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In Times Like These

March 11, 2000
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

On Thursday Louis Lee Sing leaves Power 102, a station he built into the number one talk-radio station of the nation; a station that gave a new name to public affairs and people's involvement in their democracy. As he rides into the sunset, he will be accompanied by Jerome Lewis, a young man who understands the distinction between pandering to authoritarian forces (private or public) and the right of journalists to carry out their responsibilities rigorously. We should thank them for the important contributions they have made in re-vitalizing our democracy. Yet, undermining a vibrant station and sabotaging the career of a probing journalist are not in the best interest of our democracy. Only time will tell how the increasingly intimidatory posture of our government impacts upon the exercise of free speech.

Truth to tell, Louis and his team at Power 102 (Tony, Dale, Lisa, Sprang, Odeka, Jerome and others) did not do anything so new. They reasoned that if they were to make a difference in the society they had to go where people's heads and hearts are. So, they scurried around the country, found out what people thought, and shared it with the nation. Eventually, it became the station to listen to if one wanted to know how Trinbagonians of all shades and classes thought about their country. Be it sports, music or politics, Power 102 was always on the pulse (or was it the dial) of the nation. Such a concept was too much for our bosses. They had to act or forever hold their peace.

Strange to say, the subsequent action of the bosses was not inconsistent with that of those who wish to stifle people's expressions. Whenever a creeping dictatorship wishes to put its fangs on the soul of the nation, it first curbs a people's right to speak and to think freely. Then, it seeks to prevent them from even being people since the essence of our personhood consists in our capacity to be rational and to engage in discourses about the nature of self and society.

President Robinson warned us about the creeping dictatorship our country faced. P. S. Atiyah, a former Professor of English Law at Oxford University, argues that in practice, "most tyrannies find it necessary to control the sources of information available to their citizens—the press and the modern media—in order the more effectively to mobilize the power of persuasion." This is especially true when the tyrant is not sure how the conventional forces of coercion (the police and army) are likely to behave under stress and confrontation.

Thus, an illegal or tyrannous government always opts for persuasion when it wishes to bolster its standing, especially when a substantial portion of the population believes it "tief de elections." To be sure, such compliance cannot be achieved when, day in day out, an uncontrollable population uses the media to express their frustration with illegitimate rule. The solution: intimidate the messengers; forget the message.

Needless to say, lawful, moral and established authority is quite different from one that privileges the use of force. A state only assumes full democratic status when its social institutions (the police, the judiciary, etc.,) begin to act in an autonomous manner. That is why justices such as Ivor Archie and Sebastian Ventour are such threats to this creeping dictatorship. The state, be it in the person of the PM or the AG, cannot order the heads of state institutions to act at their behest. Any attempt to interfere with the independence of these institutions (and we see this at its worse in Zimbabwe today) undermines the democratic process.

We must remember always that Adolph Hitler was a popular politician before he became evil incarnate. David Cesarani warns that Hitler "was carried into power on the tide of electoral popularity . . . Although the Nazis were a minority in government at first, Hitler smartly obtained sweeping powers from President and Reichstag that legalized drastic police action." (London Independent, March 3). After cajoling the populace, cultivating the press, pandering to the weakness of sycophants, and playing on nationalist sentiments, he went for the national jugular. He achieved this by a system of flattery, seduction and reward. Cesarani notes: " The façade of legalism and the use of the media were crucial to Hitler's strategy, but its bedrocks was concurrence."

Although Panday's victory remains questionably, it has not prevented him from consolidating power via the selection of losers to the Senate, intimidating public figures, the acquiescence of gullible public servants, and the greed of private entrepreneurs. In their quest for position and power, none believes s/he is doing wrong. As the old people say: "none can tell the other to turn back." Yet, a time will come when the state will have to account for their amoral behavior.

In any society, small acts by relatively insignificant persons (remember Rosa Parks of the Civil Rights Movement or Uriah Butler of the 1937 disturbances) make a society reflect upon itself. Although Lee Sing or Lewis did not wish to be heroic, they recognized that a person either stands for something or falls for anything. They could not have known that in March 1838, the German media, by its placid acquiescence, contributed to the creation of a despicable monster when they participated in an open day for journalists at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This unthinking act implicated their profession in one of the "most monstrous tyrannies the world has ever known" (Churchill).

It is written that we know the righteous ones by their acts. Although they may not have scored the winning goal to get us into World Cup 2002 nor discovered a cure to prevent certain politicians from engaging in foot and mouth disease, we need to compliment Lee Sing and Lewis for their courageous action. May God give members of the media, state and civil institutions the courage to carry out their work conscientiously and fairly, with malice to none and charity even to those who spitefully use them.

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