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Dear Editor: Do Port-of-Spain-based media have inherent bias against Indian culture?

“[Joan] Rampersad’s ‘December’ section highlighted the relocation of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, a film featuring the Mighty Sparrow, the trial of soca artistes Machel Montano and Kernal Roberts, and the QED, Lydians and Marionettes Christmas concerts. Not a single Indian cultural event was mentioned.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which charges that Indians do not get a fair shake in the local media, was submitted to Wired868 by anthropologist and author Dr Kumar Mahabir.

Photo: Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist, author and assistant professor at UTT.

It was political scientist Dr Kirk Meighoo who first mentioned the concept of fake news in Trinidad and Tobago in relation to the marginalisation of Indian perspectives and culture in the traditional media. Meighoo was speaking of fake news at the launch of the new, free online newspaper www.icdn.today at the Chaguanas Borough Corporation Auditorium on 21 October, 2017.

Fake news is defined as a kind of propaganda journalism that is intended to mislead and deceive readers or viewers. The concept of fake news can be applied to the mainstream so-called “national” media in T&T because they do not fairly and proportionally report/reflect Indian views and culture in their coverage.

According to 2011 CSO census data, Indians constitute the largest ethnic group (35.4%) in T&T. Africans form the second largest (34.2%) group, Mixed Afros and Indos (Douglas) make up 8% each while Mixed persons comprise 15% of the population.

T&T, with a population of 1.3 million, has ten local television channels, 36 radio stations and three traditional daily newspapers (Guardian, Express and Newsday).

One illustration of fake news in Trinidad is the annual end-of-year review delivered by many radio and TV stations as well as newspapers. One example is Newsday’s 2017 year-end review of culture headlined “A year in culture,” published on 17 December and written by mixed-race journalist Joan Rampersad.

Photo: The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, still the pride of Laventille, performs at the annual Panorama competition.

Rampersad’s two-page review was divided into the following sections: “December,” “Jazz,” “Film” and “Obituaries.” It is not surprising to note that not a single mention was made of an Indian cultural event, production or artiste.

Not surprising because almost all of the media houses are located in the capital city of Port-of-Spain where few Indians live. The editors of Newsday are Judy Raymond and Jones P Madeira, non-Indians. Even when the editors are Indians, they come from Central Trinidad and become creolised in urban Port-of-Spain. Some examples of those who fall into this urban Afro media culture are Omatie Lutchman-Lyder and Sunity Maharaj-Best of the Express.

Rampersad’s “December” section highlighted the relocation of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, a film featuring the Mighty Sparrow, the trial of soca artistes Machel Montano and Kernal Roberts, and the QED, Lydians and Marionettes Christmas concerts. Not a single Indian cultural event was mentioned.

There was no reference at all to the literary evening of readings and discussions hosted by the NCIC Nagar on 3 December, 2017. Or the launch of the book Witty and Wise by Ariti Jankie in Chaguanas on 10 December. Or the Manipur women dancing drummers who had audiences spellbound in Fyzabad, Felicity and at the Central Bank Auditorium in Port-of-Spain from 7-12 December. Or the Shiv Shakti Dance Company’s Christmas Concert at the Nagar on 18 December.

Photo: Dancers for Massy Trinidad All Stars perform to “Curry Tabanca” during the 2015 International Conference and Panorama at the Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

In her “Obituaries” section, Rampersad highlighted the death of cultural figures Joyce Wong Sang (promoter of Best Village), Claudette Blackman (wife of soca pioneer Ras Shorty I), Derek Walcott (poet), Samuel “Brigo” Abraham (calypsonian), Anthony Voisin (guitarist), Julia Edwards (dancer), Devon Matthews (soca singer), Earl Crosby (music store owner), Deborah John (Express journalist), Neville Aming (Carnival pioneer), Edmond Hart (bandleader), Dianne Marshall-Holdip (Carnival adjudicator), Michael “Mano” Marcellin (musician), McDonald Ward (masquerader) and Peter Joseph (comedian).

Not a single Indian was referenced in a list of 15 cultural personalities. This is tantamount to blatant discrimination against Indian cultural artistes. There was no mention of the death of the legendary chutney singer Anand Yankaran on 2 January, renowned tabla drummer Dexter Raghunanan on 18 January or vocalist Nazimool Khan, brother of Ruby Gupter-Khan, on 20 August.

Rampersad’s review was enhanced by four colour photos showing eight named cultural figures: Grace Jones, Christian James, Michael Anthony, Devon Matthews, Etienne Charles, David Rudder, Lima Calbio and Michael Mooleedhar.

Despite his last name, filmmaker Mooleedhar appears Mixed. If he is an Indian, he hides his physiological identity under a cap covering his well-groomed, flowing dreadlocks. Mooleedhar has never been publicly photographed attending an Indian cultural event. From all appearances, therefore, there is again not a single Indian shown in the photos of eight cultural icons.

Photo: Iconic Trinidad and Tobago chutney singer Anand Yankaran died on 2 January 2017.

In his 2009 book entitled Is there Racial Prejudice in the Press in Trinidad and Tobago?, psychologist Courtney Boxill sketched the relationship between race and space in local newspapers. But it is Dr Raymond Ramcharitar in his 2005 book Breaking the News: Media & Culture in Trinidad, who added colour to Boxill’s sketches.

Using content analysis, Ramcharitar illustrated how the Afrocreole-controlled newspapers have consistently “blacked out” Indian events in their coverage. He provided compelling detail to prove that Indian culture has been treated by editors as “alien insertions” in the press.

About Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
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36 comments

  1. Why are black people so preoccupied with what the Indians did or didn’t? The East Indians don’t give two hoots what has happened to black people. When Sat Maharaj can say that his children are not to play steel pan but the harmonium instead? Why we have chutney Soca and how many blacks perform. Rest assured they are well taken care of. It is the blacks who have got to get their act together.

  2. My first reaction to this article was to say, “there we go again finding Race in everything.”

    My second reaction, after some reflection, was, “Sir u know the social Cancer, Clientelism, will not go away with out major constitutional reform.”

    Then I read the article again. There is another message/lesson here other than the obvious racial discrimination one. N this I will highlight. Before, though, let me say that I am disappointed, but not surprised, that events of such importance to the Indian n wider national community were not mentioned in A Year in Culture by the Newsday.

    Not surprised because I have observed this tendency for years now; the tendency to allow arrogance n myopia to get in the way of sound Marketing strategies.

    The Newsday is in the business of “selling newspapers”. N given the stats reported by Dr. Mahabir, I wonder how could they not cater to half of the population n still stay afloat, in such a small market of less than a million consumers.

    To me, Dr. Mahabir’s article has touched on the issue of consumer research; exposing the apparent lack n/or lack of marketing research expertise at the Newsday ( n possibly other newspapers as well ) to fully understand n utilize research findings, in whatever form they might appear.

    Years ago I was involved with a project to win a major beverage manufacturer’s advertising account. Most of my research came from reading papers n graduate dissertations from former graduate students of UWI. I remember one very well. It was written by Dr. Brinsley Samaroo. N based on that paper n others, I was able to show the company that they were missing out on a big part of the market, i.e. the Indian community n the country folks. We won the account. The company listened to us n acted accordingly.

    I would recommend that the marketing staff of the Newsday read this article n the books mentioned in it. U can’t operate a business in a Cultural Plural society, like T&T, n ignore half of the stories.

  3. Lasana while i didnt like this author’s previous article this one reminded me of my tenor at the Guardian Newspapers where i did feature stories and entertainment. i covered a wide range of personalities and i thought a cross border of racial backgrounds. However, i once did a story on Sharlene Boodram. Cover page article in the young features section. A fellow journalist of Indian decent (I think she would pass Dr Mahabir test…) came up to me the day after the published and told me how great the story was, how wonderful it was. It really struck me because in the year i was at the Guardian she had never ever once came to me and made a comment on an article i wrote. I realised that what struck her was the coverage of a top Indian entertainer. i didnt intentionally not write about Indian entertainers, i wrote what i knew and personalities i had met. this was my unconscious bias and we all have them.

    • As Nirad pointed out recently, it is good and even healthy for us to question why things are the way they are from time to time.
      Even when the person asking question is making a flawed argument.
      Because I think people of Afro descent in many rural areas and Tobago feel just as neglected by the POS-based Media as south-based Indians—or even moreso.

    • Jason it’s being a well educated (not schooled) person to recognize unconscious bias. Thanks for Sharing that

  4. So go pick that up with Joan RAMPERSAD! And if in fact there were indo events during the month of December let the promoters of those events do a better job!

    Joan RAMPERSAD bias? Really?

  5. I think POS media is biased to POS. i think this is a fair argument that is made by communities and activities taking place outside of “town.”

  6. with all his commentary on Joan Rampersad writing i think it appropriate for her to be tagged in this article. not sure if she is part of the group.

  7. I honestly don’t think that is what’s taking place, you cannot segregate yourself and then say include me afterwards, can anyone remember when Jack Warner wanted to bail out the Hindu credit union or the year chutney soca monarch came to port of spain I’m not saying these things to cause division but we need to move together as one society cuz where I come from everyone partakes in the others culture and we live as one. So saying Indians are being “creolised” beats the living carp out of my mind or that the newspaper or news agencies are deliberately leaving out Indians I think is jus to stir an already somewhat divided pot and it needs to stop and instead try n reach out smartly to all demographic or at least meet halfway the ones who have already extended a hand to u

  8. I can name many non-East Indian Trinis who are avid practitioners of yoga, meditation and do mantras, myself included. The culture is being passed on and gaining ground. But like kaiso, the traditional way chutney is done might be getting out of date. As with any art form or culture, it has to evolve to survive.

  9. I think he has a valid point. If we are truly interested in creating a society “where every creed and race finds an equal place”, these questions must be asked and ddressed. Many biases are unintended, as such questioning is the only way to initiate discussion and bring about change. As an example, I visited the National Museum about 4 years ago and saw a very good pictorial display of the African Slave Trade, located on the ground floor close to the back (which was another issue). I asked the acting curator, (someone I know very well) “why is there no similar display of Indian Indentureship”. Her response, ” I don’t think anyone thought of that but I agree it is glaring”. Unless a question was asked, it would not have been brought to attention. I don’t know if it has been corrected. We must have these discussions. Harm may not be intended, but feelings of prejudice can be felt.

    • While I agree with you about the asking, you want to tell me we have a national museum and no one thought about including Indian indentureship? Give me a break!!

    • Gerard Johnson yes, I thought it was shameful!

    • Brian Harry A lot of racism exists because of ignorance not just because of hate.

    • There is definitely an oversight there.

    • Gerard Johnson Yep I agree, which is why I encourage people to discuss because often nothing is intended and there are oversights at times.

    • I am not ready to believe in the history of the national museum there has not been a retrospective of Indian indentureship, at some or several points

    • Maven Huggins Guess I’m making it up because I have a conspiracy against the museum????

    • Don’t be an arsenic, Brian harry

      Use your brain. Was the person you talked to 75 yes old? Working in the museum since it opened? Their whole adult life?

      Or someone who is 35 at best and just reach.

      Phone addicts don’t know there were phones attached to walls. Knowledge now stops at people’s limited knowledge. Think.!!!

      I am also not foreign to the nat mu. Having written articles on retrospectives, and shows. Just in 2010 the museum director might have been 35, a Muslim woman.would I expect her to know of all the presentations for the museum history? No I would not?

      Why y’all so fragile and take things all about you?
      Wow. Smh

    • Maven Huggins well I won’t respond to the attempt at insult. But if you read my comment clearly I said there was none present when I went there four years ago. It is irrelevant if one was there a few decades ago. If there was, it now begs the question “why was it removed “. My comment did not reference the many decades of museum history . Seek first to understand

    • No museum keeps any display up in time infinitum. It is circulated. Your inference then makes less sense.

      Now this begs the question, are you talking about permanent first floor cabinets, or the second floor of presentations?

      Have you any idea that nat mu has left archives out to be destroyed, stored irreverently.

      So you see your jump to you lying just shows how many aspects needed to be cleared up before you assumed, I thought, you were telling untruths.

      You should take your own advice before you assume worse or worst: “seek first to understand”

      Cheers!

    • Maven Huggins your post started with an attempt to insult. Again using your logic that no museum keeps any display up Infinitum, why remove one and not the other ? Desist! You make no sense. You started with a misunderstanding or misreading of my original post, and want to continue to defend, what ?!??

    • Defending nothing

      Checking your fragility:/
      “Guess I am making up conspiracy theories against the museum”

      The floor is yours. I am done

    • Maven Huggins that’s bullshit. Stick with the discussion. Why the fuck do you have to check my fragility. I made a very relevant observation and you decide to check my fragility. Jump

  10. But I grow up watching Mastana Bahar and Indian variety on TTT. GISL Was still showing the new generation mastana bahar.

  11. Who is supposed to highlight the Indian culture if they don’t do it. Just as they have comments of the ills of the society. They can also spread the achievements and culture of The Indians. If they recognize T&T as their home land. Other cultures are highlighted by ordinary pioneers who keep pushing T& T to the world in a positive light.

  12. What is IETV? What was WIN?
    Why mahabir abd his ilk and clannot save WIN?

    What are all the Indian radio stations?

    The huge wealth transfers from 2010 to ongoing was not allocated to media line items?

    What is he talking about?!
    “Fair Shake in the local media”

    What is ” fair” in Trinidad?
    Anything?