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Raffique Shah


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Put Jack in the box

January 29, 2006
By Raffique Shah

I agree with fellow columnist George John that journalists ought to have rallied behind Lasana Liburd, the Express sports writer who suffered unwarranted attacks by Jack Warner, and was further denied the privilege of covering the FIFA World Cup by the ruling body's local arm, the TTFF.

FIFA's head office has since reversed the locally imposed "ban" on Liburd. But I expect the young reporter will encounter Jack's long-and-deadly arm when he arrives in Germany, making his coverage of matches involving the national team difficult if not impossible.

As John pointed out, journalists have rallied behind their colleagues on issues of far less importance. I was with him and hundreds more when we marched against threats of erosion of the rights of journalists under the Basdeo Panday regime. Before that (or was it after?) I recall Justice Lionel Jones, sitting in the Dole Chadee murder trial, muzzling the media on several aspects of that case. I was with the TnT Mirror then, and actually wrote two stories at the request of editor Ken Ali.

Ali and Sharmaine Baboolal were hastily summoned before Jones, and before nightfall, Ali was in jail and Baboolal fined. The records of that kangaroo trial will show my role in that unsavoury episode in the local judicial process, and in attacks on journalists' rights.

What gave me greater courage at a time when Ramesh Maharaj was running wild in the country (yes, he was A-G then) was the reaction of large numbers of journalists to that injustice. Mirror writers were not exactly popular in the journalism fraternity because of the bluntness of our writings. But one man who stood out as a "soldier among journalists" at the time, and that in the face of threats of jail, was Keith Smith. There was no love lost between Keith and Ali, or anyone else at the Mirror for that matter. The Express, out of an abundance of caution, decided against publishing Keith's biting column on Jones' muzzling of the media. In defiance, Keith personally printed his article, stood on Independence Square, and handed out copies to whoever cared to take one and read it.

I had always respected Keith as a writer: from that day I also respected him as a man who will fight for what he believes in. In similar vein, he was the only journalist, who, in his capacity as Liburd's editor, devoted several of his daily columns to defending the young writer, and to tell Jack and company where to get off. In contrast, the responses Liburd got from the TTFF's local media personnel-Shawn Fuentes and veteran announcer Dave Lamy-were the "pits" of the profession.

I read Liburd's expose of the tickets scandal, and in it I saw nothing that was untrue since I, too, had gone on to the internet to better understand the manner in which tickets were allocated and their costs. The FIFA stated clearly: "The cheapest tickets for the group stage matches cost Euros $35, the most expensive Euros $100 (multiply by eight to get TT dollars). It also stated that the associations from countries that qualified for the finals could "commence sales immediately upon confirmation of its qualification." So what was this nonsense about the TTFF not knowing how many tickets it would get?

But the scandal got "curiouser and curiouser". In the reputable Independent newspaper in the UK, one Nick Harris reported as follows: "One of FIFA's most senior executives could profit by more than 10 million pounds (TT$120 million) from World Cup ticket sales in a scandal that will horrify supporters. In a move that has caused outrage in T&T, the nation's entire ticket allocation has been allocated to a travel agency owned by Jack Warner."

He had much more to say, but space does not permit me. So now, will Jack go after Harris and The Independent? Will he tackle Andrew Jennings, who has been thumbing his nose in FIFA's face for many years? Hardly likely. The English judicial system seems to be much fairer than ours, and Jack's stature in FIFA will count for zilch were he to stand before a Bow Street magistrate either as plaintiff or defendant.

Liburd was only doing his job when he wrote that expose┬┤, and if I may say so, he did a damn good job. He should be complimented for it, not castigated, even ostracised by some of his colleagues who will settle for free rides and tickets.

From where I stand, I don't see too many exciting young journalists (and I write here as a former editor who hired many journalists whose by-lines spread across the media spectrum today). When one like Liburd comes along, once he sticks to the principles of good journalism, he must be given full support. Jack must learn that the media can be a hundred times more powerful than FIFA, the IAAAF, even the IOC.

We cannot be intimidated, and those among us with cojones will not be bought.