Marshall McLuhan, Canadian educator and philosopher, published work in 1964 which became fundamental to understanding the media in the electronic age—even though electronic communication, as we know it, had not yet been invented. He created the famous phrases ‘global village’ and ‘the medium is the message’.
McLuhan posited, in summary, that ‘the message which a medium conveys can only be understood if the medium and the environment in which the medium is used are analyzed together’. He also asserted that ‘the content of a medium is like a juicy piece of meat carried by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind’.
The use of media in politics to distract the watchdog of our minds is now routine and dangerous. We are frequently either misled or subject to ferocious attempts to distract us from the core of an issue. The distracting information may vary in reach.
When the distraction is international, the whole interconnected world that constitutes the global village is prey to the distorted information. One significant example of a distortion spread throughout the global village was the now discredited message that the Iraq war against Saddam Hussein was justified because Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
In the now visibly chaotic state of Trinidad and Tobago, we are constantly set up in order to distract the watchdog of our minds from due diligence over the exercise of constitutional power and the management of the interests of the public. Here are three recent examples.
In August last year, when the now notorious merit list relating to the appointment of a commissioner of police was never sent by the President to the Parliament, as required by the Constitution, we were fed bits and pieces of information while the constitutional process was being undermined. But the Government was not ready to say frontally in the Parliament that it did not want Gary Griffith.
Subsequently, but only when it must have decided that it was a politically expedient time to do so, it openly rejected Griffith—much later than it should have done so in Parliament had the constitutional process been followed without subversion.
Eight months later, there is still no substantive commissioner of police and we are murder and fraud-ridden. Following the fraudulent land transactions and the grabbing of state lands complained of by former minister of agriculture Clarence Rambharat when he left the Cabinet last month, a statement was made in accordance with the practice whereby the statement is the substance.
By the statement is the substance, I mean the regular issue of statements that a minister, a committee of ministers or an independent committee will look into a controversial matter and report to Cabinet, but nothing of substance is intended to be done–or is done–beyond the statement, receipt of the report and, sometimes, its publication.
That is the miasmic governance that we tolerate as dysfunction multiplies.
The land fraud statement was simply a repackage announcing the formation of a land authority which, suspiciously, is to be headed by the same former minister Rambharat—an assignment at odds with the reasons the former minister gave for leaving the Government.
Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Education indulged in another favourite tactic of distraction. After twisting and turning in its messages when there was confusion about which of two students had rightfully earned the gold medal for first place based on the results of the Secondary Education Assessment (SEA) examinations, it lashed out at the media.
The practice of the Ministry to use results that were preliminary only was exposed. This permits the minister—PNM and UNC alike—to grab a photo-opportunity with the ‘winning’ student.
When caught by what the finalised results showed about placings and an unsustainable decision to alter the placings, the Ministry was eventually forced to express regret, which it qualified by blaming the media for ‘exacerbating the anguish’ of the students involved.
The latest statement without substance is the appointment of a committee comprising 22 persons to consider school violence. It is to present, as a first step, ‘a draft national disciplinary matrix to a Ministerial team’—reportedly in two weeks.
They think we chupidee or what?