“Long live the media!”
Thus does unapologetic democrat Noble Philip sign off his latest piece, which appeared in Wired868 last Thursday. Essentially, the column sets out to defend media cockroaches against unwarranted attacks from Gary ‘Motor Mouth’ Griffith. I’m not sure it quite achieves that goal.
Having over the years read his numerous letters to the editor carried repeatedly in the conventional press as well as his regular writings here on Wired868 since he found a better home, I suspect that Noble and I agree on many important things. One of them is the insufferable arrogance of the current commissioner of police. Not on the list, however, it seems to me, going on the evidence of the recent Wired868 comment, is the real—as distinct from presumed—independence of the local media.
Far be it from me to try to impugn Noble’s command of media issues or to challenge his near encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry in Trinidad and Tobago. His close professional relationship with local media goes back almost three decades, although, Market Facts and Opinions, ‘Trinidad & Tobago’s thought leader in understanding and explaining consumer behaviour,’ which he has long carried on his shoulders and currently chairs, boasts only of ‘over 25 years’ experience in the Caribbean region’.
It does, however, seem to me that, dyed-in-the-wool defender of democracy that he is, Noble here so zealously takes the T&T media’s side against all comers that he opens himself up to charges of either having a blind spot or wearing blinkers.
After all, neither are ‘the media’ and ‘the T&T media’ synonymous. Nor are ‘the media’ and ‘reporters’. It is clear that Noble is here dealing with the T&T media, but nowhere does he make those necessary distinctions explicit.
“The media,” he affirms, “on our behalf, holds all public officials accountable. Their questions cannot be ‘stupid’.”
Really, Noble? I certainly think I have heard a few questions that qualify.
“Public officials cannot unilaterally decide which reporter should get which bits of information.”
Really, Noble? How many reporters were present when the TTPS decided to launch their fo’day morning raid on the Transformed Life Ministries premises? Who handled that media guest list? Pastor Glen Awong?
The media, Noble notes further, ‘is the watchdog of our democracy’, adding a little later on, that it ‘is not a handmaiden to any of us. (…) [It] is an institution needed in our democracy and cannot be beholden to any public official.’
Good theory. Great theory, even. But does it really square with the reality on the ground in Trinidad and Tobago? I think not.
Within a week of my joining a media house towards the end of the last century, I was invited upstairs to meet with one of the company principals who tower above—and lord it over—reporters. (S)he wanted, I was told, to welcome me into the fold and wish me well.
(S)he did. But (s)he did not pass up the opportunity to share a really important message.
No raised voice, no sternly wagging finger, no special emphasis, very matter-of-fact. But the message was crystal clear, pell-, as the late PM Patrick Manning might have put it, -ucid.
“I am not trying to tell you how to do your job,” (s)he said, “but I think you should remember that Mr (Jack) Warner brings a lot of money into this company.”
Maybe the media are not beholden to any public official. But the media houses, Noble? Hmmm…
In the entire almost 700-word piece I could find only one sentence that provided any suggestion that Noble is aware—and I know he is, let me reiterate, well aware—that, in the grand game of chess that is the media industry, reporters are but pawns.
Mr Griffith should not be afraid of being challenged by any particular media house or reporter (my emphasis).
My hope is that this second story will help to illustrate just how low on the media totem pole reporters really are.
In the 1990s, I was employed at a media house where the Employee of the Year prize was a princely $500. The adjudicators one year selected two people for the honour of Employee of the Year, one from the Sports Desk, the other a young lady from Advertising.
That year, the media house declared a $7m-plus after-tax profit. One manager took home an end-of-year bonus in excess of $30,000. I’m not speculating; I saw the cheque.
The joint Employees of the Year had to split the prize down the middle, each receiving a whopping $250 cheque.
Noble, I have dabbled in fiction, but I couldn’t make that stuff up. And I share it here so that you are reminded of the complete absence of scruples in the higher echelons of the media, where the policy decisions that matter are made.
And conveyed, explicitly or implicitly, to editorial.
But that reality dates from over two decades ago and a lot of water has flowed behind the Bridge and down Port of Spain’s streets since then. Things surely have improved.
Have they? Here is a second-hand 2019 experience in a local media house:
A reporter with one of the local dailies has ‘had it up to here’. (S)he is often surprised by the adjustments made to his/her copy and sometimes by the headlines chosen for them which do not reflect the reality, (s)he thinks, and certainly not the emphasis of the story. Growing increasingly disgruntled with the editorial direction the paper is taking, (s)he is seriously contemplating a move.
Summoned recently to a meeting with his/her editors, (s)he was told of real concerns that the other paper may be doing far better on the market and about a possible consequent loss of market share. The given reason was that the competition are not afraid to sensationalise their stories; we, you, have to start to do the same.
Let us be clear; editors may sometimes make requests of reporters, but this clearly was an instruction, NOT a request.
So, Noble, here is the message I would have sent to GMMG: if there indeed is “a conspiracy between rogue police officers and ‘certain members of the media’ to discredit” the CoP, take aim not at lowly reporters but at the higher rungs of the media ladder.
In other words, when your guns are loaded, don’t go after the small fry and leave the Mr Bigs alone. Don’t shoot the messengers, shoot the managers.
Long live the free and independent media… wherever they exist!