“[…] I was also very concerned on last Wednesday morning, when I heard [i95.5FM] Head of News Dale Enoch affirm—on the popular morning talk show he hosts with Tony Lee—that the Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) were never bought (by any government of Trinidad and Tobago).
“[…] It seems implausible to me that Enoch, a veteran journalist with a proven ability to recall long dormant political issues and developments, should forget what he himself had reported extensively on…”
The following letter to the editor on i95.5FM Head of News Dale Enoch’s coverage of the current government and, in particular, the UNC’s cancellation of OPV contracts, was submitted by ‘Simon Roberts’—a pseudonym for a practising journalist who has requested anonymity:
On the 4pm news on i95.5fm last Thursday, one of the headlines was: ‘Dr Keith Rowley expresses support for Nicolás Maduro’.
Having listened to the news conference in which the prime minister was being reported to have done so, I was most surprised. At no point in his presentation had I heard Dr Rowley express support for the duly elected Venezuelan president.
Now I have been in the journalism environment for almost 40 years. After all of that time, I remain convinced that if the conventional media are to emerge victorious in their current battles with the increasingly popular social media platforms and changing tastes, the one element they must have on their side is credibility. In both print and broadcast formats, therefore, truth must always be our watchword.
So I was also very concerned on last Wednesday morning, when I heard the station’s Head of News Dale Enoch affirm—on the popular morning talk show he hosts with Tony Lee—that the Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) were never bought (by any government of Trinidad and Tobago).
Enoch was dismissing a caller’s argument that the country’s crime problem, more specifically, the murder toll, should be linked to the failure of one government to follow through on the purchase of the OPVs ordered by its predecessor.
The caller suggested that had the UNC-led coalition not cancelled the OPVs—equipped, let us not forget, with guns and radar and able to stay out in deep water for extended periods—our borders would have been much better protected and fewer guns would have been smuggled from South America and ended up in the hands of criminal elements in T&T.
Enoch rubbished the caller’s claim. The OPVs, he said, ought not to be used in any discussion of that issue because they were never bought and, as a consequence, that argument ‘should be put to rest’.
It seems implausible to me that Enoch, a veteran journalist with a proven ability to recall long dormant political issues and developments, should forget what he himself had reported extensively on.
The government of the day, he had told us back in the immediate post-Manning era, had cancelled the contract with the shipbuilders, thus saving taxpayers the massive expense that would otherwise have been incurred. But it was only because the Brazilian Government had been willing to purchase the craft to perform similar duties in their vast rivers.
Serious organisations do not enter into multi-million-dollar contracts with anyone, including foreign governments, without a clause protecting themselves against the would-be purchaser going back on his word. I feel sure Enoch remembers the then attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, confirming that T&T had avoided a huge financial blow for reneging on the deal only because another sovereign state had bought the OPVs.
Indeed, I seem to remember a claim that the country had been able to collect a handsome refund as a result.
Whether or not a deposit had in fact been made really doesn’t matter. What is beyond dispute, as I recall—and I would have expected Enoch so to do as well—is that there were military personnel undergoing training in the UK to learn how to operate and maintain the boats.
So the government had firmly committed to a costly, major undertaking, the boats were nearing completion and our military had begun to receive the requisite training. Was it, therefore, somehow misguided or misleading for the caller to speculate on the human cost of the cancellation?
Indeed, in her new role as opposition leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar—the prime minister under whose leadership the cancellation had come—has often publicly decried the fact that, according to her, nothing is being done to protect our porous borders!
But politicians are going to play games with words, including taking liberties with the truth; in politics, it is more or less par for the course. There are media personalities who also play fast and loose with their words, some of them with impunity.
I feel strongly, however, that that is a luxury which no head of news can hope to enjoy. It is the head of news who decides what are the headlines, to whom coverage is to be given, which soundbites are to be used and which not.
When he is also both an active journalist and the host of a popular show, commenting regularly on events in the news, then credibility, integrity and scrupulous respect for truth become even more important.
Dr Rowley expressed support for Nicolas Maduro? Did the i95.5fm Head of News approve that headline? I do not know that he did. But much more importantly, I cannot guarantee that he did not.
As things stand, practitioners in the conventional media are under sustained attack; the temptation to be first rather than to be right is increasingly harder to resist. But the onus is on us to protect and uphold the values that media people have held dear for longer than we care to remember; our status as the Fourth Estate, keeping watch over the power-brokers, demands it.
If we in the media are to fulfil our mandate to ‘keep them honest’, we must ourselves first be committed to honesty.
It is my view that convenient lapses of memory such as Enoch’s that morning and clear misrepresentations such as the Thursday evening headline raise serious questions about the media’s commitment to complete honesty.