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Noble: Termites eating our democracy—the danger of spin doctors in ‘independent’ clothing

Distrust of politicians and public figures is a mainstay of democratic politics. Trust and distrust go hand in hand. 

We have institutions as a check on untrammelled forays by politicians, but we also use public opinion as a brake. The savage lampooning or ‘fatigue’ of the unfortunate George Chambers—‘done see’/‘duncy’—signalled that his days were numbered. BC Pires became the gold standard of using satire to embarrass public officials in the pages of our newspapers. 

Photo: BC Pires is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s foremost satirists.

In recent times, with the constant battering of our institutions from within and without, we have had to rely on public commentary to speak on our behalf. Did Dr Terrence Farrell’s contribution re the terms of the Central Bank Governor stir public opinion more than Senator Wade Mark’s? 

Public reaction importantly encourages politicians to get closer to a place of common good. Commentary provides resources for understanding information, encouraging both the expression and crystallisation of attitudes. It can encourage collective action. 

We have a long tradition of allowing politicians and their lackeys to voice their competitive views. The eloquent Overand Padmore, on the PNM side, was an early fixture. Ralph Maraj, an inveterate critic, is in today’s environment. 

We are in debt to the evergreen Raffique Shah, who some would remind us was a mutineer. But their affiliations are known, allowing us to evaluate their comments. To oppose a government action does not threaten the nation. 

Photo: Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades and a former union leader, Siparia MP and army lieutenant.
(Copyright TT Guardian)

The use of parody, as a means to express political and social views, has a long history but came into its own with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert—two US commentators who connect with and galvanise the young into political action. No mere comics, they influence the course of the national debate. 

Jon Stewart skewered both George Bush and Barack Obama. Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah (replacing Jon Stewart on the Daily Show) savage politicians, pundits and journalists, who repeat lies. The young would call them equal opportunity ‘dissers’. 

Darryn Boodan, ‘a freelance writer’, is not of this tradition. Poor chap’s work cannot even measure up to Kevin Baldeosingh’s. Sigh. Yet without disclosing his political agenda or connections, he focused solely on the Dr Keith Rowley-led administration in recent months. He clothed himself with the power of the ‘independent’ newspaper, selfishly bruising its brand. 

When did we move from critical debate to a game of personal prestige? Who bestows a person with the right to be a spin doctor while being disguised as an independent? 

Photo: Columnist Darryn Boodan was fired by the Trinidad Express last week when the newspaper discovered he is simultaneously employed as the corporate communications officer of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

This deception was earlier seen in Wired868 when a present senator promoted his persona as an independent before dropping the bombshell that he was running as an electoral candidate. This is the action of termites, eating at an institution (the media) of our democracy. 

This is not funny. It destroys trust. Are these guys different from the unfortunate woman coached to lie to gain public sympathy against her hapless Member of Parliament? 

The irony of clamouring for transparency, while themselves not being transparent, escapes them. These commentaries, in prime placement in both media vehicles, raise the spectre of ‘who or what you can trust’. 

Editors must now be doubly on guard to ensure that their internal processes work. Failure to do so implies that they are complicit. 

The newsrooms have to be properly resourced to enable the public to contextualise the opinions. To do otherwise is to allow termites to eat away at our democracy. 

Image: A satirical take on the manipulation of the media.

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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3 comments

  1. Finally we are getting somewhere,but I digress I think the Express knew for a while that he was not an independant and or freelance columnist but alas he was exposed by a senator so they had no choice to feign ignorance. It”s reminds me of the scene from the movie Casablanca when Claude Reins Character feigns ignorance when asked by the Nazi general about the illegal activities happening at the bar. Their are a few of them on the UNC, they are on the payroll of foreign intelligence services.

  2. Earl Best

    The second half of this piece should really be read in conjunction with Sunity Maharaj’s “Danger Between Headline and Bottom line” in the Sunday Express of October 24.

    Hand in glove.

  3. Earl Best

    “We have a long tradition of allowing politicians and their lackeys to voice their competitive views. The eloquent Overand Padmore, on the PNM side, was an early fixture. Ralph Maraj, an inveterate critic, is in today’s environment.”

    What subtlety, Noble! The power of what is NOT said. Padmore is clearly an example of a politician on the PNM side; are we wrong to understand that Maraj is an example of a lackey on the UNC side?

    I know my answer…