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A land of perceptions: Daly SC muses over political spy games and media woes

Sunity Maharaj and I wrote, on the same Sunday last month, about the much delayed revelation of the exercise of so called Ministerial discretion to make State housing available to media personnel. These persons, including high profile journalists, were treated preferentially, at least as far as jumping the queue was concerned.

Photo: A reporter on the job.
Photo: A reporter on the job.

We wrote about it promptly. Although we did so from different perspectives, we both saw the danger of independent journalism being compromised. Subsequently, two experienced journalists also dealt with the grants of housing. Sheila Rampersad wrote about it and Judy Raymond spoke about it.

All five of us empathised with those working in the poorly paid media but the potential for tainting the media could not be ignored. We thought that in this land of perceptions, the emergence of a perception of widespread public distrust would have to be addressed by media managers.

In Raymond’s words: “those who have benefited would need to be able to prove that their hands are clean.”

In my view, the media cannot be useful unless it enjoys the collective trust and confidence of the public. This collective trust and confidence is different from the individual trust and confidence a person may have in his doctor, lawyer or plumber.

I make this distinction because one apologist did not seem to understand that politically driven preferential treatment of the media in exchange for manipulation of news would be a unique and immediate problem if we are to have a functioning democracy.

Another apologist did not seem to grasp that the last Government fell despite its attempt to unduly influence the media but that the housing grants had nevertheless damaged the media’s credibility.

Photo: Trinidad Express senior political reporter Anna Ramdass was one of the high profiled recipients of a HDC house. Ramdass said she informed her editor that she received a Fidelis Heights unit while Express editor in chief Omatie Lyder said she was aware of it and "monitored" Ramdass' work.
Photo: Trinidad Express senior political reporter Anna Ramdass was one of the high profiled recipients of a HDC house.
Ramdass said she informed her editor that she received a Fidelis Heights unit while Express editor in chief Omatie Lyder said she was aware of it and “monitored” Ramdass’ work.

I return to this subject because we were treated last week on television news to the unedifying spectacle of a journalist rambling on in a police station about a perception of drunkenness when a different view of reality versus perception might have been readily formed.

It re-ignited the concern that the media may be feeding us wobbly perceptions, particularly because what I called the media cookie jar has not been addressed as far as we on the outside can tell.

Last week there were other perceptions giving reality a beating.

An Independent Senator fed us a perception of a protocol governing Government’s contact with Independent Senators, which, if real as opposed to perceived, would elevate him into a group leader. He seems to be trying to mould those Senators into caucus, which they manifestly are not.

Let’s hope he is not trying to become a party leader or seeking group leverage.

The UNC Opposition did a brilliant job of feeding us a perception of dangerously increased Government spying when a very narrow issue was before the Parliament on the occasion of the Strategic Services Amendment Bill.

Photo: Spy games.
Photo: Spy games.

The PNM’s communications strategy was once again woeful. This deficiency was compounded by the lack of scholarly detachment which the Attorney General displays when dealing with constitutional and other legal issues.

Fortunately for us, our erudite former Chief Justice, Michael de la Bastide, makes himself available for comment on these issues and swiftly corrected the Attorney General’s blanket statement that there was no law of privacy.

Several persons have asked me to state my views on this Bill, which has now been passed by a simple majority. I do not understand the current spying controversy.

The Interception of Communications Act 2010, which was passed by a special majority and took effect in December 2010, already authorised the Director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), once he obtained a warrant from a High Court Judge, to intercept communications in respect of a wide range of offences including those carrying a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more.

A wide degree of spying had already been authorised by a special majority so that the highly charged UNC comments about spying were in reality generated against what the UNC politicians themselves had done when they brought the Interception of Communications legislation to the Parliament in 2010.

Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. (Copyright Elections.TT)
Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(Copyright Elections.TT)

So why did this PNM Government bring an amendment Bill at all?

The answer is, I believe, that the Strategic Services Agency Act was not aligned with the Interception of Communications Act in terms of the respective definitions of “serious crime” and “offence.”

For this reason, the Strategic Services Act probably needed an amendment to correct the misalignment but, as many pointed out, why bother as neither the spying nor the SSA have made any dent in crime.

I tried to follow the contributions on spying of those Independent Senators who appeared to be speaking for themselves. My colleague Senator Chote SC, raised some important points regarding the protection of whistleblowers and the Police Complaints Authority.

It would have been useful to see what, if any amendments were proposed by the Independents as well as Opposition.

Sadly, the reporting focus of the media was more on the hype than on analysis.

Photo: Everybody peeping...
Photo: Everybody peeping…

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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15 comments

  1. Goes all the way back to the saying about who is going to guard the guards.

  2. Points to note:

    1. The SSA was legally mandated to treat with illegal drugs. What have they accomplished in 21 years? They have acted outside of their remit by looking into other issues. In other words, they have been acting illegally with no punishment, even by the AG’s admittance.

    2. They now want more power but cannot account for any success with the power they already have.

    3. How many reports have they submitted to Parliament in the last 21 years as is mandated by the SSA Act? 1?

    4. The SSA was recently ‘illegally cleansed’ by the PNM of perceived UNC persons, interestingly though, some of those dismissed were actually favoured and hired under the Manning Administration, so is it that Dr. Rowley is cleansing the SSA of both UNC and Manning sympathisers? He did it with Amery Brown et. al..

    5. Now that the SSA is stacked with PNM (Dr. Rowley) loyalists, who answers to the PNM Minister of National Security, who in turn answers to the PNM PM, would they be fair in their operations? Perhaps not.

    6. To those who say that they have nothing to fear because they are not criminals, consider this: you text your wife and say that you believe the Minister of Education or the Minister of National Security is failing in an area, and all of a sudden, you go to work and your contract is terminated or not renewed because you have an opinion that the PNM PM does not like, would you think it fair? This is a democracy, and persons should be free to express themselves and have political opinions, and should not have to fear when those opinions are expressed contrary to the likes of the Political elite.

    7. Now they will be able to trace persons who will want to report crimes anonymously. They can trace whislteblowers under the cover of the new Act. Giving the SSA more powers without more regulations for accountability allows it more opportunity to flout people’s rights to privacy.

    Remember, this Bill was drafted by an AG who stated that he was of the belief that persons in T&T had no right to privacy.

    8. Journalists sources can be compromised.

    The list goes on and on…..and for some reason, MR. Martin Daly seems not to appreciate the implications of this Bill, or perhaps he does and will make it clear in his next article (hopefully).

    The SSA has been acting illegally, now they are trying to gain legitimacy for political espionage. There is much to be cautious about.

    • Mr. Daly, I would have liked to read on your assessment on the issues surrounding Mr. Junkere. How could he be an Independent Senator? Consider this:

      1. Was Mr. Junkere recommended for a PNM Board membership by a PNM Minister? Perhaps by Mr. Hinds?

      2. Was Mr. F. Hinds present to support Mr. Junkere when he was being sworn in as temporary ‘Independent’ Senator?

      3. Did Mr. Junkere assist the PNM in their campaign in 2015 by assisting in one of their campaign centres?

      4. Did Mr. Junkere attend the PNM Sports and Family day and did he post photos of himself in said place online?

      5. Didn’t Ms. Chote S.C. allude to a ‘Judas’ among the Independents several days before the vote. That she was informed by persons of an Independent Senator already giving the PNM the vote prior to the completion of the debate?

      This issue wreaks of guile and is an abomination to the spirit of true democracy. Private meetings go against the purpose of having an open Parliament, as it is the right of citizens to be informed of everything being discussed in their interest.

      Yet instead of this more important issue, Mr. Daly chose to speak on Mr. Mahabir and what “he seems to” be trying to do. Tell us what HAS been done.

  3. Martin Daly has left out the most fundamental difference…in that with this SSA the politically appointed director does not now have to get a judges’ warrant to spy on citizens.

  4. Meanwhile we’re using a tried and unaccomplished policy and organization to deal with a worsening problem?
    Or maybe spying and the SSA will be more effective now just because they’re in PNM hands…
    Kinda like joint army/police patrols?

  5. The word “media” in Trinidad must alway be placed in quotation marks.
    It’s not media in the sense the real world understands it.

  6. Is the media really going to continue burying its head in the sand here? Sigh. Very unfortunate.

  7. Martin knock the ball out thebpark here. I have little to add.

    Except to ask what Party Danny Mahabir is running.