So much dust has been kicked up since Rachael Sukhdeo’s facebook posting that visibility has been reduced to almost nil on her chilling allegations of domestic violence and the refusal of the police to act on her complaints.
Now displacing her voice are loud reverberations about media censorship, conflicts between corporate and journalistic interests, trial by media, unholy alliances between the police and the media and the disturbing consequences of reality TV which goes beyond the boundary into policing and journalism.
As public interest shifts to the media matters triggered by this domestic violence case, we have to hope that the courts and the Domestic Violence Unit of the Police Service know their business and recognise their responsibilities in this case. Notwithstanding stout police denials, Mrs Sukhdeo’s claim that the Chaguanas police failed to act on her many complaints also warrants investigation by the Police Complaints Authority.
Not many victims of domestic abuse seem to know they have recourse to the PCA when police officers ignore their complaints.
In a presentation to a Joint Select Committee of the last Parliament, the PCA said it treats domestic violence cases as high priority. Indeed, complaints involving threats to a person’s life are automatically categorised at level five, the highest priority level.
To contact the PCA, call 800-2PCA or 800-2722, email firstname.lastname@example.org, write to Police Complaints Authority, Level 24, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, 1A Wrightson Road, Port of Spain or go to the PCA’s offices and ask for a Complaints Officer.
The Alexander-Alleyne contretemps that began at the Sukhdeos’ residence and also ended up in court would be almost hilarious were it not for the seriousness of the issues it has triggered about the state of policing and journalism in T&T.
Like so many others who, from time immemorial, have found room to ramajay outside of the system, Ian Alleyne personifies the failure of our institutions charged with delivering law, order and justice.
As a complete media creation, having been concocted at WINTV before being transplanted to TV6 and then to CNC3, he also confronts us with the media’s failure to handle public issues in ways that are fair, accurate and do not offend journalistic sensibilities.
Inspector Alexander was that lucky officer who rode Alleyne’s media chariot to a fame of his own. Except for the scale involved in being on a one-hour daily show, there was nothing new in the media-police alliance; the crime media beat has always involved a trade of mutual rewards: the inside scoop for the outside publicity.
In a land where justice moves at the pace of molasses—if it moves at all—Alleyne’s brand of summary justice has resonated deeply, especially among those most thirsty and deprived.
Broadcasting one’s pain “on national TV” can be a small price to pay when there’s no money available for wooing Lady Justice.
Operating beyond the tape by which law, order and journalism are measured, these crime shows are inhibited only by the rules of commercial interest, except when an outraged public is moved to rail against one trespass or the other.
Most days, the trespasses go unnoticed, one law broken here, one code in breach there, one convention flouted elsewhere. So inexorable has been the blurring that the sub judice rule on the reporting of matters before the courts is now a quaint idea belonging to a distant past, even if still in effect.
Perhaps such rules are indeed quaint in this age of information explosion. Imagine the excitement we would have been cheated of if, pending the release of his identity in court and the reading of the charges, the initial news reports had stuck to the basic facts of the arrest of an unnamed “talk show host” at so-and-so location, on so-and-so date, by so-and-so officer.
Quaint yes, but the legal clarity would have protected CNC3 from the multiple conflicts of interest and charges of censorship of which the station is being accused.
Like the Police Service, parliament, the courts, the education system, and every other institution in this old colony, the media has failed to rise to the task of creating a new and relevant order to replace the old and irrelevant.
Under the weight of societal and technological change, the old order has been slipping away, leaving us naked and unprotected in an open field of unknown territory.
What to do, how to deal, how to be? We don’t know.
So, we’re just riding every wave, hoping for the best when we need to open our eyes and activate our minds to the urgent imperative of shaping a new order. That is the challenge of independence which, for us, is already 54 years overdue.
This is what the education consultation that is now underway must come to terms with. How do we re-educate ourselves to become fit for this task?
Dr Lovell Francis, Minister in the Ministry of Education, seems to have grasped this fundamental point in noting that the education system was not meant for us. One assumes that he means “us” as the people of an independent nation, not the colonials for whom it was originally designed. He is right.
The education system needs fundamental reform not tinkering. We have to start with the question of what are we educating ourselves for, and why. When we answer that, we will know what to do.
Then, we wouldn’t have to look for justice on Crime Watch and have our police officers operating beyond the tape.