February 08, 2004
By Raffique Shah
SO you are a Canadian citizen or resident and, having worked hard to afford a few weeks vacation abroad, you log on to your government's travel advisory on the internet and come up with this: "Attacks on tourists have decreased, but violent crime remain a serious concern. Criminals have demonstrated that they will use violence with little or no provocation." Hmm, you think, reconsidering your intended destination. Then you encounter this warning: "Crime occurrences are high in many cities, but are generally concentrated in areas travellers are unlikely to visit. Street crime can spill over into commercial, hotel and entertainment areas. Racial tension and poverty occasionally prompt riots." Hmm, again.
The above warnings, updated early February, do not refer to Trinidad and Tobago, which, judging from the media-bashing we suffer from our own, hardly need half-baked Canadian journalists like Donna Jacobs to paint us as part of Hell on Earth. The first is an advisory for those intending to visit Florida, and the second the USA in general. In our case, the advisory states as follows: "Robberies are common, particularly in PoS and other urban areas. Extra care should be taken when travelling from Piarco Airport late at night. Violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping and murder have increased significantly. Visitors should exercise caution, particularly during the hours of darkness."
The diligent journalist will scan advisories for several countries across the globe before sensationalising that which applies to T&T. I did, just for the hell of it, and because I feel our country is being given a bum rap, both by our own and by the Jacobses of journalism who are aptly described by India's award winning writer, Arundhati Roy. She wrote of these professionals: "If what we have to say doesn't "sell" will we say it? Could writers end up playing the role of palace entertainers?"
How correct she is. Every journalist's dream is to write an exclusive and explosive story that will propel him or her into the frontline of the profession. But investigative journalists know how difficult it is to get all the information you need for such stories. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, to acquire not just accurate information, but documentation to back up your story. It's hard work. Many "fast foods" clowns believe that you simply get a tip from someone who is either pro-or-anti-government or the opposition, you check one detail on the internet, and presto, you have a big story. It does not work that way. Those who choose that route to "instant fame" are the ones responsible for having authors like Danny Schechter dubbing the media in general as "Weapons of Mass Deception".
Following the Jacobs story, which I learnt of on the day it was published in Ottawa when a friend called to find out "what the hell was happening in Trinidad?" I decided to check Canada's travel advisory website. It was most instructive. Almost every country or big city in the world featured warnings about petty crimes, robberies, thefts from hotel rooms, not going out at nights to certain districts, and so on. Nothing unusual about these because crime is a universal problem. Sure, successive governments have worked hard to ensure we reach this sorry pass. We are now trying hard to catch up with Jamaica and Brazil in murders and kidnappings, and robberies are as commonplace as sno-cone carts.
It's a fact, too, that successive governments have coddled criminals, allowed them free rein to the point where they believe they own parties and governments. They control the "cussed" URP programme, have a hand in CPEP, run NHA projects, and find other ways of milking taxpayers' money through legitimate means. And what they can't acquire by patronage, they do by the barrel of a gun. It is disgusting to see government ministers all but genuflecting to known bandits and murderers, but that has been the norm for many years now. Hell, some known criminals have been elevated to the Senate, while others are safely ensconced in high offices in the State and private sectors.
But for all this chaos, we are nowhere near to a complete breakdown in the society. Yet, Jacobs, who knew nothing of the country she chose to write on, focused almost exclusively on Abu Bakr and his men, as well as opposition parliamentarians. Nothing from trade union leaders, from government ministers, from the entertainment fraternity, from the clergy, from police officers or UWI intellectuals. Trinidad and Tobago, she wrote, "long a tourist magnet". Huh? Is this lady for real? When was this country ever a prime destination for tourists?
She seemed so bewitched by Bakr, it won't surprise me if she chooses to be Mrs Bakr #6! As if that was not in itself bad journalism, she then scouted around for UNC parliamentarians. Roodal Moonilal, described as a "lecturer at UWI" (is that right, Dr Bhoe?): "Kidnapping is a transfer of income from those who have to those who don't have." Does that not sound like Cro Cro, who is being assailed for his insensitivity in his song "Facing Reality"? Panday postulates (of Abu Bakr's ties with Libya): "One of the conditions (when a group receives money from Libya) is that you must deliver. And you deliver an Islamic state." Again, is he for real? Maybe during his intimate discussions with Bakr, when they slept in the UNC bed, he was apprised of that caveat!
As for ex-communist Wade Mark, here's his take: "I think the Government is linked to terrorism and maybe sooner, rather than later, George Bush may see this country as part of the axis of evil." Nice quip, comrade! Stalin still loves you! Both Manohar Ramsaran and Robin Montano, who admitted to have written Jean Chretien (ex-PM of Canada) on the issue, told Jacobs that last month "more than 3,000 people requested refuge in Canada". The Canadian High Commissioner in POS denied this in a statement last week. He added that applications for visas were at a normal level, and there were few, if any, requests for refugee status.
Here's another Jacobs gem: The American Embassy staff reportedly refer to Mr Manning as "Patrick Mugabe"! That, because he is "steering State funds to the largely African-based Jamaat"! "They (opposition MPs) allege preferential admissions for African students (presumably at UWI) and demotions or dismissals of Indo-Trinidadian civil servants." A simple visit to the UWI campus will have exposed that lie. And any good reporter will have asked Montano and Manohar to produce facts to back up their claims.
Clearly, sleaze is no longer confined to whore houses. It has penetrated newsrooms around the world, much to the disgust of those who were proud to belong to the "Fourth Estate."