Home / View Point / Guest Columns / In the media too, we like it so! Farrell suggests why media is less trusted than police

In the media too, we like it so! Farrell suggests why media is less trusted than police

“It is often the case though that persons in leadership positions disclaim accountability and responsibility: the school Principal claims she can’t lead her school because it is ‘really the Ministry’ who is in charge; the Public Service Commission claims it can’t do anything, because it is ‘really the Director of Personnel Administration’; the President claims that he is not responsible for his housing allowance, because it is ‘really the Chief Personnel Officer’.

“So it is not surprising that Trinidadians and Tobagonians do not trust their institutions: the President, the Government, the Parliament, the Judiciary… and the Media!

“The 2016 Solution by Simulation survey commissioned and published by the Express revealed that 21% of respondents had confidence in the Media, down from 41% in 2015. The Media came in higher than only the Judicial System (14%) and below Parliament (25%) and even the Police (22%)!”

Photo: A cartoon on the media's search for the truth. (Copyright Toonpool)
Photo: A cartoon on the media’s search for the truth.
(Copyright Toonpool)

The following is the World Press Freedom Day address by Dr Terrence W Farrell, economist and author, at the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) annual dinner and awards on 3 May 2017, which was broken into two parts by Wired868:

In our society, in virtually every sphere, all around, there is underachievement and indeed in some cases, failure. WASA fails to supply water adequately to the population. WASA digs up the road to repair a burst main and fails to resurface it, leaving an unmarked, gaping hole in the road dangerous to motorists and pedestrians.

The Public Service Commission doesn’t know how many employees there are in the Public Service. The Police Service Commission can’t appoint a Police Commissioner.

The Judicial and Legal Services Commission appoints a judge who then tenders her resignation two weeks later for material non-disclosure and is then reappointed/restored to her former position as Chief Magistrate.

The President appoints a retired judge to the Integrity Commission who accepts the instrument of appointment and then promptly resigns because he didn’t get the position promised to him.

There is yet another oil spill at Petrotrin. The Tobago ferry, just back from repairs, breaks down. State enterprises rack up huge debts and don’t perform, except to keep people employed.

Photo: A dead bird on the shore at Otaheite after a Petrotrin oil spill. (Copyright Shaun Rambaran)
Photo: A dead bird on the shore at Otaheite after a Petrotrin oil spill.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran)

Heritage buildings are torn down in Sangre Grande. Residents of Ohioho protest impassable roads.

It’s not that there isn’t failure in other countries. There certainly is. But for us, these items of news recur year after year.

It is possible to write the headlines for next year’s Carnival today: “Bacchanal with Panorama competition”, “Bacchanal with Calypso Monarch”, “X takes Y to court to protest his or her exclusion from something or the other.”

But I can do no better than Paolo Kernahan who, only in [last] weekend’s Guardian newspaper, wrote:

When I began my working life as a journalist nearly 27 years ago, the stories I covered then were much the same as they are now. Rampant crime, unchallenged corruption, political bacchanal and intrigue, brap, brap, brap… We repeat the same failures, promulgate the same political ideologies and continue to cavort in an orgy of laziness, entitlement syndrome and banality. (Guardian April 29th 2017)

Why? Why this seeming incapacity to fix things or to get things right the first time?

Why for example, after a Task Force determined that the London route was unprofitable for BWIA and caused CAL to withdraw from that route, a new board under a new government reintroduces the route and proceeds to lose money all over again?

Photo: Lornette "Fya Empress" Nedd-Reid performs her calypso "Guilty" at the Calypso Monarch finals on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid performs her calypso “Guilty” at the Calypso Monarch finals on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Why is it that things that can be avoided with planning, foresight, diligence and timely decision-making seem invariably to result in a crisis—e.g. natural gas shortfall for critical industries in Point Lisas, arrangements for a ferry for Tobago cargo, selection of a high court judge?

The standard explanations for these behaviours seemed to me to be convenient and inadequate. One common response is that it is usually ‘political’—that is, if one examines these fracases, one is likely to find the hand or agenda of some politician in Government, or in Opposition.

Another reaction is that we are a ‘banana republic’ where there are no standards, there is authoritarian leadership, and anything goes!

Some suggest that we are all just selfish and corrupt and everyone seeks his own interest at the expense of the rest of the society. “All ah we tief!”

It is certainly true everywhere that people are selfish. But serious societies regulate individual selfishness and punish corruption where the public interest may be adversely affected by selfish behaviour.

Photo: Former "Honourable" Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former “Honourable” Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Why then do we just shrug our shoulders at the corrupt Licensing Officer or Customs Officer or Police Officer, or indeed the malingering worker?

“Boy! Dem fellas not easy nah!” And we move on.

It is certainly not that people are stupid. Some have attended the best schools here and abroad—which is not to say that they may not be ignorant. But I will come to that.

Sometimes persons are placed in positions which are beyond their knowledge and capabilities; they may be given ministerial office or chairmanship of a state enterprise. In some cases these persons do not know that they do not know—I call that ‘two-storey ignorance’—and proceed to make terrible mistakes.

In other cases, they accept the position because of the status it confers but they know in their hearts that they will accomplish little or nothing during their tenure and set about to enjoy the perks.

I think the explanation of these failures, our chronic underachievement, is cultural.  It is too pervasive, too chronic to be otherwise.

In my book: We Like It So? The Cultural Roots of Economic Underachievement in Trinidad and Tobago, I identified eight (8) attributes:

Photo: Economist, author and attorney-at-law Terrence Farrell. (Copyright RC Social Justice TT)
Photo: Economist, author and attorney-at-law Terrence Farrell.
(Copyright RC Social Justice TT)
  1. Ambivalence
  2. Amusement and Feteing
  3. Status, Respect and Respectability
  4. Rules Authority and Contingent Rule Following
  5. Risk Taking and Non Possession
  6. Conflict and Conflict Avoidance
  7. Intergenerational Thinking
  8. Corruption and Trickery

I am particularly interested in the values, attitudes and behaviours of our society’s elite because it is the elite who by and large are responsible or ought to be responsible for the place. It is—or must be—the elite who set the moral tone, the work ethic, the quality of decision-making and who recognise the importance of establishing and realising a vision for the society.

The failures alluded to earlier are ultimately failures of leadership. By leaders, I mean those in positions of power, authority or influence who are entrusted to run our institutions, to plan, and to make decisions.

These are our society’s elite, persons in positions of responsibility and who are accountable or ought to be accountable for their actions and decisions.

Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino (right) bears gifts for Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona in a courtesy call at President's House in St Ann's on 10 April 2017. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino (right) bears gifts for Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona in a courtesy call at President’s House in St Ann’s on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It is often the case though that persons in leadership positions disclaim accountability and responsibility: the school Principal claims she can’t lead her school because it is ‘really the Ministry’ who is in charge; the Public Service Commission claims it can’t do anything, because it is ‘really the Director of Personnel Administration’; the President claims that he is not responsible for his housing allowance, because it is ‘really the Chief Personnel Officer’.

Many are willing to accept and occupy office. Few are prepared to fall on their swords when things go wrong! Occasionally, some are thrown under the bus!

So it is not surprising that Trinidadians and Tobagonians do not trust their institutions: the President, the Government, the Parliament, the Judiciary… and the Media!

The 2016 Solution by Simulation survey commissioned and published by the Express revealed that 21% of respondents had confidence in the Media, down from 41% in 2015.

The Media came in higher than only the Judicial System (14%) and below Parliament (25%) and even the Police (22%)!

Photo: A satirical take on the media.
Photo: A satirical take on the media.

I have linked poor leadership in various institutions to underachievement and in some cases failure. Has the Media too underachieved? Has the Media failed?

Or is the Media an exception, an industry where its leaders—publishers and editors and heads of news—and media workers operate counter-culturally?

Culture—values, attitudes and behaviours—operates in particular contexts. We know that the industry has changed markedly since the 1990s. Before then, the two daily newspapers were private but there was one television station and two radio outlets.

What is the context of the Media like today?

First, media outlets are privately owned and need to produce a return in a hyper-competitive industry in a very small market and high entry costs for newspapers and broadcasters and with some degree of regulation.

Advertising revenues from Government and state enterprises are critical to viability. Costs must be kept down, limiting payment of good salaries, the training of journalists, and the use of up to date technology.

Photo: The media spectrum.
Photo: The media spectrum.

There is high turnover of journalists, some of whom move into PR as ‘Communications Advisors’ and then may return to media.

Second, media owners and editors are part of the business elite in a society where status is conferred by relationship to persons in power whether in Government or Opposition. Access to information gives media owners a degree of power and influence within the validating elite who may assume that they have inside information because of their positions in the Media.

Third, acknowledging that the Media does not attract upper and upper middle class recruits because of the low levels of remuneration, media workers are drawn from the major ethnic groups of the society and therefore come with their prejudices and preconceptions. Education levels are inadequate to the functions that need to be performed.

Journalists are managed not any differently from manual workers/labourers elsewhere. The work ethic of the newspapers, given the low salaries, permits low productivity and diligence, which is reflected in over-reliance on PR material, failure to question or challenge sources, and moonlighting.

Photo: A satirical take on the US media's relationship with the independent regulator, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
Photo: A satirical take on the US media’s relationship with the independent regulator, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the second and final part of Dr Terrence Farrell’s address to the TTPBA, which deals with evaluating the media, the ‘we like it so syndrome’ in the media, and ‘improving the media’.

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17 comments

  1. Agreed , a road map to where? Who is learning from mistakes? This is no longer mistakes, but has become the norm. No one has been jailed? How many times have we heard all this, and what? When the late PM Lee Kwan Yew decided to clean up Singapore , the first thing he tackled was corruption, I remember a story of the head of the immigration department was corrupt, to save pride he took a sword and pierce through his heart. Trinis’ don’t know that, how many years we still trying to find out the identity of a man smoking in a room , come on , its games in T&T and we not serious. Annually FIU announces millions in money laundering, anyone held. A bunch of jokers? Who is really serious? The citizens are talked down as though we are stupid. In this population of 1.3 million, all those Dr Farrell described are the top circulating from UNC to PNM and no one is seeking to hold any of their friends accountable. The media like everything thing else in T&T is non-independent, biased hollow and sensationalist. It has its’ minions working on both sides of the political fence. Journalism in T&T is “rum shop’ and drag down to the gutter politics or better yet fake news. Destroying people’s reputation. What editors ,not the nonsense we see in the media. How did it by pass them. I must be living in a different land. As a proud’ dougla’ my perspective emanates from both side of the race coin.having lived among them. Thankfully, I don’t carry the baggage of hatred of either side. What wake up call and to whom?, People so tired of hearing the same things repeatedly for decades and nothing happening has left them disgusted and helpless.What then is the role of the ordinary citizens if we don’t band together? This level of corruption does not exist nowhere else in the Caribbean. Why you think this is so? We like Guyana are both plural societies where the race card and ethnicity is blaring and used as a tool by politicians to divide us and we do nothing. “Eat ah food and stay silent”

    • I would not go anywhere near that far to discuss the state of journalism.
      I don’t think journalists generally go out to destroy or drag down anyone.
      There are chinks in the media and shortcomings. There are blind spots that have been exploited like with the HDC racket.
      But I won’t use terms like rum shop or fake news at all. I think that is unfair.

  2. We can only learn from our mistakes. I think the detail that Dr Farrell went into makes it quite different from what you heard otherwise Rossana. Farrell’s speech was like a roadmap.
    The media, Wired868 included, can only take it as a wake up call.

  3. Excellent commentary and on point. However, I would have liked to hear him comment on the citizens role in all this. Dr Farrell has not said anything new. Many of us have surmised similar sentiments, but I say passive citizens have also contributed to the mess we currently find our selves in . Notice across the globe when some issue affects a country citizens bad together and protest, Not in T&T. The race card in this PLURAL society takes centre stage and we put on blinders. We the PEOPLE WITH THE POWER NEED TO ACT or another 50 years will pass with the same story. As Paulo Kernhan said issues which he wrote about 27 years ago, he is still writing to day. Its the same thing over and over

  4. u mean the media who only published quotes without investigating ? those guys?

  5. “It is certainly not that people are stupid. Some have attended the best schools here and abroad” I am to understand that for the author, evidence of the correctness of the first statement is in the second statement? Who needs PISA scores when you have the observations of the author.

    http://www.compareyourcountry.org/pisa/country/tto

  6. His book is an excellent piece of work. People who care about Trinidad and Tobago need to get and read a copy …a few times.

  7. “It is certainly not that people are stupid. Some have attended the best schools here and abroad”

    Can’t wrap my head around how us “smart people” after 55 years of self determination, billions of dollars, no annual natural disasters to deal with, 365 days/year of tropical weather, 1M population, no ethnic violence, no wars, BUT we have high murder rate, low crime detection rates, low confidence in our institutions, no pipe borne water for many in that 55 years, hungry students, high infant and maternity mortality rates, low PISA scores no mass transit system although we were left with one at the time of independence. But, as the writer says, we are certainly not stupid people.

  8. I think there is some great food for thought here personally.

  9. Earl Best

    Messrs MATT? Ah eh hearing allyuh?

  10. At the end of the day – nobody in charge.

  11. Good points, but one of the huge, seldom-discussed, issues is the incidence of self-censorship…that is a real and prickly problem…

  12. And some have certificates to prove it as well.

  13. Uhmmm.There is one institution we all have to trust.And that’s the mental.Everyone in there says they are sane.