The discovery that a large group of people benefitted from the exercise of ministerial and satellite power in their favour in what appears to be preferential circumstances should undoubtedly have attracted scrutiny from the media.
The fact that the benefit was the allocation of houses by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to members of a group or category, or their families, should have risen to an intense level of scrutiny. Probably a front page story or, alternatively, an indication on the front page that this bombshell was to be found inside.
Moreover such a story might have normally been pursued with the fervour invested in “scoops.”
The bombshell bursts loudly when, as is a fact, the members of the preferred group for State housing allocations are media workers including editorial staff and political reporters.
The story took a long time to appear, even though knowledge of the allocations was sufficiently widespread that, in this column some weeks ago, I was able to refer to a media housing list.
The story eventually appeared in the Trinidad Express last Sunday as part of “an investigative series into the allocation process at the HDC.” But nowhere else, despite the wide representation of employees of various media houses on the list.
It was reported that: “in the past five years two former Government Ministers—(Dr Roodal) Moonilal and Jack Warner—and former HDC Chairman, Rabindra Moonan personally recommended that more than 70 media workers or their relatives be allocated houses.
“That list of media workers included a significant number of editorial staff, including senior political reporters from the newsrooms of Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), Guardian Media Limited (GML), WIN TV, Caribbean New Media Group as well as several radio stations.”
The report named some media personnel who have prominent by-lines and well known television faces. Further, just to be clear, in the ownership of the corporate names recited above are the three daily newspapers, namely Express, Guardian and Newsday and three mainstream television stations, namely, TV6, CNC3 and CNMG.
There are many curious features about the reporting—or lack of reporting—of these housing allocations.
The Express eventually bit the bullet and published the story. But, as foreshadowed above, placed it on page 8, without any front-page indication that this major occurrence was inside.
In addition, while it was important to seek the comment of the management of the various media entities whose employees participated in this high volume “Get Through” (GT: the Trini addition to the growing language of initialism), the report went to great lengths to provide wet blanket comments from editorial management.
Some of those editorial comments amounted to little more than insults to readers’ intelligence. And at least one of which was a blatant picking up for the favoured reporter, which smacked of collusion.
I am confident that any working journalist not interested in damping down this story for reasons of self interest or group interest would have pursued anyone else receiving a GT of this magnitude. And would have asked the beneficiaries to produce particulars of their applications and deeds or mortgages to verify that the purchase prices were consistent with this type of State benefit.
Surprisingly, there were no editorials on the subject of the potential for conflict of interest.
Perhaps, Asha Javeed—the reporter who was commendably able to penetrate the damping down—will do the needful, particularly in the light of the acknowledgement of The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) that further investigation is required.
In its comments, unlike some of the media managers, MATT refrained from insulting our intelligence with platitudes.
Its position recorded on social media was: “The investigation suggests that these allocations were fast-tracked and that journalists might have received priority housing placement from state officials because of their professional influence within the media.
“The implications of this matter are far-reaching and affect the fundamental integrity of newsrooms and their duty to the public interest.”
MATT’s statement asserted that: “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Credibility is the stock in trade of journalism.
“Conflicts of interest, real or perceived, are always damaging to the media houses involved and to the profession. It is certainly vital for the public interest to investigate the circumstances surrounding the allocation of houses to media personnel and to publicise any facts that evidence unethical conduct between state institutions and journalists.”
In my view the facts have revealed that the media were given a cookie jar and as an institution became uncharacteristically shy of displaying the cookie jar and its implications.
There is another important aspect to the media cookie jar revelation.
It is this: There have been bland comments about the exercise of ministerial “discretion.” It must be clearly understood that the exercise of discretion has at its source a power from which the capacity to exercise a discretion derives.
I may treat with this issue further in due course.