he might ups an’ disappear an’ gorn. Next ting ah hear, he in ah land far away on ah multi year restricted forced vacation. From all dat hard wuk maybe?

I eh even have tuh tink about mih no vote fuh de PNM. I cyar support ah belief in tribal politics like is someting multi ethnic Trinbago cook up.

Dat leave Dr. Kirk Meighoo. Me eh know nuttin…

Buh wait.

Dat eh it?

Dat is it right dey!!

Jack go win buh ah know who I votin’ for.

If Warner does win, The Rag says it will “[change] the politics of this country for what can only be the better”. aka_lol sees it an entirely different way:

Regardless of the victor in these elections there will be fireworks on the night the results are known with the country being the biggest loser.

July 16 2013

Reporters Break Their Silence on Trinidad & Tobago Press Freedom Confusion

In the latest twist to the press freedom fiasco at the Trinidad Guardian, the three reporters who walked off the job last Wednesday (Dr. Sheila Rampersad, Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne) have issued a press release detailing their version of events – and they make a point of saying they stand behind their initial claim that “there was a significant threat to press freedom; that threat wore the garments of political interference and its dimensions included, importantly, the sidelining of the Editor in Chief (EIC), Ms Judy Raymond.”

Their statement, released late yesterday in response to this article by Judy Raymond, began by explaining why they chose to speak out now:

We spoke publicly on the day of the walkout and Dr Sheila Rampersad spoke again on I95.5FM the morning after (Thursday July 11). A comment was solicited by and given to the Trinidad Express newspaper on the same day (Thursday July 11).

We have made no other public comment.

Following Ms Raymond’s statement published in the T&T Guardian on July 15, we have decided to break our dignified silence in the interest of our professional credibility and personal well-being.

It also provided a bit more background on the circumstances leading to their cry of “attack on press freedom”:

Critical to understanding the events leading up to the Wednesday walkout is a meeting that occurred on Tuesday (July 9) at 2.15 pm.

At that meeting, we were told by the MD and EIC that they had both returned from a meeting at the ANSA McAl head office, that there were many concerns with what was perceived by the Guardian Media Ltd’s board of directors to be our biased news reporting, and that things had come to a head. Two examples were mentioned: the Sunday Guardian lead of July 7 which carried the headline ‘Millions Leaving T&T’ and the T&T Guardian’s lead of July 4 under the headline ‘Rowley Escapes.’

The “Rowley Escapes” headline and stories, however, generated much debate between editors, who defended our representation of the story, and the MD. Flipping between pages one and three of that day’s paper, the MD said, essentially, that our coverage of the story was biased in favour of Dr Keith Rowley and Mr Colm Imbert and against the Privileges Committee. The MD said the board of directors was unanimous in that view. The MD said the EIC had to go ‘offline.’

When asked how we were to proceed in an environment in which the EIC was ‘offline’ for vague, undetermined reasons, and with increasing instability in the newsroom that would only be heightened by the EIC’s physical absence, we were told by the MD to tone the paper down.

The reporters also revealed other details:

We were told the EIC going ‘offline’ to work on an editorial policy and the toning down of the paper in the interim comprised the best option available following the MD’s and the EIC’s meeting at head office. Someone asked what the other options were. There was silence, then the EIC said, ‘It’s either this or we both go.’ ‘We’ referred to the MD and the EIC. One editor asked whether we could meet with the GML board to dialogue; the MD said no, that was out of the question.

Later on Tuesday, editors were told by the EIC that someone was being sought to sit-in on the afternoon editors’ meeting which determined the news content of the next day’s paper. One person was approached by the MD; that individual requested time to consider. A short time later, another person was approached by the MD; that person sat-in on Tuesday afternoon’s editors’ meeting.

The release then referred to a series of text messages and emails reportedly sent between Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond, Dr. Sheila Rampersad and Anika Gumbs-Sandiford. The release noted that “these messages and other correspondence quoted here, along with many more, remain in our possession as corroboration”:

Uncertainty grew on Tuesday night during which Dr Rampersad and Ms Raymond exchanged a number of text messages relevant to fluid developments. The idea of a walkout, floating around since Monday, took shape on Tuesday night.

On walkout Wednesday, some editors arrived at the office with that idea (walkout), one aspect of which was to confer before walking out. The conference occurred.

At the conference, the EIC suggested waiting until ‘tomorrow', adding an hour or so later that her lawyer had advised her not to do anything drastic until she spoke to him. The EIC later left to see a lawyer on Duke Street. Notwithstanding this, Ms Raymond, on walkout Wednesday at 2.58 pm, texted Dr Rampersad saying, ‘I need to get out of here. Will be following you in matter of hours. Talk later. Thx for everything xx.’

After the walkout, at 5.56 pm Wednesday July 10, the EIC texted Dr Rampersad following Dr Rampersad’s immediate post-walkout interview on I95.5FM: ‘Heard interview. Great.’

Investigative reporters Ms Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Ms Denyse Renne affirm that, contrary to the EIC’s statement in today’s Guardian, they were at no time asked, told or advised by the EIC to defer their resignations for 24 hours.

Ms Gumbs-Sandiford confirms that the EIC was in possession of her resignation letter since 1.44am on Wednesday July 10. There was no response advising Ms Gumbs-Sandiford to defer her resignation. In fact, Ms Raymond responded at 7.30am via e-mail: ‘Thanks for letting me know, Anika. I am so sorry it has to come to this. Thanks for all your great work. All the best.’

At 8.20 am, having already agreed on the walkout the night before, the EIC texted Dr Rampersad: ‘Cd you call Anika & ask her not to send letter yet? GF [Gabriel Faria, the company's Managing Director] on way to talk to Norman now, still hoping to save the day. If not, we’ll go together after that'.

Dr Rampersad responded: ‘It’s over.’ Ms Raymond acknowledged that with a sad-face emoticon.

The joint statement took the position that the reporters’ walkout enabled the subsequent dialogue between the Editor-in-Chief and Guardian Media's management:

Ms Gumbs-Sandiford and Ms Renne confirm that they resigned in support of Ms Raymond knowing that if Ms Raymond went ‘offline,’ very soon they would have also been sent ‘offline’ given the number of protests that followed the investigative stories they wrote.

Our silence between Thursday morning and today is not to be interpreted as stupidity, cowardice, or belief in the convoluted spin generated by GML. We are clear that the issue at the start of last week was interference in the editorial processes and products and the suspension and/or potential dismissal of Ms Raymond.

That there was dialogue between the EIC and management from Thursday July 11 was not inevitable; our walkout enabled that change.

It ended by denouncing the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago's claim that Gumbs-Sandiford and Renne were back on their reporters’ beats at the Guardian:

Contrary to reports from the Media Association of T&T, none of the three journalists who walked out is back on the job. None of us was contacted before or after the MATT news release was issued.

We remain unshakeable in our conviction that we took an honourable and principled position; we have no regrets.

The public will adjudicate on whether the confusion of the past few days can be accurately termed ‘misinformation,’ ‘massive miscommunication’ or, quite simply, lies.

Global Voices will continue to follow developments.

July 14 2013

Trinidad & Tobago's Media Association “Pulls a 180″ in Press Freedom Debacle

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago has retracted its original statement about political interference having a part to play in the alleged reassignment of key reporters in the Guardian's newsroom, leaving some bloggers wondering if the whole affair was a storm in a teacup…or if the public is not being told the whole story.

The organisation's latest release, dated yesterday morning, said:

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) seeks to correct previous erroneous information…the impasse between the publishers of the Trinidad and Sunday Guardian newspapers and senior journalists has been reportedly resolved following discussions between the two parties. Apart from the resignation of Public Affairs Editor Dr Sheila Rampersad, the newsroom is now functioning as before with Judy Raymond as Editor in Chief. Investigative reporters Anika Gumbs and Denyse Renne, who were initially reported as having resigned, are on the job. Managing Director Gabriel Faria and Sector Head David Inglefield have not resigned as previously reported.

President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) Suzanne Sheppard, who is the Business News Editor at the Trinidad Guardian, described the events of the last 24 hours which led to speculation of political pressure on journalists at the daily newspaper as case of a ‘massive miscommunication’ between the publishers and journalists.

Sheppard said she is convinced, following discussions with senior executives, that the events of the past few days when Judy Raymond was asked to go temporarily ‘off-line’ to review editorial standards in the newsroom had ‘nothing to do with political intervention'.

Sheppard said freedom of press issues were raised only due to an unfortunate combination of events that will be revealed in a press conference on Monday.

The post on MATT's Facebook page garnered only two “likes” but attracted some unfavourable commentary. One reader, Rhoda Bharath, who blogs at The Eternal Pantomime, said:

I think the public is owed an apology…and at least two resignations…because this body was used to promote the story. The public didn't dream this up…YOU, MATT, are GUILTY of irresponsible information dissemination. SHAME ON YOU!

On her own Facebook wall (the status updates are reproduced here with her permission), Bharath shared the link to the new MATT statement and quipped:

So apparently MATT…who happens to be headed by Suzanne Sheppard and Judy Raymond, got it wrong…About Face and Cover Up now in full effect…it means people who draw a salary for the purpose of responsibly and reliably informing the public, doing so under false pretences (sic). And we have to take it, I guess. No proper explanation. No apologies.

Another Facebook user, Valerie James, simply wrote:

COVER UP!!

The organisation attempted to respond to the criticism by replying:

Unfortunately two of our sources were wrong about the resignation. Part of responsible journalism is about issuing apologies when due. There will be a press conference on Monday which should answer questions. I hope all media workers come to the next Matt meeting.

Dex Perado immediately questioned MATT's “sources”:

You used sources for your posts? Who were the sources? Tntfinder? Because what I saw was MATT piggybacking on a story that tntfinder ran–a story that itself relied on hearsay.

A big part of crisis communications is waiting–waiting to ascertain the facts so as to devise a coordinated response. Did you do that? No, what you did was fire off a series of boilerplate bs ‘press releases’ that were largely emotional in tone.

As the MATT, you have a responsibility to defend and uphold the highest ideals of the profession. Those ideals are rooted in fact-based reporting. Did you have all the facts before you issued a response? No. You should be setting the standard. Instead, you are doing things that are detrimental to the profession you represent.

Ann Mc Carthy added:

Faria has been on CNC3 7pm news talking about the situation trying to say ‘everything is OK etc.’ but in my view somewhere over the chirpy everything is alright rainbow are some dark clouds that nobody wants to talk about because they are trying to do damage control. They can jump high and jump low, press has previously been a target under PPG [People's Partnership Government] and proof of it was on TV from different ministers plus preaction protocol letters to a journalist.

Wired 868′s Lasana Liburd also had some stinging criticism for the media association:

Faced with a crisis of journalistic integrity and political pressure, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) did what it does best: fired out an eloquent press release, curled into the foetal position, counted to a thousand and then went back to work.

To recap the Guardian drama-that-wasn’t but kind-of-was: On Wednesday afternoon, MATT president and Guardian editor Suzanne Shepherd posted on Facebook that ‘the most vile attack imaginable on freedom of the press (is) now in progress and I am in the midst of it.’

A few hours later, MATT reiterated that it 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.’ And MATT stood ‘in solidarity with MATT president Suzanne Sheppard and MATT vice president, Judy Raymond, both of whom are part of the Guardian’s key editorial team and are reported to be personally dealing with fallout from this political interference on the newsroom.’

While MATT was ‘monitoring’ and ‘viewing with alarm', Guardian public affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad and investigative journalists Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne sprung to action. They declared their positions untenable due to the level of political interference exerted on their boss and quit.

MATT made it clear that it stood ‘in solidarity with our colleagues in the media and the executives who have supported them.’ Only MATT was still standing in the Guardian newsroom while its ace reporters were on the streets feeling a tad confused by their silence.

Gabriel Faria, it turned out, had not quit at all. Guardian was in damage limitation mode and, as Raymond herself suggested, cautious optimism had replaced concerned monitoring.

The post continued:

Raymond never said what Guardian offered to her and Shepherd by way of compromise. They did not clear up the inconsistencies between their statements of political interference and the rebuttals from Faria and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

On Saturday, a MATT release admitted to publishing ‘erroneous information’ but said that was in reference to Faria’s resignation rather than the charge of editorial pressure from board level. The irony was especially juicy since Faria had accused Raymond’s staff of being lax in corroborating information before publishing.

Renne and Gumbs-Sandiford were said to be back on the job too and the whole was described as ‘a massive miscommunication between the publishers and journalists.’

So, the story had a happy ending after all.

Unless you happened to be Rampersad who has now discovered that MATT’s support is not worth the paper that its emailed releases are not printed on.

Critical blog posts just kept on coming. Plain Talk suggested that:

If the Media Association of T&T wants to have any real relevance post ‘Guardian-Drama’ they are going to have to ask that, at the very least, both the president and the vice president do the right thing and step down. While it may not undo the damage already done, it could facilitate beginning the process of frank and open discussions as to what exactly transpired.

What the Guardian does from here is Guardian business and they are welcome to it, but it is my belief that they are going to lose a lot of ground over the naked perversion and the still unanswered questions as to what exactly took place last Wednesday.

The Eternal Pantomime added:

Trinbagonians pretty pissed off with the Guardian newspaper…they feel they have been taken for a ride…and no amount of soft soaping from the Editor in Chief, or even from her Business News Editor, is going to make the reading public feel good anytime soon. No one is going to forget your behaviour this week, or what it means for our confidence in media and press freedom.

In a follow-up post uploaded yesterday, Bharath referred to “the MATT who cried wolf” and called the whole debacle “a hoax”:

We’re being told today…that ALLLLLL those press releases [MATT] sent out earlier in the week to keep us abreast of the situation in the Guardian newsroom…well they were mistaken.

So MATT, once again, is a tool, being absolutely abused by its executive. Nothing to see here folks…move along.

Blogger Attillah Springer, who is also a columnist at the Guardian, also posted her assessment of the situation yesterday:

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly. I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that…the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.

People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced. Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.

She proceeded to give examples of such occasions, and continued:

The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government. A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither. And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.

But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.

And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?

She then broke the whole controversy down to one key issue:

The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?

The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.

Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines. I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under siege.

A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.

I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.

No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

Yet, compromise seems to be what has happened. Georgia Popplewell, in a public Facebook status update, tried to consider the situation from another perspective:

I do understand why walking appears to many who have commented on the situation be the only honourable response, and I'm certainly not condemning those who have chosen to resign front he paper: under the circumstances I might well have done the same. I'm deeply concerned about corporate greed, censorship and government interference in the media and I'll be boycotting the Guardian and CNC3 like the rest of you.

Still, we rarely hear—or listen to—the story of those who DON'T walk. This is not a defence of Judy Raymond (who also happens to be a friend) but a—perhaps naive—wish for a dispassionate examination of the situation. I'd love to see some attention given to that other option: what it's like to remain in the belly of the beast and “give it one last try”, as Judy is quoted as saying in this morning's Express article (http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/BETRAYAL-215173831.html), even in a place as allegedly odious as ANSA McAL. And not just by people who support or like Judy, but by people who support good journalism and rational discussion. If getting rid of troublemakers is what, we assume, ANSA McAL wants, might staying, even with a reduced portfolio, be a courageous position? Can we imagine what it could be like to fight from the inside? Are corporate behemoths unbeatable by definition?

As Singing Francine sang, ‘Chile does run away/Dog does run away/Cat does run away/When man treatin’ dem bad.’ But what about those who stay? Where's their calypso? Maybe we'll end up booing it off the stage, but I still want to hear it. ‪#‎Trinidad

July 12 2013

July 11 2013

Press Freedom Déjà Vu in Trinidad & Tobago

All anyone seemed to be talking about today in Trinidad and Tobago was the walkout at the Guardian newspaper and whether there is more in the mortar than the pestle. A handful of bloggers had some time to think about the ramifications of the newsroom “reassignments” and they wasted no time in sharing their perspectives…

Plain Talk was confused about the Guardian's official response to the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago's denouncement of the move:

This was followed by a verbal statement/interview given to the Guardian's sister station CNC3 by the same Managing Director Gabriel Faria named in the…statement, where he had cause to put a different spin on everything…except to acknowledge that at least two employees out of about (his words) a hundred and sixty had resigned.

He debunked the idea that Ms. Raymond had cause to resign in protest over anything and that all of this was essentially some bad weather in a teacup and that she was in fact, happily reassigned to a new and more challenging post within the organization.

The blogger, Phillip Edward Alexander, had a lot of questions:

What DON'T we know?

Why was the Trinidad Guardian Editor Judy Raymond effectively reassigned?

What exactly is a ‘robust editorial policy’ and why would it take replacing the replacement Editor with the man she replaced so that she could personally work on that?

Why was her reassignment enough to cause some very seasoned and highly respected journalists and at least one Editor to resign their jobs in protest?

Why would her reassignment cause the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago to put out a statement heavily critical of the Trinidad Guardian's management?

Why would the statement put out by the Media Association be so severely contradicted by the Guardian's Managing Director in his own statement?

Why has the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago not come out in defense of their own statement or, failing that, not retracted and offered a full apology to Guardian Media and to Managing Director Gabriel Faria, whom their statement makes a teller of untruths?

Alexander added that he had “further information” that required verification before he could blog about it, but ended by saying:

Until then I will say that i believe that what took place today was a serious attack on the freedom of the press and of journalistic independence…

The Eternal Pantomime was taking Guardian fiasco very seriously. She opened her post by saying:

We’re down to one functioning daily newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago…a country that used to have 3.

Press and Media have taken a massive hit under this government in multiple ways. If we don’t have journalists selling themselves off to the government and handling their PR, then we have Government Ministers and state figures threatening the media.

In just 3 short years we have seen Police officers raid newspaper offices twice!

We’ve seen Jack Warner, then Minister of National Security threaten the safety of both Asha Javeed and Denyse Renne on state television using state resources. Yet today, that same Warner is being touted as a saviour by people too greedy to know true tyranny when they rubbing up against it.

She continued:

Yesterday’s meltdown at the Guardian, in which several writers walked off and it is alleged the Editor in Chief has been reassigned, is simply more evidence, to add to the evergrowing, that under Kamla’s Small Goal side we have no real democracy and the dictatorship isn’t creeping…it is already here. This isn’t the first time since getting into office that people have had to leave media houses.

And even with this…people still defend the party. Well aware that we need an independently functioning media to have a functioning democracy, they still support the antics of this government and its collaborators.

What the Guardian Meltdown should teach us though is deep into govenment pockets Big Business is…and we still think Beetham, Laventille and Sealots are the leeches in society?

Clearly the Guardian of Democracy tagline is just a front. Those of use old enough will know that this isn’t the first time there have been meltdowns at the Guardian under a UNC Government. In 1997 editor Jones P Madeira led a walkout of several journalists from the Guardian.

Rhoda Bharath also took issue with the newspaper's official explanation:

Guardian Managing Director Gabriel Faria seems to be talking out of several sides of his mouth. In one instant you are hearing he was fired, then last night you saw him speaking in his capacity as Managing Director saying everything was fine, the Guardian was still committed to the highest levels of journalism and that their two top investigative journalists had resigned because they were refusing to do more work and harder work.

Now therein lies the rub. According to Gabriel Faria, Guardian Media Ltd’s idea of fair and responsible journalism is to have Sampson Nanton question just the Managing Director about a staff walk out. Not one member of the Guardian’s staff was interviewed. Balance in we pweffen!

If lopsided journalism is the hard work people were running from, then I wish Misses Renne and Gumbs-Sandiford godspeed. These two reporters buss more mark on this government than any tsunami Warner has promised and it’s sad they have to go through this kind of upheaval.

Bloggers across the region were also taking notice. Over in Jamaica, Active Voice wondered whether journalism in the twin island republic was in crisis:

Trinidad Guardian Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond had reportedly walked off the job, followed by…several other conscientious journalists in an atmosphere rife with allegations of political interference. Then today both the government and the Guardian refuted the charge of political interference. As Patricia Worrell ‏@bytesdog succinctly put it ‘This Guardian story have more twists and turns than Lady Chancellor or the road from Maracas.’

Annie Paul also republished some of Raymond's tweets in the midst of the goings-on:

Raymond’s laconic Twitter account @HeyJudeTT doesn’t yield much at first glance. Her last three tweets are suitably cryptic but the Orwell quote ['Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations'] is telling.

Interestingly enough, a few days prior to the fallout at the Guardian, Paul published this post, which examined “what ails Jamaican journalism”. In it, she refers to an article in the the June/July 2013 issue of The Journalist, “a magazine of the national union of journalists in the UK”, which carried an article titled “The scourge of poverty” by British journalist, Jeremy Dear:

In the article, Dear…outlines the parlous state of the Jamaican media with journalists so poorly paid that they die in poverty and while alive, are susceptible to bribes, threats, and gags of all sorts. In effect the impression is given that the Press corps in Jamaica has been castrated, and is ineffectually limping along, while going through the motions of aping a free and dynamic press.

If what is claimed in the UK article is true then this is an extremely serious situation.

Of Trinidad and Tobago's position where freedom of the press is concerned, she asks:

How will this situation be resolved? The region watches and waits with bated breath.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Freedom of the Press”, is by Khalid Albaih, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Khalid Albaih's flickr photostream.

Trinidad & Tobago Media Reshuffle Viewed as Threat to Press Freedom

There is controversy brewing in Trinidad and Tobago over freedom of the press following a reassignment of key media personnel (including the Editor-in-Chief) at the Trinidad Guardian newspaper – a move which some are claiming came about because of political pressure.

TNT Finder was posting about about the story as it developed, even as Facebook users were speculating as to the reason for the new portfolios:

Reports today of ‘discomfort’ among staff at the Trinidad Guardian newspaper arm of Guardian Media Limited, as its Editor-in-Chief has been instructed to create a new vision and mission for the paper within one month.

It is understood that while Editor Judy Raymond has been given the new assignment, the paper’s Business Editor Anthony Wilson will act in her post along with Irving Ward. Ward, we are told, was employed at T&T Guardian for just 3 months.

Sources say the Guardian Media board has been receiving political pressure from the powers-that-be on certain stories being published at the paper…

Late yesterday, the same site reported that:

Editors and Journalists of the T&T Guardian newspaper…walked out the St Vincent Street building this afternoon in protest against what they say is ‘political interference’ in their operations by people acting on the part of the PP [People's Partnership] Government.

The workers said their profession and integrity are under attack and they will not work under such conditions.

Journalist Dr Sheila Rampersad said ‘We were told on Monday by the Managing Director Gabriel Fariah that somebody will be coming to the newsroom to sit in and presumably to report back on our Editorial meetings.’

She added there was an attempt to impose an unrealistic and unsustainable expectation of serious journalists.

Dr. Rampersad, who is quoted in that story, is a popular columnist with the Guardian; she was allegedly affected by the reshuffle as well. The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago wasted no time in issuing a statement about the matter on the Association of Caribbean Media Workers’ Facebook page:

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 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.

The statement was also published on its own Facebook page, along with several updates, including this one, which gives a preview of the newspaper's next issue. (The headline reads “Guardian MD denies political interference; NOTHING HAS CHANGED”):

The Guardian Media Ltd remains committed to the highest principles of journalism. Managing director Gabriel Faria yesterday assured that the media entity was in full support of ‘fair, balanced and accurate reporting by its reporters.’ He said he has been fully supportive of the media team, and that the group has been providing the necessary training and equipment to compete at the highest level.

Most citizen media discussion seemed to be happening on personal Facebook walls, but Twitter provided relevant commentary as well:

@LifeSupportTT: “BUCKLING” under political pressure turns to “BUCKUP” or “NO BUCKs” if citizens don't buy the #Trinidad #Guardian for a week. #freemediaday

@HaydnDunn: Looks like press freedom in T&T is under serious attack!!! @samnanton RE Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago Press Release.

@LifeSupportTT: Power struggle, #Media want govt #advertising funds, Gov't want media coverage. Who has the upper hand? #moneymedia #socialmedia #freemedia

The most searing commentary thus far, however, has been by Wired 868‘s Mr. Live Wire:

It turns out that the sacking of Manohar Ramsaran, who got his marching orders for jumping up in the wrong band during the UNC’s Chaguanas West screenings, will not go down as the most bizarre political expulsion for 2013.

Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond did not even realise she was holding a political seat!

Raymond was hired last year to help the Guardian bottom-line: Increase sales. However, Mr Live Wire understands she ran afoul of the company’s motto: Stay close to the Government.

The post continued:

In a politically aware country, although not necessarily a politically intelligent one, Raymond’s Guardian won nationwide acclaim for a string of exclusives including the stunning Section 34 scandal.

So, the Guardian board…felt it was time to ‘refocus and redesign’ the newspaper again since soaring popularity, increased sales and respectability are clearly overrated.

The fall-out has so far prompted the departures of Raymond, public affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad and investigative reporters Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne. The remaining staff will work under stand-in Anthony Wilson, whose leadership prompted Raymond’s hiring in the first place.

He closed by suggesting that the newspaper should change its logo:

The saintly angel just does not fit the mood for that St Vincent Street business place where politicians can drop a few ads and expect the pages to open up invitingly.

Perhaps a mascot that suggests a combination of sensual activity for political fat cats and the mindless decapitation of discerning readers would be more appropriate. Like Xena Warrior Princess.

July 10 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Smile, You're on a Cell Phone Camera!

This year’s crop of mobile phones in particular make it possible to take excellent photographs, some of which rival those from more professional equipment in good light.

Mark Lyndersay takes a look at the evolution of cell phone photography.

July 03 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: A Travel Mindset

Once you have the right perspective, you can travel anywhere … some places you might have to wait longer to visit, but you will eventually get there.

Travel blogger Rishi Sankar offers advice on how to “structure your mind to enable a life of travel”.

June 27 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Is Your Smart Phone Safe?

ICT Pulse offers valuable information on the radiation levels for popular mobile and smartphones in the Caribbean.

June 26 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: E-mails & Integrity

In more fallout over what has come to be known as “e-mailgate”, Trinidad and Tobago bloggers are tracking how the political fracas has affected public perception of the country's Integrity Commission.

Nearly two weeks ago, political blogger The Eternal Pantomime accuses the government of trying to distract the population and discredit the opposition:

The discovery that Rowley and chairman of the IC [Integrity Commission] had a twenty-minute meeting at Gordon’s [Ken Gordon, Chair of the Integrity Commission] private home to discuss whether or not Emailgate was a matter before the IC has played itself nicely into the government’s hands as yet another tool to discredit the validity of the alleged e-mails; and now, to discredit the IC and perhaps avoid going the route of an independent investigation. And while they aren’t in the wrong to question the occurrence of the meeting, the irony of this government querying private meetings is too rich. And it’s so obvious that their tactic will now be to use this meeting to avoid what the public and Opposition has been clamouring for: an independent investigation.

She continued:

It didn’t take the AG [Attorney General] more than a hot minute after Roodal Moonilal’s announcement of the meeting in Parliament – complete with side (and snide) comments from the PM egging him on – to imply that Chairman Ken Gordon was compromised. And if you have followed the fate of this Integrity Commission it is always mired in mud and controversy…from inception. The Government knows well that the country has little faith in it; and further that UNC [The United Natinal Congress - a political party that is part of the current coalition government] supporters will use any excuse to blame and label anyone and anything as PNM (The people's National Movement, the political party that currently occupies the opposition bench in Parliament]…and so, a private meeting about a public matter between the Opposition Leader and the chairman of the IC takes on a particularly questionable face.

The blogger, Rhoda Bharath, pointed out at least five instances in which the current administration has ignored proper protocol, explaining:

For the last 3 years protocol and good sense have been tossed to the wind, and because there is no Constitutional law that prevents it, the Prime Minister has gotten away with administrative murder.

In contrast, she noted:

Mind you, Gordon and the IC ensured there was an aide memoire that recorded the meeting.

This action may serve as the distinction between a private meeting and a secret one, as its contents were reportedly minuted and submitted to the Commission.

Bharath also made the following prediction:

The AG’s hounding of the Integrity Commission’s Chairman today will have an impact on Emailgate.

Having now raised questions about the integrity of Ken Gordon and the independence of the Commission itself, I feel quite certain that any call for an independent investigation into Emailgate by an Integrity Commission will be shot down by the AG and his government using this meeting as the reason.

In the interim, however, the meeting that she refers to is certainly having an impact on the Integrity Commission. There were soon calls for the commission's Chair to step down. Blogger and political activist Plain Talk was following the story and supported the view that Gordon should resign:

I have nothing but the greatest respect for the Chairman of the Integrity Commission Mr. Ken Gordon, a man who has done such yeoman service for this country we will never be able to thank him enough or to repay him, but this is the irony of the thing – I know in my heart of hearts that I am standing on the same side of this issue that Ken Gordon the man would stand on were he not one of the subjects of this issue.

I trust him to do the right thing which, in this instance, is to step down so as to remove any semblance of corruption from that body.

There were so many things wrong with this meeting that serious consequences HAVE to be the order of the day. It is that breech of transparency…that collapses the thing.

In all things we all must not only remember but insist, that justice must not only BE done, but that it must be SEEN to be done, that is, if it is or real intention to do no harm.

In a follow-up post, the blogger emphasized that:

The issue here comes down to preserving the very integrity of the Integrity Commission, and, as unfortunate a remedy as it may be, that can only be served by the removal of the offending doubt. In that regard, in this instance, if the Chairman refuses to do the right and honorable thing here and step down, it is my view that he should be removed from Office.

As it turns out, Gordon has chosen not to step down. The country's president, in the interim, has named four new appointees to the commission but there has been no statement yet on whether or not a new chairperson will be sworn in along with the new members. Trinidadian diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch, however, holds out little hope for that outcome, saying:

President Carmona fail[ed] in his first outright challenge (to remove Ken Gordon from the Integrity Commission). I guess the powers he thought he had was (sic) only in his head.

The new members of the Integrity Commission are expected to take the Oath of Office within a few days.

June 24 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Tourists Charged in Airport Altercation

This is a country where tourism is a big portion of the nation’s income, yet tourists are clearly not valued, even just enough to answer a simple question.

tzen project blogs about her family's travel nightmare in Trinidad and Tobago.

June 18 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: New Media & Tourism

We are destined to fail at our tourism efforts because the stakeholders, decision makers and governmental associations have no understanding of the new media landscape.

Travel blogger Rishi Sankar takes the Trinidad and Tobago tourism body to task for its “lack of recognition of social media’s impact on tourism.”

Caribbean: Is Somebody Watching?

The ongoing saga with U.S. Internet surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden has captured the attention of the world – Caribbean bloggers included. There has been a fair amount of discussion about the issue on Facebook: users of the social network have been sharing up-to-the-minute news links and signing the Avaaz.org petition to “Stand with Snowden”.

In two blog posts, one from Trinidad and Tobago and the other from Cuba, there is an interesting juxtaposition between high-tech spying and old-fashioned intelligence, even though they both pit the citizens against the state. ICT Pulse, which prides itself on discussing global technology issues from a Caribbean point of view, opens by saying:

The recent revelations of the breadth and depth of the telecoms surveillance being conducted by the United States has been highlighting the extent to which communication is no longer private.

Unless you have been wholly disconnected from international news over the last two weeks, we have been inundated with reports about the extent of the surveillance and spying being done by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Although from time to time we here at ICT Pulse have been discussing the fact that Internet privacy is an illusion, and suggesting ways in which to improve your privacy online, these recent revelations indicate a more pervasive (and government-sanctioned) programme exists.

The post then sums up the United States’ approach to telecommunications surveillance, explaining:

Through electronic surveillance projects, most notably one codenamed PRISM, the NSA has been collecting data from…telecoms companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, and from large internet properties, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, YouTube, Skype and Apple. When news about PRISM was made public, some of companies sought to refute claims that the NSA was collecting the data ‘directly from the servers'. However, subsequent reports have suggested that the US government has indeed been getting access to user content.

To defuse some of the outcry that occurred in the US when the story broke, the government revealed that its surveillance has been geared primarily towards identifying potential threats to America.

With regard to voice calls, the US government indicated that it collects the metadata of those transactions, and did not necessarily listen in on people’s conversations. However, the metadata, while not capturing the actual content of persons’ interactions, can provide enough information to deduce the nature of those conversations.

So what does that mean for people who live in the Caribbean?

Our telephone conversations generally might fall outside of US jurisdiction, and so not be immediately subject to PRISM and other forms of scrutiny. However, in circumstances where Internet Messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol- (VoIP) type services are being used, e.g. Skype, Viber, and iChat, and especially when the servers might be located in the US, those interactions could be subject to US government surveillance.

The blog is careful to issue a warning:

We…ought to bear in mind, that even in the region, law enforcement is increasingly seeking to have access to and to rely on the tapping of phones (fixed and mobile/cellular) in their investigations. In many Caribbean countries, mobile/cellular phone registration is mandatory, which means that, up to a point, the original owner of a device is known. Moreover, from time to time, proposals are mooted to relax device-tapping or call interception procedures – for example so that a government Minister can sanction such activities instead of the courts. Although generally there has been opposition to those proposals, they will continue to rear their head, as law enforcement continues to grapple with crime, and governments place increasing focus on ‘national security'.

With the exception of the European Union, countries worldwide have been relatively silent about the disclosures regarding the depth and breadth of US electronic surveillance. Hence it could cause us to question whether or not, or the extent to which countries, including those in the Caribbean, might have cooperated with the US on such matters.

Tackling what it calls an “over-reliance on US Internet facilities”, the post suggests a possible solution:

We…need to…recognise that our personal and business-related data could also be subject to US scrutiny, should they be stored in the US.

From a sovereignty and national security perspective, a case could be made for individual countries or even the region collectively, to actively develop their own web hosting, server facilities, Internet infrastructure, etc., in order to encourage their citizens to bring their data closer to home.

In Cuba, however, according to Yoani Sanchez, “home” is exactly where the spying originates from:

His own neighbor watches him. No one has confirmed it, he hasn’t read it any report, and he doesn’t have any friends in the police who have warned him. He’s simply not stupid. Whenever he opens the gate to his house, a white head peers out from next door. For every five times that he comes and goes, at least three times he runs into the old man who lives in the next apartment pretending to water the plants in the passage. The pots are overflowing, but the improvised watcher continues to add more and more water. Also he asks questions, a lot of questions, on the most imponderable topics: Um… what you have in that bag, where did you buy it? It’s been some time since you visited your mother-in-law, right? So he has his own private informer, an intelligence cell — of just one member — focused on his existence.

The post continues:

In an unwritten, but very frequent, formula, most of the people involved in the betrayal of other Cubans also exhibit a great frustration in their personal lives. Not that every unhappy person becomes an informant for State Security, but failure is a breeding ground that the recruiters of informers take advantage of. With these individuals they develop shock troops willing to destroy others.

June 10 2013

Caribbean Flu Scare was Accidentally Made in China

What's in a name paired with a couple of numbers and letters? A great deal, it turns out, when those letters and numbers refer to a strain of the influenza (flu) virus. While it's not critical to be able to tell your hemagglutinin from your neuraminidase (the two proteins at the source of the “H” and “N” flu naming conventions), as the National Pork Board states in its influenza naming guidelines (PDF): “Knowing the proper name to call a flu virus is important to be factual and to avoid misinterpretation and improper response.”

Case in point: last week's bird/swine flu mix-up, which saw officials in Trinidad and Tobago pointing fingers at Venezuela in the wake of (baseless) bird flu concerns following a visit by an official delegation led by Chinese president Xi Jinping, and officials in Haiti imposing a ban on the importation of meat and poultry products from their neighbour, the Dominican Republic.

The likely source of the mix-up, according to Canadian novelist and blogger Crawford Kilian, was a Chinese-to-English mistranslation by Xinhua, China's official press agency.

The first clue, spotted by Kilian on June 6, 2013 and reported in a blog post entitled “H7N9 [avian or bird flu] in the Caribbean? Not likely”, was a report in the Trinidad Express Kilian described as “the least likely story since the outbreak [of avian flu] began.” The Express article centred on a “suspected” case of bird flu in Trinidad and Tobago, and reported that “questions were beginning to surface” as to why, given that “China is currently battling a bird flu pandemic”, members of the 153-person delegation that accompanied Chinese president Xi Jinping on an official visit to Trinidad last week were not tested for bird flu on entering the country.

The article quoted Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of Health as saying that while there was no “outbreak” of bird flu in the country, Trinidad and Tobago was in fact susceptible because of its proximity to Venezuela.

“Where to begin?” wrote a nonplussed Kilian. “The idea that senior members of the Chinese government might be carrying H7N9 is simply ludicrous, unless we assume that President Xi and his colleagues also moonlight as chicken merchants. China is not “battling a bird flu pandemic.” The reported Chinese death and case numbers don't make sense. And whatever they have a lot of cases of in Venezuela, it's not H7N9 or H5N1 [strains of bird flu].”

Later that day Kilian reported having found the likely source of the misinformation: an article from China's official press agency, Xinhua, bearing the headline “Bird flu virus infects 724 people in Venezuela“. The Xinhua report makes reference to the “the A/H1N1″ bird flu virus”: H1N1, however, is swine flu, not bird flu. (Chinese-language Xinhua articles such as this May 28 report [zh] refer to the Venezuelan outbreak by its correct name and number).

The Florida-based Haiti Observer blog carried a similar error in a June 7 post about the ban imposed by the Haitian government on the importation of poultry and other meat products from the neighboring Dominican Republic, where, according to the article, a warning had been issued “regarding the reappearance of avian flu (H1N1 virus)” (emphasis added). The error was reproduced [fr] in the Haiti's French-language daily, Le Nouvelliste.

The Dominican Republic exports a reported 25 million eggs and 8 million chickens to Haiti each year. While there was in fact an outbreak of the H2N2 strain of avian flu in the Dominican Republic in 2008, Dominican officials have been adamant that the country is currently free of bird flu, stating that the country's five flu fatalities have been due to swine flu, which has no impact on the quality of local meat exports.

TV Commercial Sparks Debate Over Violence in Trinidad & Tobago

A KFC commercial in Trinidad & Tobago has drawn criticism for what some consider to be the portrayal of violence, particularly on the heels of the recent killing of a teenaged boy over a common love interest. Although the advertisement was on the air prior to the incident, some netizens felt that the storyline (two rivals for a woman's affection get into a scuffle) hit too close to home:

The recently formed Anti-Bullying Association of Trinidad & Tobago released a statement condemning the ad and called for KFC to remove it. It was deemed particularly insensitive after news broke about the stabbing:

The ABATT rejects outright all forms of violence, particularly in the face of the spiraling crime situation in our country. Further, in the wake of the recent youth ‘love triangle’ fracas, which led to the death of a 14 year old teenager, it is imprudent for such a commercial to be aired on television. Corporate Trinidad & Tobago has a critical role to play in shaping our society and our nation's youth and as such it is imperative that all exercise proactive rather than reactive measures.

Judica McSween thought that ABATT was making more of the issue than was necessary:

Just wondering.. if the young man didn't loose (sic) his life would there be a problem with the ad.. Bullying was present in schools long before that incident, there have been numerous stabbing (sic) and violence in school before this as well as countless ads and t.v. shows depicting violence so why pick on Prestige Holdings [the company that owns the local KFC franchise] now, I think you all are really being petty and ‘nitpicking'.

Krstyal Ghisyawan felt that those who were just concerned with the ad were missing the larger point:

The issue is not the ad in itself, and obviously it is unrealistic to expect all ads and tv shows depicting violence to be taken off the television. The point is that message being sent through the ad condones and trivializes violence in a society where violence is already an enormous problem. The appeal to stop reproducing the ad, asks each person and each corporation to be aware of the messages being sent and the audience that will be internalizing these messages. Violence occurring in the household, on the streets, in the media, etc, depending on the manner of depiction actually instructs others on the ‘acceptable’ uses of violence. Responsible television viewing and internet usage etc, is a must, but we cannot deny that children learn through mimicry and social practice.

Nicole Anatol said that while she personally didn't see anything wrong with the ad, she understood the sentiments behind the call for a ban:

I saw the ad and really, as a parent I see no problem with it. I don't see violence being depicted or even glamorized, it has a playful spirit and is mildly amusing. But what is sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander and other parents may disagree. WE need to be the ultimate censor for our own children and communicate with them on what is appropriate and why. At the same time however, I do appreciate the stance of the Anti-Bullying Association and commend them for it. It's nice to see a change from the usual apathy.

Mr. Live Wire at Wired868 felt that ABATT was overreacting:

Quick question: What is one major similarity and difference between ‘Twilight', ‘The Great Gatsby', ‘The Miller’s Tale', ‘Popeye’ and the KFC ‘Double Sweet and Fire’ advertisement?

Answer: All revolve around a love triangle that goes wrong; but only KFC is trying to sell you a chicken sandwich.

He continued:

Exactly why the Anti-Bullying Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ABATT) and other bloggers believe that a 30-second advertisement in which two men playfully joust for a women’s attentions while she eats a chicken sandwich is ‘troubling, irresponsible and reckless‘ is beyond me. Particularly as all three leave arm-in-arm without so much as a scratch and, unlike Twilight or the Great Gatsby, no one is mutilated or shot.

In response to Mr. Live Wire, Philip Edward Alexander supported ABATT's calls for the ad to be pulled:

There is no escaping the fact that we live in extremely violent times and, while no one raindrop can or should be blamed for causing the flood, it is extremely irresponsible of the local franchise holders of KFC to attempt to justify adding even the remotest hint of support for violence whether it be tongue in cheek or otherwise when we should all be working together as a nation to promote non-violence as a means to stemming the tide.

Alexander added that while parenting has a greater impact on children than the television, not all children have the benefit of adequate supervision:

The argument that parents and not television are supposed to raise children is the ideal, but sadly the reality does not bear out the ideal and has not for quite some time. Most organizations that deal with this fall out lament the lack of parental supervision in the home which has been dwindling for some time but has fallen off drastically in the last twenty years. The impact of this – the absentee parent from single parent homes or situations where both parents are working leaves many children to have their values set by mass media, and it is in this knowledge we must all be guided. None of us will be safe from the after effects of our actions and ‘for profit’ corporations more than most have a vested interest in the same society's long term survival.

On Friday ABATT announced that KFC- which had initially defended the ad- had temporarily taken the ad off the air and edited out the fighting scenes:

BREAKING NEWS: KFC has ‘pulled’ the offensive violence supporting ad and has re-edited and re-released it minus the fake violence and they must be applauded for demonstrating sound reasoning here. Thank you.

May 27 2013

Trinidad Startup Weekend

Left & Right: “It was so clear, at that moment, that I had joined a community in a way that can only be described as becoming part of a family.”

May 23 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Invented E-mails or Political Demise?

Monday's sitting of Trinidad and Tobago's Parliament saw the Opposition Leader quoting from several e-mails, which, he alleged, implicate key government ministers, including the Prime Minister, in attempting to cover up her administration's actions surrounding the Section 34 controversy.

Netizens were taking notice. Twitter was unusually quiet, but many social media users who watched the No Confidence motion against the government play out, flooded their Facebook status updates with commentary about the goings-on. Some even posted notes, like this one by Christian Hume – its contents are reproduced in this post with the writer's permission:

The good thing about Emailgate is that the majority of people who would decide the next General Election understand e-mail. The Attorney General himself has publicly stated that he has had a particular e-mail address for the last 15 years, which means that he too would have been among the earliest people in this country to sign up for e-mail back in 1997. I am therefore amused at the comical defenses being put up by himself and Anil Roberts in trying to convince people who do not understant e-mail (and some who do) that there is no connection between the e-mails read out in Parliament yesterday and the high government officials that they are purported to have come from.

Soon, the discussion, both on and offline, turned to the authenticity of the e-mails. In this blog post, diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch wrote:

This revealed email exchange over the Section 34 débâcle is a deal breaker if it turns out to be true. Why I find it amusing though, is that it is so obviously fake.

There are several clues which reveal right off, to those who are semi-literate in email technology, why said emails are fudged.

First of all, and most strongly telling is that Gmail, even since its inception in 2004 (when people were paying for invitations to Gmail) did not allow for 4-character usernames. Not even 5… and I know; I was there… back in 2004, you had to use 6 alpha-numeric characters or more.

Secondly…I have never seen such childish spelling and grammatical mistakes from Anand Ramlogan. Sure, one can argue that most people are far more informal in emails than in a commentary column… but even so some lineament of the writing style will continue to hold true. In other words, wolf cyah play sheep.

Thirdly, how improbable is it for public figures in high positions to use ‘free’ email accounts to contact each other, when they have ‘official’ government provided email?

What has me is a puzzled frame of mind is trying to fathom the reason Keith Rowley would bring this up in Parliament. Is he so naive that he would fall into the clutches of desperation? Malicious? Or is he merely dotish?

Hume addressed that very question in his Facebook note:

I'm hearing people saying that Dr. Rowley should have presented the technical verification of the authenticity of those e-mails in Parliament yesterday. Given that he read the contents of 31 e-mails, that would have been impractical, seeing that he only had 75 minutes in which to make his presentation. At any rate, the technical verfication of those e-mails would have been incomprehensible to the most of the national population, and I daresay, to almost all the members of the House of Representatives, including the Speaker himseslf. Instead, Dr.Rowley went one better. He took pains to explain the necessity for Parliamentary privilege, before using it to lay his case before House and country. In doing so, he is challenging Kamla, Anand, Suruj, and the PP machinery to deny the authenticity of the e-mails, and as most people in that situation would do, the PP spokespersons have already obliged bombastically. I am confident that the technical details that would verify the authenticity of those e-mails will start to emerge in the days to follow, and not necessarily from PNM quarters. Grab your pop corn, sit back and watch. Doh say ah didn't tell allyuh.

The Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society contributed to the discussion by tackling the topic of hacking. The post explained the phishing phenomenon, adding:

The method of phishing emails pretending to be from a friend or organisation you know underscores the ease of faking emails. The from field in an email can have any text (e.g ‘lldjlkdladajdlk@sdkaldjal') that looks like an email address and not be from the ‘real’ sender.

In this context, one Facebook user, suggested that if the Prime Minister's e-mail was indeed hacked, she should have noticed irregularities in the use of her account. The TTCS post explained:

To detect hacking attempts, one should set up two factor authentication which improves the security of your email account. One common implementation of two factor authentication uses your cell phone. Whenever a new device or software is used to access your email account, the email provider prompts you to enter a second password that is sent to your cellphone via SMS. If you receive an SMS and you are not trying to access your email from a new device, then you are aware that someone else has your password and is attempting to access your account.

Detection of whether your email account is compromised without two factor authentication requires a regular review of your email account profile and/or settings.

The rest of the post detailed a step-by-step process through which to protect yourself and to determine if your account was compromised:

The complete, strange emails…should be kept for study by you or pertinent authorities to study for clues as to the IP address where the email was sent from.

This requires the preservation of the email headers which are typically not shown by email clients nor included in the email when emails are forwarded. However, all email messages have e-mail headers.

Meanwhile, Robin Montano, a former Senator with affiliations to the United National Congress (one of the political parties in the coalition People's Partnership government), addressed the Opposition Leader's allegations on his blog, calling them the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass:

Dr. Keith Rowley's play in Parliament yesterday could be labelled such a pass because if what he said turns out to be not true he will have effectively sunk himself and his PNM team. That would be it! Finito! Kaput! On the other hand, if all that he has said is true the Government is sunk!

The e mails basically allege a criminal conspiracy between the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Prime Minister's special security adviser, Captain Gary Griffith over the section 34 issue. Further the e mails go further to suggest that the parties involved were planning serious harm to a journalist.

The problem here is that the e mails appear on their very face to be faked. For example, a lot of the e mails are supposed to have come from an e mail address: anan@ gmail.com. But it is not possible to create a g mail account with less than six characters. Then there is another e mail address that ends in “.coN “(I have high lighted and capitalised the ‘n’ for emphasis). There should be an ‘m’ where the ‘n’ is. Then there is an alleged exchange of e mails between Captain Griffith and Mr. Ramlogan starting with Mr. Ramlogan allegedly e mailing Captain Griffith at 1:33am on a Monday morning and Captain Griffith replying at 1:40am! So these men don't sleep and are sitting on their computers at that time?! Really?

The post then considered the potential political fallout:

The accusations that he has made are very, very serious. The Prime Minister has quite properly referred them to the Commissioner of Police. If they turn out to be true the Prime Minister and her Attorney General will have to resign. There is no question of that! But if the accusations turn out to be false then Dr. Rowley should be expelled from the Parliament.

In a follow-up post today, Montano declared:

I now believe beyond reasonable doubt that the e mails are fakes. Whether Dr. Rowley knew that the e mails were forgeries is another question.

He also challenged what the opposition knew and when they knew it:

You sent those e mails to the President? And by ‘you’ I mean the PNM. So that means that not only Dr. Rowley knew about those e mails but others in the PNM knew about them too? And therefore President Richards knew about them in December? And the Integrity Commission knew about it also in December?!

Mr. Ken Gordon, the Chairman of the Integrity Commission, is quoted in the press this morning as saying that if the e mails are true then that would be very serious. But I must ask Mr. Gordon directly, what if the e mails are forgeries? Fakes? Wouldn't that also be very serious?

To help determine whether the e-mails could indeed be fake, Global Voices contacted tech journalist and blogger Mark Lyndersay. We asked him, from a technical perspective, whether there were any red flags:

Mark Lyndersay: The first flag was that there only seem to be prints of these e-mails. It's hard to imagine that the Leader of the Opposition chose to stand before Parliament with no more evidence than some paper documents. His next logical step should have been an announcement that the electronic files would have been sent to the appropriate authorities for verification. That hasn't happened, though there is no reason to believe that it won't.

We then asked Lyndersay what he thought the next steps should be in order to determine the authenticity of the correspondence:

ML: First up would be the investigation of the e-mail transmissions to review the routing information that the messages took. Without that information, the argument is really about whether or not the printed information is convincing and that really shouldn't be a discussion at all.

Finally, we asked him about the impact that the technical aspects of this issue could have on its political aspects:

ML: Technology is absolute. It deals in verifiable bits that either are or are not. A message either has a proper transmission header or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it's unverifiable and useless as evidence, regardless of who offers it. This may be a confusing matter for politicians, who trade in mood, feelings and allegiances, none of which have any impact on bits. Information on the web may have mood and feeling, but its existence is trackable and verifiable every step of the way (unless people take the trouble to use anonymizers and other identity obscuring tools). E-mails can't just look right or wrong, they are either truly electronic transmissions and can be verified as such with a trackable footprint or they are not. It really is as simple as that. From a verification point of view, an unverifiable e-mail, whether it was invented out of whole cloth on a word processor or copied and pasted into a fresh transmission, simply can't be used as a tool of accusation.

In light of today's failed motion, in part thanks to the fact that the very opposition that raised it walked out of Parliament, political blog The Eternal Pantomime summed everything up this way:

Dr Rowley took a massive gamble accusing the government of conspiring against the office of the DPP and conspiring to harm a citizen of the country with just a pile of transcripts. To have pulled it off successfully what was required were digital files or actual screen shots of the e-mails so that the members of the doubting public would have irrefutable proof, create a significant hue and cry and catapult the powers into action.

Without those digital files it all boiled down to playing the blame game…yet again. It is a game the country has been caught up in for the past 3 years and it has gotten old and tired. Despite the numerous scandals and missteps this government has gotten itself embroiled in, this Motion of No Confidence had the potential to land a PM, an AG and a senior government Minister in jail had it been handled right.

Now, three days later, with Keith pointing fingers and Kamla sticking out her tongue and saying prove it, we have the country right back where it started…wondering who lying.

If Stephen Williams wasn’t such a compromised Commissioner of Police, if we had a serious cyber crimes unit here, if the Integrity Commission actually functioned and if the President had the power he thinks he has…there would be an independent investigation and the first thing to be done would be to confiscate the devices of these individuals and to ask their email hosts for transcripts on the dates Rowley gave…

But this was a rape trial. Rowley accused them of fucking us over…it was up to him to prove there was unwanted penetration…and before he managed to accomplish that in Parliament…he pulled out.

May 22 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: “Ordinariology”

The backlash, growing quietly by the second, apparently, against the Differentology video isn't that it's a bad video, it's that it's the wrong class of video entirely for the song.

Mark Lyndersay explains why he thinks the video for the most transformative soca song of the year is simply ordinary.

May 21 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: It Takes a Village

A generation of Criminals, just like a generation of Professionals, don't simply pop up. They are raised.

Trini World Views challenges everyone “who breathes fire and brimstone at criminals and the policing of criminal activity…to put that same passion into getting involved in the process [of] crime prevention.”

May 10 2013

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