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Guardian floor MATT for sale; unused and unloved by journalists

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.

MATT vice-president and Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond told the Trinidad Express on Thursday, just a day after three senior staff members walked off the job in perceived solidarity with her, that she was “a little more cautiously optimistic that the situation can be resolved in a way which would be to the benefit of everyone.”

The common belief is that Trinbagonians are unable to stay focused on any subject beyond 10-days. Perhaps Raymond thinks that assessment overvalues the attention span of her compatriots. She barely waited 48 hours.

Photo: Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief and MATT vice-president Judy Raymond. (Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief and MATT vice-president Judy Raymond.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

To recap the Guardian drama-that-wasn’t but kind-of-was: On Wednesday afternoon, MATT president and Guardian editor Suzanne Sheppard 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.”

So MATT essentially backed its own decision to support itself at the Guardian. Was the Fourth Estate referring to itself in the fourth person?

The release continued: “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.”

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.

The next MATT release said what everyone at the Guardian was doing except the MATT president and vice president themselves.

“The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago has been reliably informed that several senior editors and executives of Guardian Media including the managing director Gabriel Faria and media sector head David Inglefield have tendered their resignation,” stated MATT. “Editor in chief Judy Raymond is no longer in charge of the newsroom which is currently being run by Anthony Wilson who has refused to accept the designation of acting editor in chief.

“Investigative reporters Anika Gumbs and Denyse Renne have resigned as has Public affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad.”

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.

Photo: Is journalism now a profession for muppets?
Photo: Is journalism now a profession for muppets?

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.

Raymond never said what Guardian offered to her and Sheppard 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.” A press conference was scheduled for Monday morning although the release did not say whether it would be held by MATT or the Trinidad Guardian, presuming there is a difference.

On Monday, the only public update offered was that the entire executive had resigned. No one took responsibility for last week’s bacchanal.

Raymond and Sheppard will continue as normal at the Guardian. There are conflicting reports over the future plans of Renne and Gumbs-Sandiford. And Rampersad is out in the cold. She knows now that MATT’s support was not worth the paper that its emailed releases were not printed on.

“Really Judy, starting to feel betrayed now,” wrote Rampersad on Thursday, on Guardian’s private Facebook page. “I am standing up for journalism.”

For some, the profession of journalism is an ideology. For others, it is a cheque at the end of the month.

 

Question for outgoing MATT Executive: Who is the person that wrote the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobagos releases last week and suggested political interference at the Trinidad Guardians newsroom?
And who are the MATT officials who saw the releases and allowed/did not stop them from being published? How were those releases meant to be in defense of local journalists and the industry?

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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15 comments

  1. Further corroboration to the extremely disturbing e-mails read by Dr. Rowley.

  2. Its a shame when you talk through the side of your mouth. How does Ms. Raymond and Ms. Sheppard think they will be viewed from now on? Would anything written by them carry the same weight
    If Ansa McAl was worried about 24k per month leases can’t we as a people get them more worried? No drinking of Carib and Stag, boycott Standards, Grand Bazaar, Guardian, CNC3 (and any business that advertise with them after this fiasco) i’m sure Trinis spend more than 24k x XRange Rover leases each weekend.

  3. Am quite surprised by this situation, but moreso by your response Mr Liburd. I always read your articles with interest and I share your views more often than not. But this last one has me baffled: you refer to the sacking of Fazeer Mohammed from CNMG as “the beginning of the end”. Pray tell me what a media person is doing on a State-owned channel sharing his personal views saying that he has problems with a woman as head of the government of his country. You seriously see nothing wrong with that? And my taxes are supposed to pay such an individual? I have no problem if he wants to think and say this in private, but I certainly think that it has absolutely NO place on public TV. And guess what? He didn’t stay long out of a job, he is now working for a private media house. In a similar vein, even though I abhor what seems to be govt interference in the running of a media, the Guardian is a PRIVATE entity and if Mr Sabga wants to protect his business interests, guess what? He CAN, it belongs to him! Best policy for who don’t like it, DON’T BUY the Guardian, which I have stopped doing today self! The Express is it from now on for me! Raffique Shah and BC Pires got it right in the 90s when they formed the Independent, instead of harping on about the rights of the press (what about the rights of Ansa McAl?), see if you can convince some free-thinking journalists to start their own media outlet once again. I miss the Independent dearly, but really, bashing a private media house ain’t gonna get you anywhere!

    • Hello Eric. Thanks for reading and sharing my stories. Firstly, State-owned does not mean Party-owned and it does not mean State-run. CNMG does not belong to the UNC, PNM, COP or anyone else but to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It should be as independent as the BBC. People think of the CNMG as an extension of the Government and that should not be the case.
      MP Suruj Rambachan suggested that Fazeer did not like Kamla because he was a Muslim and had entrenched views on women in power. Fazeer did not take the bait to my recollection. So, I don’t see the Fazeer issue in the way you do.
      Sabga does own the Guardian and I credit him for keeping the paper afloat. Does that mean he can do anything he wants with it? Each industry comes with certain professional responsibilities.
      You wouldn’t say that if I owned a pharmacy I could do my own thing with the product that I sell. Same if I ran a gas station or a food place. So why is it so hard for Sabga to respect the value of the company that he runs? Of course there is no legal obligation for him to do so. And that is an argument we hear all the time now isn’t it? Do we do what is moral or ethical? Or only what we are compelled by the law to do?
      I think this goes deeper than whether or not we buy the Guardian. No Government should not use taxpayers’ money to bully private organisations if that is indeed the case here, which is what MATT suggested.
      But this article deals with issues of leadership and the responsibility of MATT more than anything else.

  4. How to avoid feelings of betrayal: do things based on your own conscience and situation… not on what you hope/ expect/ anticipate SOMEONE ELSE should/ would/ bound to do.

  5. Nicole Philip Greene

    I think we begin to understand why MATT is not more effective Lasana, by way of Ms Raymond’s actions. You cannot stand for rights advocacy and be afraid of ruffling feathers. Diplomacy, certainly. Finding solutions and working with ALL stakeholders, yes. But caving on your position, never. Because it means your position was either unworthy or hasty in the first place. Shame on them. At a time such as this, when the press is needed more than ever…

  6. Nicole Philip Greene

    So here are the questions I’d love to have answered before feeling cautiously optimistic myself:
    – Did the board of the Guardian ever feel that Government advertising or business with other Ansa McAl companies were in danger of being lost?
    – Did the Board or management at the Guardian ever recommend that someone not ordinarily part of newsroom discussions begin to sit in on said discussions?
    – What specifically were the new guidelines and “more work” that the journalists were being asked to do?

    Judy Raymond was faced with a situation to stand up for what is right. She will now, rightly or wrongly, be seen in the same “eat ah food” light as Prakash Ramadhar.

    So few leaders of integrity left in T&T but at least true colors are being shown.

  7. Absolutely brilliant! I’m glad you quoted from those press releases….because I was beginning to think the public imagined this walkout.

  8. MATT is a joke all they ever do is have strongly worded press releases. It’s like they’re forever stuck on step 1. Press Release.

    Dear MATT please grow some balls.

  9. Wow! Aren’t you a former member of the Matt Executive? You hitting your former colleagues real hard, boy! what does it matter that they deserve it? This is T&T and people, including journalists but not politicians, simply do not do that…

    • I tend to make my points in a very forceful manner. It really isn’t anything personal against Judy or Suzanne. My opinion is that they did not handle this situation in a manner that does them credit. It becomes more farcical when one considers that they are executive MATT members and three journalists are now unemployed as a result of this affair.
      I resigned my post at MATT after about three months because I felt the body just was not forceful enough in dealing with threats to the profession. At the time, the issue that was the beginning of the end for me was the sacking of Fazeer Mohammed at CNMG.

      • MATT MATTers again 🙂 I am merely a spectator.

        Luckily the movie and now saying “nobody loves Raymond”
        refers to a man and a first name. 😉

        Ms. Raymond looks very pretty in that picture by the way.