The following is a press statement from outgoing Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) president Dr Sheila Rampersad:
Nikki Minaj’s celebrity gangsterism towards Guardian Media Ltd’s (GML) reporter, Sharlene Rampersad is textbook cyberbullying and intimidation of a free press in a young democracy.
While Ms Minaj may be justified in calling for scrutiny of the journalist’s methods—that is, stoking the fears of an ordinary citizen caught, through no action of his own, in the maelstrom of an international story—the rapper’s doxxing and cussing are extreme reactions that should concern those closest to her.
Sensational as this story may be, it is but a global amplification of the relentless intimidation of T&T journalists that has become routine. There is hardly a journalist or newsroom in T&T that has not been the subject of profuse cyberbullying, physical assault, ridicule, mockery, threats, police action, intimidation or trolling.
The silence of institutions and the public has fuelled this danger, despite calls from MATT since 2015 for increased protection of journalists. A current illustration is the ongoing denigration of GML’s business editor Curtis Williams—and whistleblowers—as he covers significant public-interest concerns at the National Gas Company (NGC).
Other journalists can recount multiple examples of intimidation. GML’s statement against the cyberbullying of Ms Rampersad is a welcome intervention from her employer.
If one good can be realised from Ms Minaj’s meltdown, it is the international focus created by the rapper on questions about control of information, restrictions on free speech, and scrutiny of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Minaj’s original post resonates with anxieties of people around the world who feel they are not being told the whole story about either virus or vaccine and who see the media as complicit in manipulating information.
Public distrust is answered by mandates and other impositions, further alienating populations and generating greater distrust. The contribution of Independent Senator Anthony Vieira in the Senate last Friday on Ivermectin makes the point in his question: “Why is information being distorted, suppressed and dismissed?”
This ugly episode touches many important issues in contemporary journalism, among them the role of journalists themselves in serving the public with diverse facts and perspectives.