Trinidad and Tobago

Terry's beach banner

A Sensational Column

By Terry Joseph
February 06, 2004

Independent Senator Prof Kenneth Ramchand and Opposition UNC Senator Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan on Tuesday endorsed Prime Minister Patrick Manning's recently articulated opinion of the media; suggesting that a craving for sensationalism largely guides editorial judgment.

Prof Ramchand told of his inability to convince "editor after editor" to devote two pages (might we assume "daily"?) to reporting on debates, saying, too, that Government should subsidise the media, so Parliament could be covered in its fullness and not suffer the ignominy of journalists leaving at the tea-break.

Clearly, Prof Ramchand sees media leaving at 4.30 p.m. as an exclusively economic issue and not a simple matter of going back to the newsroom to transcribe notes and write stories about people like him while what they said is still fresh; so much of it being perishable.

As for his pleadings to editors, let me be among the first to publicly compliment their astuteness. The subsidy idea is not without merit and may cull added value if cartoons form part of any deal struck with the media.

But on closer analysis, if we are to go by the assessment of those who think the media exists for reporting sensationalism, then the extent to which Prof Ramchand was reported suggests he created something of a circus which, given his experience with the media, might indicate that his submission was deliberately designed to secure widest possible exposure.

Certainly, media-bashing never fails to make the news. Every Prime Minister has known that and used it to deflect from possible grilling on more pressing issues, summoning up the whipping-boy any time political standing dips, knowing there will forever be a constituency eager to buy the deception lock, stock and quarrel.

Interestingly, we haven't heard much comment from Honourable Members about Government's hands-off position on requests for legislation to mandate daily indigenous art content quota in the broadcast industry, but Prof Ramchand wants additional space in the media to speak of things he and his Parliamentary colleagues consider more important.

It may not have reached the Red House but, sad as it sounds, the average Trini apparently does not wish to hear or read any more of proceedings at the Houses of Parliament. Prof Ramchand said the people's business was discussed through snippets, summaries and extracts in the media and reported with an angle and very often statements were taken out of context.

Well, here are a few memorable snippets, summaries and extracts, to my mind damning from any angle and you, dear reader, will establish context.

Remember, this is Parliament, where serious matters are before Members of its Upper and Lower House.

Instead, there have been jokes about who can handle how much "pipe", Ministers developed sobriquets like "Chinese Chopper" and "Rottweiler", a member of Cabinet was charged with murder and we are frequently subjected to the spectacle of two blood brothers clawing away at each other to score political points.

The august chambers have hosted a Prime Minister who refused to speak to a reporter until her superior was sacked, another who disengaged his hearing aid to avoid listening to someone else's opinion of the people's business, and a list of MPs who simply sleep through such matters.

Rudely delivered cross-talk and general heckling have become standard fare, and the Speaker of the House often has to remind Members that he is on his legs. Personal insults frequently spike debates on thoroughly unrelated issues and Parliamentary privilege is no longer distinct from vituperative calypso lyrics.

We have seen a box of Pampers put on display in The Honourable House for use by one MP on "cry babies" seated on the other side and from the Senate heard a dissertation on ganja smoking. We have had a Speaker under house arrest and Senators daring the President to discipline them.

Your Parliamentary colleagues, Prof Ramchand, have been quizzed about extraordinary bank accounts in foreign countries, some arrested on charges of corruption, others accused of maligning their beloved country in foreign media and, most recently, we have been left to wonder which version of the story about Government's next move in the fishing dispute with Barbados we should really believe.

Bet it wouldn't be more of these snapshots of Parliament Prof Ramchand wishes to see in the morning paper, but lofty monologues from the great orators, detailing the intricacies of complex energy-sector deals as the cameras roll, so that we can attach a sense of purpose to effort expended in those hallowed halls.

What Prof Ramchand clearly needs to consider is whether the public is curious about what goes on in Parliament and if not, precisely how we came to this pass. May I suggest that after decades of seeing issues that most directly affect the people shunted onto political agendas, there is an unwillingness to even listen to the Honourable Members, far more believe what we hear.

With elected representatives reducing the people's business to barter, only disposed to discussing the pervading issue of crime if talks on constitution reform came first, perhaps the public is now turning the tables, taking a recess from Parliament.

In a democracy such as ours, it would therefore be unconstitutional to force any more of Parliament down our throats, for already we gag on the little snippets, summaries and extracts about which Prof Ramchand is complaining.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage