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TRYING TO GO IT ALONE AND FAILING IN AN AUTHORITARIAN
DEVELOPING STATE: A CASE STUDY OF THE INDEPENDENT IN TRINIDAD
CASSANDRA D. CRUICKSHANK
A THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Cassandra D. Cruickshank
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the enthusiastic supervision of Dr. Michael
Leslie during this work. It was a pleasure and an education to work with someone as
knowledgeable about international media as he is. I would also like to thank Dr. Howard
Sid Pactor, Dr. Debbie Treise, Dr. Kim Walsh-Childers, Dr. Julian Williams and Dr. Jon
Roosenraad for their guidance and participation as committee members.
I am forever indebted to my parents, Clive Cruickshank and Veda Joseph-
Cruickshank, for their understanding, endless patience and encouragement when it was
most required. Finally, I am grateful to my best friend Terry Wilson. Sometimes I
thought he wanted this degree more than I did, but I am thankful all the same that he was
there to help me through the bad times.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF TA BLES .................................................................... ............ .. vi
ABSTRACT .............. ..................... .......... .............. vii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
Purpose of the Study .................................................. ...... .............. .
R research Q uestions........... .................................................................. ........ .. ...
R research A approach ................................................. ...... ..... .............. ..
Interview s w ith E ditors.................. ... ....... .... ........................2
Content Analysis of Editorial Themes in a 9 Month Sample.............................2
Examination of Government Edicts, Pronouncements........................................3
2 L IT E R A TU R E R E V IE W .................................................................. .....................5
Various Types of State Press Relationships ........................................ .............5
History of Press and Government Relations in Trinidad .............................................7
T rinidad H history ............................................. ... ... .. .......... .. .. ...... .. 7
The Press and Government in Trinidad and Tobago...........................................8
Recent Attempts by Government to Limit Press Freedom................................
The Green Paper and Press Freedom .............................................. ......... ...... 13
D evelopm ent N ew s or Press Control? .............. ............. .. ............ .................... 15
Other Factors that Affect the Survival of Independent Media ...............................19
M an ag erial E x p ertise ................................................................ ..................... 19
A dv ertising ........................................................................20
C circulation ..................................................................................................2 1
D em graphics ............................................ 22
E d ito rial P o licie s ........................................................................................... 2 2
O w n e rsh ip ....................................................................................2 3
G ov ernm ent R elation s ................................................................................... 24
3 CASE STUDY: THE INDEPENDENT ........................................ ............... 26
H history of the Independent .............................................................. ...............26
H igh Start-U p C osts ................................................. ............................... 27
Sm all A advertising B ase ......................................................... .............. 28
W eak C circulation .......... ..... ........................................................... ... .... ... ... 28
W eak D em graphics ........................................ .............................................2 9
H hostile E editorial P olicy ............................................... ............................ 29
O w nership C hanges............ .......................................................... .. .... .... ... 30
Poor G overnm ent R relations ........................................ .......................... 30
Content Analysis of Independent Editorials...........................................................31
4 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ......................................................................... ........ .. ..... .. 34
A INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'RESTRICT MEDIA'..............................40
B INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'SOCIAL/POSITIVE' .............................41
C INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'PANDAY/NEGATIVE'........................42
D INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'UNC/POSITIVE' ..................................43
E INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'SOCIAL ILLS'.......................................44
F INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'UNC/NEGATIVE' ................................45
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ......... .. ............. ................................................................46
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .. ..................................... ............. 51
LIST OF TABLES
3-1 Conceptual analysis of Independent editorials.......................... .... ............... 32
3-2 Positive vs. negative political coverage in Independent editorial sample...............32
3-3 Full titles of Independent editorials and coding schemes .............. ..................32
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
TRYING TO GO IT ALONE AND FAILING IN AN AUTHORITARIAN
DEVELOPING STATE: A CASE STUDY OF THE INDEPENDENT IN TRINIDAD
Cassandra D. Cruickshank
Chair: Sid Pactor
Major Department: Journalism and Communications
Why do some fledgling newspapers flourish while others only last a few years?
What is the impact of press-government relations compared to economics, demographics,
circulation, management, advertising, editorial policies, and ownership on their survival?
This researcher chose to study the history of Trinidad's Independent newspaper
because of the unique circumstances that led to its formation. The Independent
represented an integral facet of democracy in Trinidad. It was a rare forum for dissenting
or non-mainstream voices, and held the possibility of a real expression of free speech
without fear of government sanctions.
From 1996 to 1999, as they tried to keep the paper afloat, the founding members of
the Independent faced many crucial challenges. Some of the obstacles in their path were a
result of direct pressure from the political administration (unwarranted tax audits, hesitant
advertisers, and an arson attempt). But other problems besides government intervention
compromised the paper's survival.
This research examines the fate of the Independent in order to better understand the
factors that contributed to its brief existence and early expiration, and hopefully point to
what its successors need to do if they are to endure.
Purpose of the Study
This study has a two-fold purpose: one, to examine recent attempts made by the
government of Trinidad and Tobago to regulate the media, and two, to examine the
effects other variables such as economics, advertising, circulation, demographics and
editorial policies had on the survival of an independent news medium.
This thesis addresses the following research questions:
1. What has been the historical relationship between press and government in
2. What are some of the factors that have contributed to that relationship?
3. How did the independent press, in particular the Independent, challenge or
perpetuate that relationship?
4. What are some of the difficulties it faced and why?
5. What are the prospects for Trinidad having a truly independent press in the future?
This research adopted a tripartite approach consisting of
1. interviews with editors
2. content analysis of editorial themes in a 9 month sample
3. examination of government edicts, pronouncements
Interviews with Editors
To research this paper, four former Independent journalists were interviewed. The
interviews were transcribed into plain text and analyzed for central themes. The
journalists interviewed included Sunity Maharaj, Executive Director of the
Commonwealth Journalists' Association (CJA), Maxie Cuffie, advisor to the Prime
Minister's Policy and Media Research Unit in the Office of the Attorney General,
Trinidad Express columnist B.C. Pires, and former Trinidad Guardian Managing Director
Alwin Chow. Their experiences had as much to do with the Independent's content as it
did with the paper's economic and managerial modus operandi.
The researcher asked the journalists not only what the government's reaction was
to their fledgling paper, but also what the public, advertisers and other journalists thought
of their attempt at an independent press. They gave valuable insight into how the
environment, and their solutions to problems involving advertising, circulation and
publishing houses, impacted the life of the paper.
Content Analysis of Editorial Themes in a 9 Month Sample
The Independent ran as a daily from November 26, 1996, to August 21, 1998. The
Friday paper was the Independent's flagship edition, wrapping up the week and retailing
On June 2, 1998, roughly the paper's final two months of publication, the
Independent went from publishing five days a week to publishing six days a week. There
was no Sunday edition. The researcher constructed a representative composite month
from the pool of editorials spanning this time period. For example, among 90 of the
possible Mondays, a sample of five Mondays was drawn at random. Five Tuesdays were
drawn at random from the available Tuesdays, and so on until 30 days including
Saturday had been randomly selected.
The month was then examined using qualitative content analysis. According to
Smith and Sparkes, this form of analysis focuses on "central themes, typologies, or
instances of paradigmatic categories within the telling" (Smith and Sparkes 2005, 228).
In other words, using this method of analysis, the researcher assumes the role of a typical
Independent reader and attempts to interpret the sample of editorials the same way the
reader would. When coding the editorials, the researcher created categories based on
what this average reader would construe as positive or negative coverage of the
government and/or the Prime Minister. She then analyzed the frequency of negative
coverage versus positive or neutral coverage, and drew conclusions about the attitude of
the Independent towards the government and whether the Panday administration was
justified in its hostility towards the newspaper and the independent press.
Examination of Government Edicts, Pronouncements
The researcher examined attempts by the state to regulate the media in Trinidad and
Tobago, by considering various newspaper articles and government documents. Among
these was the Green Paper released by the Ministry of the Attorney General entitled
Reform of Media Law: Towards a Free and Responsible Media (1997). Also analyzed
were the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (1976), the Freedom of Information Act
(1999) and the draft Broadcast Code recently released by the Telecommunications
Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (2005). Census data on relevant demographics,
including income and education statistics for Trinidad and Tobago's population derived
from the 2004 CIA World Factbook provided the researcher with a more precise
background understanding of the Independent's advertising and circulation problems.
The census data also shed light on the probability that the island's age and education
structure might have affected the popular reaction to the Independent's editorial policies.
Various Types of State Press Relationships
Throughout the years, scholars have attempted to define various types of press and
government relationships, but the associations outlined by Frederick S. Siebert et al. in
his 1963 study Four Theories of the Press are probably the most well known.
According to Siebert, there are four identifiable relationships between the media
and government. The authoritarian system mandates direct government control of the
mass media, and is practiced tacitly in many developing countries (Siebert and others
1963, 36). On the surface, the press can regularly criticize the establishment without fear
of repudiation. But in reality, the government can strike back by threatening their
advertising dollars, withholding information from journalists or even restricting their
personal freedom (Siebert and others 1963, 36).
The Soviet system in accordance with its communist roots is marked by publicly
owned media organizations. All media employees are government employees, are tasked
with promoting unity within the state and the party (Siebert and others 1963, 145). Top
media executives are leaders in the Communist party, and media access is provided to
active and loyal party members. Criticism of the party and government of a substantial
nature is forbidden, and the repercussions are serious.
The libertarian theory, also called the free press theory, specifies no relationship
between government and media at all. The model assumes that the individual is free to
publish whatever he or she likes. Attacks on the government's policies are fully accepted
and even encouraged (Siebert and others 1963, 70). One former Independent columnist
explained why this theory is the most desirable within a democratic society:
Newspapers, if they are doing their job properly, give much more assistance than
any politician can [hope for], because they provide a forum for free expression of
ideas, and the best ideas will bubble to the top. (Pires, 1999)
The theory of social responsibility is an outgrowth of the libertarian theory. In the
late 1940's, a commission chaired by University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Maynard
Hutchins expanded on this theory when it noted, "It is no longer enough to report thefact
truthfully. It is now necessary to report the 1i inh/ about the fact" (Hutchins 1947, 88).
According to media scholar John Vivian, the Commission's report criticized the
press for "sensationalism, news selected for its entertainment value, 'lying' by
newspapers, cover-ups of the press's own scandals, the hunger for scoops, reliance on
unidentified sources, reinforcement of group stereotypes, advertisements disguised as
news, and, especially, concentrated ownership" (Vivian 1995, 199). To combat those
alleged shortcomings the Commission called for a socially responsible press. Its
1. Presenting the news truthfully, with context and meaning.
2. Offering a place to exchange comment and criticism
3. Providing a means to project opinions and attitudes of society's groups.
4. Presenting and clarifying society's goals.
5. Reaching every member of society.
Editorials, columns, news analysis and letters to the editor offer a means to achieve
some of the goals of social responsibility. In the 20th century, the United States has been
at the forefront of news analysis and interpretation, in accordance with this theory.
Reporters are encouraged to present the news "with context and meaning," therefore
encouraging the public in an informed decision. Publishing stories that include minority
viewpoints or that reveal life outside the mainstream is another way journalists can
"reach every member of society."
In a social responsibility system, if the media fail to meet their responsibility to
society, the government steps in to ensure compliance. The government of Trinidad and
Tobago is a self-titled democracy with a constitution that guarantees freedom of
expression and freedom of speech. In the following paragraphs we will examine the
historical relationship between the press and government in Trinidad and Tobago as it
relates to Siebert's aforementioned theories.
History of Press and Government Relations in Trinidad
Trinidad is the most southerly Caribbean island, just seven miles off the coast of
Venezuela. To the northeast lies its smaller sibling, Tobago, named for a kind of tobacco
smoked by Carib natives (Lycos 2005). The Caribs were one of many tribes of Indians
generally accepted to be Trinidad and Tobago's first inhabitants. The other tribes include
the Arawaks, Chaimas, Tamanaques, Salives, Chaguanes and Quaquas. When European
colonizers came, beginning with Columbus in 1498, European diseases and the rigors of
slavery took their toll on the Indian population; by 1824 there were only 893 Indians left
on Trinidad and today there are none (Island Connoisseur 2000).
The Spanish ruled Trinidad until 1797, and during that period encouraged an influx
of Roman Catholic settlers, including French-speaking immigrants and slave owners
from the French Caribbean islands. The French introduced the sugar cane industry to
Trinidad and began to import African slaves to work on the sugar plantations.
In 1797 England's Sir Ralph Abercromby captured the island, and the British
colonialists usurped the sugar and slave trade (Island Connoisseur 2000). In 1807 when
slavery was abolished, workers became scarce, and the British turned to indentured
laborers from India and China to sustain the sugar cane plantations. In five years more
than 140,000 Indians were imported to work in the sugar cane plantations, and although
many returned to India when their contract ended, the majority stayed and made Trinidad
their home (Island Connoisseur 2000). When the Chinese government insisted on return
passage being paid for the Chinese workers, immigration from China came to an end.
However, Trinidad's history of motley immigrants means "Trinis" are a diverse lot of
African, European and Asian heritage.
The Press and Government in Trinidad and Tobago
State control of newspaper publications is a trend started centuries ago when
Trinidad was still colonized by British settlers. Michael Anthony, author of the book First
in Trinidad, recounts that Trinidad's first English-language newspaper, the Trinidad
Courant (1799-1822) was "very much a government gazette ... Government notices,
proclamations, and ordinances were very much in evidence" (Anthony 1985, 50). Its
successor the Trinidad Gazette (1822-1825), also gained the reputation of being the
mouthpiece of the British colonial regime. Trinidad's first four newspapers, in fact,
including the Port of Spain Gazette (1825-1897), and the Trinidad Standard (1838-1847),
all backed the Government and the land-owning class (Anthony 1985, 53).
John Lent, author of the book Mass Communications in the Caribbean explained
that the balance of power did not equalize after independence (Lent 1990, 90). Trinidad
Express columnist Raoul Pantin confirms:
Every single government since Independence in 1962 has locked horns with the
Press, the worst offender being our first Prime Minister, that national icon and hero,
Dr. Eric Williams, who never was shy about his total contempt for the Press.
Dr. Eric Williams tolerated no criticism on the part of the island's newspapers. On
April 22, 1960, he publicly burned a copy of the Trinidad Guardian in the nation's capital
(Siewah and Rampersad-Narinesingh 1995, 128). He routinely lampooned reporters at
press conferences, or made snide responses to their questions, claiming they "didn't have
a clue what running a modem state was all about" (Pantin 2005).
In 1970, his administration drafted the Public Order Act. "The press would have
been one of the first victims of that repressive piece of legislation," recounts Pantin
(Pantin 2005). However both the media and the public inundated the government with
condemnation of the proposal and forced its withdrawal before it could become law
(Pantin 2005). Five years later, in1975, half a dozen reporters, senior editors and
producers were fired "for standing up to a government attempt to censor the news ... a
shameful blot on the history of the free Press in this country" (Pantin 2005).
Recent Attempts by Government to Limit Press Freedom
The press fared no better with Trinidad and Tobago's subsequent prime ministers.
Criticism of the government was still met with ire. "Dr. Williams' successors may have
been less autocratic and less disdainful of the press but every single Prime Minister
thereafter-George Chambers, ANR (Arthur Napoleon Raymond) Robinson, Patrick
Manning, Basdeo Panday and back to Manning again-have had their grouses with the
press" recalls Trinidad Express columnist Raoul Pantin (Pantin 2005).
George Chambers, who succeeded Dr. Williams as leader of the People's National
Movement (PNM) and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago had his share of conflict
with the media. Although claiming that he would never tamper with the constitutionally
enshrined principle of press freedom, Trinidad Guardian reporter Gail Alexander
recounts that he often criticized the press for inaccuracies in reporting (Alexander 1997,
3). In 1981 he complained that coverage of his tour of the Caroni sugar factory made it
seem as if he had a hostile reception. On another occasion an erroneous radio report led
to the ominous observation that the station "had not obtained its license yet" (Alexander
Speaking to a gathering in the beach-front town of Mayaro, Chambers remarked
that if residents accepted what they read in the newspaper without verifying it first the
way he did, "they would have a serious problem" (Alexander 1997, 3). During the 1986
election campaign, he refused to speak at a PNM meeting in rural Arima, unless the local
television crew left the scene (Alexander 1997, 3). Under his administration, PNM
supporters pelted Trinidad Express journalist Ria Taitt with seeds, ice cubes and fruit,
and accused her of being "a NAR agent" (working for the Opposition). PNM Ministers
also accused the media of siding with the Opposition (Alexander 1997, 3).
Arthur (ANR) Robinson was sworn in as the country's third Prime Minister in
1986, and slowly but surely began to lose popularity with the public and the press (The
Economist 1992, 35). His government "inherited a bloated state bureaucracy and an
economy in decline since the end of the oil boom in the early 1980s" writes author
Douglas Payne (Payne 1995, 30). Despite his austere guidelines for managing the
national budget, devaluation, public-sector pay cuts, new taxes and rising unemployment
only resulted in five years of negative press coverage for Robinson (The Economist 1992,
Racial tensions between blacks and East Indians also escalated on his watch. In
1989, his Indo-Trinidadian deputy, Basdeo Panday, led a faction out of the government
and formed a new party (The Economist 1992, 35). In 1990, the Muslim extremist group
Jamaat-al-Muslimeen kidnapped the prime minister and took control of Trinidad's
parliamentary building in an attempt to overthrow the government. The island's growing
list of problems was seen as the product of poor strategic planning on Robinson's part,
and sealed his fate as media scapegoat. In 1991 he lost the election to PNM's Patrick
Manning (The Economist 1992, 35).
The most notable conflicts between the press and government, however, began in
1996, with the Trinidad Guardian at the center of a highly publicized controversy. The
country's first East Indian Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, had taken office in 1995. In a
matter of months he made it clear that any criticism of his government on the part of the
media was seen as racially motivated and worthy of extreme censorship. On February 2,
1996, he barred Guardian reporters from access to government information in an effort to
force the paper's owners to fire editor in chief Jones P. Madeira. The ban lasted almost a
In April 1996, several senior staff members, including Madeira and managing
editor Alwin Chow, said that the Guardian's owners, the Trinidad Publishing Co., had
forced them to choose between censoring their editorials and resigning. Chow told the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Trinidad Publishing, either willingly or under
government pressure, sought to appease officials by ousting the journalists. The chairman
of the publishing company denied Chow's charges. In May 1996, Chow, Madeira and
several former Guardian journalists started a new weekly newspaper, the Independent.
The country's fourth Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, lost two elections to British-
trained lawyer and veteran labor leader Basdeo Panday before being sworn in as Prime
Minister a second time in 2001. As Leader of the Opposition, Manning had been very
vocal in his condemnation of the Panday government's draconian media policies. "The
country could now see where the irresponsibility of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-
General is leading us now," he declared upon Chow's April 1996 resignation. "The
question (is) who next will bite the dust" (Newsday 1996a, 4).
But his administration has proven to be no better. As Trinidad Guardian columnist
Anand Ramlogan remarked, "Politicians all sing the same tune from the same hymn book
when it comes to the media" (Ramlogan 2004). On May 6, 2004, during the opening of
the Commonwealth Journalists' Association (CJA) conference in St. Augustine, Trinidad,
Manning complained that the islands' media were deliberately deceptive and regularly
misrepresented valid news. The Trinidad Express quoted him as saying, "All is not well
with journalism in Trinidad and Tobago. I have witnessed the lives of many people
almost destroyed by careless and irresponsible journalists" (Ramcharitar 2004).
On April 18, 2005, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago
released a draft Broadcast Code. It drew almost immediate fire from media workers and
journalists throughout the Caribbean (Richards 2005). The Guyana Press Association
(GPA) remarked, "We view this as a very unfortunate development and an unbridled
attempt to impose a draconian form of censorship on the media in the twin-island
Republic in much the same way that authorities in Guyana have sought to impose similar
regulations for media in the country" (Internet Express 2005b. The Trinidad and Tobago
Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) expressed the view that "the broadcast
draft code ... is designed to severely curtail freedom of speech and prevent the
population at large from being properly informed or publicly expressing their views on
various subjects" (King 2005).
The Green Paper and Press Freedom
In 1997, during Panday's administration, Trinidad and Tobago's Office of the
Attorney General introduced the controversial Green Paper entitled Reform of Media
Law: Towards a Free and Responsible Media. The paper asserted that because the free
speech principle is grounded in the public interest, it must give way to occasion when the
public interest points the other way. Among the reasons listed in the Green Paper as
justification for the repression of the free speech principle were "to secure a fair trial, to
protect citizens against damaging falsehood or unwarranted invasion of their privacy, to
prevent incitement to racial violence or breaches of national security" (Trinidad &
Tobago 1997, 2).
The Green Paper quotes Mahatma Ghandi as saying, "The sole aim of journalism
should be service. The newspaper press is a great power but just as an unchained torrent
submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen
serves but to destroy" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 23).
The Green Paper cites policies in Britain that pertain to the broadcast media.
"Radio and television have been placed under a statutory duty to ensure (a) that any news
given (in whatever form) in programmes is presented with due accuracy and impartiality,
and (b) that due impartiality is preserved as respects matters of political or industrial
controversy or relating to current public policy" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 21).
The Green Paper then suggested not only the creation of a self-regulatory "Press
Council" but a press ombudsman "empowered by statute to receive complaints of bias,
incompetence, unethical behavior or unfairness" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 23). This
press ombudsman would have more authority than those in the United States, because he
would be a High Court Judge and the "wrongs over which (his) new jurisdiction would
consist would be made civil wrongs. A Judge would have power to punish persons who
disobey (his) orders" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 25).
Trinidadian journalists were alarmed by the suggestion that perceived
"incompetence" could become a civil infraction punishable by law. It is no secret that
journalists in most Caribbean islands are underpaid and receive on-the-job "training"
(Slinger 1993, 31). Peter Slinger reports, "trained personnel, an essential production
requirement, are in short supply on Trinidad and most journalists receive inadequate and
infrequent training" (Slinger 1993, 31). Examples of English-wrong verbs, bad spelling,
and lack of clarity abound.
"The industry is one in which a new product not only has to be created every day
but has to be created within a set of fixed deadlines which means that mistakes,
misjudgements even, are regrettably part of the territory" remarked one Express editorial
(Internet Express 2005a). Five years ago in Trinidad and Tobago it was nearly impossible
to find a journalist with an English or Journalism degree, or any degree at all. Today,
their numbers are increasing, but slowly.
Other suggested civil infractions included publishing information that "imperils
national security or undermines the democratic fabric" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 26). In
discussing their "alarm over laws that are worded in such loose-ended abstractions" an
Express editorial raised the question,
Would such a law, had it been in place, have been used to prevent the publication
of the contents of that celebrated meeting between Attorney General Ramesh
Maharaj and the imam of the Jamaat-Al-Muslimeen, Abu Bakr? Might it not have
been argued by somebody, with his own interests in the matter, that publication of
the taped conversation would have "imperiled national security" and undermined
the "democratic fabric"? (Trinidad Express 1997, 8)
The Green Paper also outlined a code of ethics that immediately drew the attention
of international media executives (Editor & Publisher 1997, 15). It states in part:
"Journalists and newspapers shall endeavour [sic] to highlight and promote activities of
the State and the public which aim at national unity and solidarity, integrity of Trinidad
and Tobago, and economic and social progress" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 26).
The Green Paper also states, "Journalists and newspapers shall avoid publication of
reports and comments which tend to promote tensions likely to lead to civil disorder,
meeting or rebellion" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 26). The seventh paragraph proposes,
"Newspapers and journalists shall refrain from publishing matters (including
advertisements) which is [sic] obscene or is likely to encourage vice, crime or unlawful
activities" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 27).
Editor & Publisher magazine cites Owen Baptiste, editor in chief of the Trinidad
Guardian, who commented that the goal of the government initiative was "not really to
make the press free nor journalists professional, but to have them both responsible only to
the government" (Editor & Publisher 1997, 15). Instead of promoting a healthy
relationship between the government and the press, the Attorney General's Green Paper
was seen as advancing what is commonly referred to as "developmental journalism."
Development News or Press Control?
"What happens in Trinidad, politicians become independent and then expect what
is called 'developmental journalism'" explained columnist B.C. Pires (Pires, 1999).
Developmental journalism has come to represent government-controlled news to
academics and journalists in the Western Hemisphere. An Editor & Publisher editorial
stated, "Popular independent newspapers are a special target of some sub-Saharan
governments, who use the genteel code words of "developmental journalism" to justify
their repression" (Editor & Publisher 2003, 11).
The debate rages on, but developmental journalism, as interpreted by Pires and
others, is a brand of journalism which asserts that journalists in "developing" societies,
like Zimbabwe and Trinidad, should not reveal wrong-doings or highlight misdeeds.
Leaders of developing countries do not expect negative coverage. They see it as evidence
of gross disrespect.
Politicians will also happily ensure that newspaper publishers pay the price for their
independence. During a 1998 appeal to supporters to boycott the Trinidad Guardian,
Panday declared, "If a newspaper is working against your interest to achieve a better life,
it is your enemy. No newspaper can survive without us. They all depend on us for
survival" (Siewah and Rampersad-Narinesingh 1995, 136).
In short, developmental journalists are expected to provide "uplifting" reports of a
country's development plans and strategies. "Positive journalism," Pires explained.
"Nation-building journalism" (Pires, 1999).
In keeping with this theme, in 1998 the ruling party, the United National Congress
(UNC) introduced the new state-owned National Broadcasting Network (NBN) with the
words, "The key objective of the (Panday) administration's communications should be to
persuade the population that the government cares, and is delivering benefits to the
people" (Gibbings 2). Dana Bullen, who served as Executive Director of the World Press
Freedom Committee for ten years, commented on developmental journalism this way: "In
my view, it is tragic self-deception to think this will aid the people of a country or its
development. It's been tried, and it doesn't work. Especially today, there are many
examples of this fact" (Bullen 1990, 15).
Bullen quotes a noted Indian journalist, Pran Chopra, as saying: "...if there is any
suppression of the truth under any kind of false notion of the obligations of the media,
then very soon you will end up with a situation where you neither have truth nor nation-
building" (Bullen 1990, 14).
Journalists in Trinidad and Tobago did acknowledge the Green Paper's many
proposals geared towards improving freedom of the press and quality of life. The Green
Paper suggested modernizing laws still in effect that did not address current societal
trends. For instance, the government introduced a proposal to update the "Children and
Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act of 1955, which is directed only against horror
comics, and does nothing to protect children from the more recent evil of violent and
sexually explicit videos" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 5). The government also suggested
amendments to the "Cinematograph Act of 1936 (which) sets up a censorship system for
films, but not for modern forms of electronic communications" (Trinidad & Tobago
The Green Paper called attention to the need for "revising, updating and amending
media law ... to bring it in line with the recent and remarkable advances in media
technology" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 6). "Our laws which relate to freedom of
expression are old, vague and frequently anachronistic," states the Green Paper (Trinidad
& Tobago 1997, 4). In some cases, the unaltered laws have not affected the media
substantially. A statute making it a crime of treason or a felony to "agitate for a
Republic" has not been amended, but is obviously invalid (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 4).
However, the Green Paper points out that laws pertaining to obscene libel and the
law of contempt of court are still applicable in Trinidad and Tobago in their "ancient,
vague and unsatisfactory state, without reforms subsequently made in England by, for
example, the 1959 Obscene Publication Act and the 1981 Contempt of Court Act"
(Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 4). Laws such as these, the Attorney General stated, were in
urgent need of updating.
The Green Paper suggested that any new laws should include "protection for
journalists against punishment for contempt for refusing to disclose their sources of
information" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 8). The Green Paper also proposed that the
government implement laws that would prevent politicians from "using their ministerial
or governmental power to discriminate against a disliked publication or by giving
commercial advantages to benefit rivals" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 9).
The Green Paper suggested harsh punishment for racial defamation. "Human
Rights treaties generally make an exception to free speech when it is intended to stir up
racial hatreds and violence There is a strong case for making incitement to racial
violence a specific criminal offence" (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 13). Indeed, other
countries, such as Germany, France and Spain, have already made it illegal to spread race
hatred, and to defend negationistt" theories that deny the Holocaust happened (Ford
1998). Trinidad Express columnist George John concurred: "No serious media person at
any level in this country [would] have any objection to media guidelines that come down
heavily on the promotion of racism in whatever form" (John 2005).
Because the language contained in the Green Paper had an undercurrent of media
control, it incited heated public reaction. The government was eventually forced to
withdraw the document. Panday also promised to curb his strident condemnations of the
press, but in 1998, journalists and supporters took to the streets to protest continued
attacks on them and threats to democracy (Freedom House 1999).
Other Factors that Affect the Survival of Independent Media
Editors and broadcasters of failed independent ventures worldwide can narrate
stories of arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, tax audits, and arson and assassination
attempts. Inarguably, draconian laws and authoritarian systems make it difficult for these
media to stay afloat. But according to Webster there are other factors that are equally
important in determining a newspaper's fate in a developing and often authoritarian
context such as the Caribbean (Webster 1992): These are management, circulation,
advertising, demographics, editorial policies, ownership, and government relations. We
shall outline the importance of each of these briefly in the next section.
Effective managers are born of training and experience, much of it involving trial
and error (Webster 1992). However, a developing country is an economic environment
unforgiving of slip-ups. One mistake could be the difference between life and death for a
In Zambia, The Post is the only newspaper that withstood the pressure of a free
market economy without government or religious financial interjection (Africa News
2004). "The Post has shown its management ability to plan ahead, to read its economic
environment, and to budget and plan accordingly" reported the Africa News (Africa
News 2004). Botswana's leading independent newspaper Mmegi made the strategic
decision to increase production from one to four times a week, and doubled its circulation
figures in seven short months (Index on Censorship 1992, 64).
In contrast, in South Africa, the Nigerian-owned daily ThisDay did not fare as well.
They changed publishers twice in one year due to an inability to "fulfill the conditions of
their [sic] contract," paid their reporters infrequently and finally suspended printing in
October 2004 until "all outstanding dues to staff and others could be cleared" (Agence
France Presse 2004). And in France, the leading daily Le Monde launched a weekend
magazine aimed at women and younger readers that not only did not lure new readers,
but repelled existing customers with its trivial content, and compounded the newspaper's
financial difficulties (The Business 2004).
In general, paid circulation accounts for roughly 20 percent of a newspaper's
revenue (Ahrens 2005, F01). The sale of advertising space makes up the rest. The
managing editor of Botswana's Mmegi credits 80 to 85 percent of his paper's income to
advertising (Index on Censorship 1992, 64). In the Caribbean, the figures are between 80
and 95 percent (Neptune and Richards 2001). However, advertisers are not plentiful, and
conditions within the advertising market are steadily worsening (Index on Censorship
1992, 64). As many newspaper publishers can attest, "advertisers prefer glossy
magazines, radio and television" (The Business 2004).
Advertising expenditure is also susceptible to changes in the economy. "When jobs
grow, employers tend to buy help-wanted ads to attract applicants. When housing is
booming, so do real-estate ads, and when retailers or auto companies are competing with
each other for the attention of free-spending consumers, they also take out ads" says
Associated Press writer Seth Sutel (Sutel 2004). However, when the economic climate
takes a turn for the worse, businesses may limit their advertising expenditure, especially
if they are fearful that their other expenses, such as energy, fuel, insurance, interest rates,
commodities and health care, are also on the rise (Sutel 2004). A newspaper with
minimal circulation figures, or one seen as anti-establishment, would be even more hard-
pressed than most to win the attention of a cautious businessperson.
Newsstands are the main form of circulation for newspapers throughout the
Caribbean. Some organizations, such as airlines, schools and hotels, subscribe to one or
more of the major newspapers on behalf of their patrons, but smaller publications are
distributed almost entirely by individual sales. Apart from newsstands and subscriptions,
some publications are distributed via the post office. Obviously, this is an inefficient form
of distribution that can result in slow deliveries (Webster 1992).
Apart from the means by which newspapers are circulated, there are almost more
publications than the consumer market can sustain. Some newspapers resort to
sensationalism to draw customers away from their competition (Webster 1992). The
researcher found several examples of such sensationalism in Trinidad's newspapers. In a
one month period, the front pages literally screamed for attention with words like fire,
slash, crash, burned, stabbed, shot, and killed.
But even these strategies fail to attract the new generation that is bypassing
newspapers altogether for the Internet, radio and television. "Circulation has been in
decline for more than a dozen years," reported industry expert John Morton (Hundley
2004, Business ID). "And it probably will continue to decline unless some of these
attempts to attract young readers prove more successful than likely."
The physical characteristics of a population such as age, sex, marital status, family
size and education have a lot to do with their acceptance of a new media. An older, more
settled population will respond differently to independent media and the possibility of
change than a younger, more defiant population. A financially secure, more settled
household is more likely to read the newspaper than their struggling neighbors
(Malthouse and Calder 2003, 2). A low literacy rate more negatively affects print
publications than it would a television or radio station.
Then there are the variables common to newspapers throughout the world: young
people are accustomed to getting their information for free, through the Internet, radio
and television. The Newspaper Association of America reports that in 2004, an average
of 38.8% of those aged 25 to 34 read a daily newspaper, while the readership percentage
for those 55 and over is 67.4 (Saba 2005). Newspapers in the United States have
experimented with many strategies to woo younger readers, from publishing free
community papers and special sections to utilizing colorful fonts and celebrity front page
pictures (Gloede 2005).
"Being a newspaper that is not tied to any political party or commercial interest has
stood us in good stead," recounts Gwen Lister, editor of one of Africa's successful
independent newspapers. "The Namibian consistently adheres to a clear set of ideals, and
this has helped us steer our course, often through very stormy waters" (Lister 2004, 46).
A paper's editorial policy can affect its readership. The Philadelphia Inquirer urged its
readers to vote for Republican candidates, and their lack of objectivity cost them readers
(Gloede 2005). The editorial policy not only affects circulation, but also impacts how the
state and government relate to that paper. The government can easily kill a publication
through limiting the supply of newsprint or presses, persecuting its staff or confiscating
its assets if it doesn't agree with the paper's content (Webster 1992).
Most newspapers in authoritarian societies are owned either by the state or by
private families (Djankov and others 2001, 1). Both groups can have a negative impact on
press freedom and survival. "Government ownership of the media is generally associated
with less press freedom [and] fewer political and economic rights" wrote one group of
researchers (Djankov and others 2001, 1). Editor-in-Chief of Guyana's Stabroek News
David de Caires added,
The State should not own any of the media of information except through the
device of an autonomous State corporation like the BBC in which directors,
programmers, journalists and so on are insulated from interference by the State.
Direct state ownership of the media is incompatible with a multi-party democracy
and with the free flow of information. It puts enormous pressures on the staff to
conform and to become the propaganda agents of the party in power. It makes for
bad journalism. Certainly, especially in poor countries, the resources of the state
must play a major role in developing the media, but this must be done in such a
way that the politicians have no control of news content. (de Caires 2003, 73)
Many governments use their financial leverage on the media as a way to control
them. "State subsidies and state advertising revenues enable governments to influence
media content" (Djankov and others 2001, 15) "In Cameroon, for example, the state
refused to advertise in privately owned press after critical coverage of government."
But ownership by families or widely-held corporations can also be detrimental to
the free flow of information and a publication's continued existence. "Controlling private
shareholders get the same benefit from controlling media outlets: the ability to influence
public opinion and the political process" (Djankov and others 2001, 17). President of the
Caribbean Association of Media Workers (ACM) Wesley Gibbings remarked,
As a media workers representative, I often run afoul of media owners and managers
who believe the agenda of media practitioners is necessarily the same as theirs....
They are amongst the principal enemies of free press in an ironic kind of way. The
over-emphasis on making money has been a discredit to the Caribbean media
industry. (Pires 2005)
In other words, even when an entity is privately owned, they may need to practice a
form of self-censorship in order to survive.
The willingness of a country's administration to tolerate the criticism of
opinionated journalists is a pivotal factor in the survival of an independent medium. In
Tanzania, journalists have been known to lose both their citizenship and their work
permits through the machinations of a hostile government. In 2003 the country's only
independent newspaper Dira was closed by the Zanzibar government on unspecified
"national security" grounds (Committee to Protect Journalists 2005). In 2005, the
government banned political columnist Jabir Idrissa from writing, citing a rarely-enforced
1988 law to show that he was working without permission (Committee to Protect
African governments have also used criminal libel laws and licensing requirements
to conveniently muzzle the press. A 2003 Editor & Publisher editorial related, "Since
publishing an article in October suggesting Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
was unfit to hold office, the newspaper Di People has been hit by a variety of "seditious"
and "criminal" libel charges. On Nov. 4, the World Association of Newspapers reported,
heavily armed police seized all the newspaper's equipment -- right down to Editor Paul
Kamara's car" (Editor & Publisher 2003, 11).
In Armenia, freedom of speech is specifically enshrined in the constitution:
"Everyone is entitled to assert his or her opinion. No one shall be forced to retract or
change his or her opinion. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, including the
freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any medium of
information, regardless of state borders" (European Journalism Centre 2003). In practice,
however, newspaper content is controlled by political parties and the power elite.
Because the majority of Armenians do not contribute to the circulation or advertising
sales of the country's newspapers, independent media are virtually non-existent, and a
publication's survival is contingent upon the goodwill of powerful political sponsors
(European Journalism Centre 2003).
The Caribbean island of Jamaica, however, is noted for its "vibrant and free press"
(Henry 1999). Jamaica is home to three daily national newspapers, several regional
papers, seven radio stations, three television stations and dozens of imported cable
channels, as well as magazine and book publishers (Henry 1999). The government owns
none of these media outlets, and journalists, whom the public holds in high esteem, are
free to report on government activities.
The next chapter takes a look at how these antecedents and factors influenced the
birth and career of the Independent and ultimately led to its demise.
CASE STUDY: THE INDEPENDENT
History of the Independent
The journalists and editors who started the Independent walked out of their jobs at
the Trinidad Guardian in April 1996, after the publishers terminated Alwin Chow, the
managing director, and asked the remaining staff to stop writing stories critical of Prime
Minister Basdeo Panday and his government (Pires, 1999). Three months prior, Panday
had called on his supporters to boycott the Guardian and force the removal of its editor-
in-chief Jones P. Madeira on the grounds that he was racist and that the Guardian was
biased against the government (Newsday 1996b, 3).
Former Guardian editor Sunity Maharaj recounted that Panday called the Guardian
almost weekly to complain about articles that had been written about him or his
parliament (Maharaj, 1999). The publishers of the Trinidad Guardian were
understandably uncomfortable with the undue attention the prime minister was giving
their paper. Pires stated that at one point Michael Mansoor, Managing Director of the
Trinidad Publishing Company, would "come into the newsroom and go through letters to
filter out letters critical of the government" (Pires, 1999).
To that end, Chow related that the Guardian's board of directors wanted him to
"stop covering events of the Jamaat-Al-Muslimeen, a group of left-wing Muslim
dissidents, to drop a column by former UNC parliamentarian Hulsie Bhaggan and to
submit editorials for the Board's approval" (Newsday 1996a, 4). His refusal to conform
to a new editorial policy resulted in his almost immediate dismissal. But as he cleaned out
his desk, so did nine other editors and journalists, who saw the sequence of events as an
attack on freedom of the Press (Pires, 1999).
Their resignation represented a level of ethics unheard of in Trinidad. "People talk
a lot about doing the right thing, and they don't do a damn thing," said Pires (Pires,
1999). Although a few journalists supported the actions of the former Guardian staff, the
majority did not.
The firing or resigning or constructive dismissal of the managing director of the
Trinidad Guardian, Alwin Chow, knocked all other news off the front pages of the
Guardian and the Express. As if everything else in the country dwindled to
insignificance," wrote Ian Gooding, a Newsday columnist. "Some people are taking
their principled stands very seriously, as if they have no mortgages and car
payments to deal with, and are threatening to resign. I wish them all the best and
congratulate them on being excellent managers of their economic lives. (Gooding
An Express editorial announced,
Whatever the construction Mr. Chow has put on the events, we believe that he
understands that the right to decide the editorial direction of any newspaper lies
with the owners of that paper. If he would not or could not carry out that policy as
enunciated by the owners through the board, they had the right to dismiss him,
constructively or otherwise. (Trinidad Express 1995, 5)
As we shall see, the Independent had a difficult birth.
High Start-Up Costs
"Starting a newspaper... is not easy and requires a fair amount of organization and,
more crucially, capital," observed Editor-in-Chief of Guyana's Stabroek News David de
Caires (de Caires 2003, 74). "Even using a 20-year-old reconditioned press and
elementary typesetting and other equipment an expenditure of at least US $140,000 could
In order to start the paper, the editors of the Independent borrowed against the
retirement funds and credit union accounts of their founding staff. The initial investment,
including all loans and personal mortgages amounted to US $165,000 (Cuffie, 1999). The
majority of this went toward paying for the lease of the Trinidad Express' printing press,
paying the salaries of the junior journalists and securing office space for the fledgling
newspaper and its staff.
Small Advertising Base
Advertisers look at two things: a paper's circulation figures, and the image of the
publication in the eyes of the public. Cuffie explained that East Indian businessmen,
inarguably over 60 percent of the advertising base, refused to advertise with the
Independent because of the perception of it being anti-government (Cuffie, 1999).
In a Trinidad Express interview he added that the Ansa McAL group which owns
the Trinidad Guardian and is one of the country's largest conglomerates also declined to
advertise with the Independent. "I think there was a certain amount of sympathy from the
Syrian business community toward the Ansa McAL Group which meant that we did not
get advertising from them either" (Duke-Westfield 1998, 8).
Without a steady stream of advertising revenue, the Independent was relying on its
shaky circulation figures and its investors as their sole sources of income.
With a literacy rate of 98.6% (CIA 2005) Trinidad & Tobago's citizens are avid
readers; the country's media are in heated competition for their attention. Apart from the
Independent, one could find at any newsstand copies of the Trinidad Guardian, the
Trinidad Express, the Probe, the Punch, the TNT Mirror, Newsday, the Tobago News,
and the Catholic News.
Newspapers such as Newsday and Punch are known for their sensational headlines,
and in the case of the Sunday Punch, sexy front page pictures. Individual sales are a
substantial fraction of a publication's circulation figures, so the objective for many papers
is to attract the attention of the ordinary newsstand customer.
With a staff of senior journalists adept in the clever use of English language, the
Independent soon set itself apart from other publications. "The Independent was cheeky.
It had mass appeal," recalled Maharaj (Maharaj, 1999). But circulation figures never
reached the break-even level. "The Independent's daily circulation averaged 20,000, on a
good day 23,000" (Duke-Westfield 1998, 8), just 11 percent of the daily newspaper
market. In contrast, Newsday, the second youngest daily, boasted an average circulation
of 52,596 copies Monday to Saturday (Newsday 1998, 1).
The population of Trinidad and Tobago is a very racially diverse. According to the
2005 CIA World Factbook, East Indians make up 40 percent of the population, blacks
37.5 percent, mixed 20.5 percent and other races 2 percent. The median age is 30.91
years and literacy is high (98.6 percent). It is not surprising that a newspaper stigmatized
by the country's first East Indian prime minister lost almost half of its potential readers
from its inception. In fact, the arson attempt at Polygon Printers Ltd, printers of the
Independent was deemed by some to be racially motivated (Phillips 1997, 5).
Hostile Editorial Policy
The Independent was the first paper to report on the implications of the Green
Paper, "and well we ought to have been: we are the most under threat, if only by virtue of
our size relative to the other dailies" (Independent 1997a, 8). It broke the existence of
tapes recording conversations between the leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen and the
Attorney-General, irregularities in the award of the contracts in the airports expansion
project, and a minister who waived the taxes on the import of Jeep Cherokees for his
friends (Independent 1997a, 8). The government cited these stories as evidence of bias
against the UNC and the government, and justification for their lack of cooperation with
the Independent and its staff members.
By the time the first issue of the Independent hit the streets on May 9, 1996, the
journalists responsible for its birth owned only 40 percent of the paper (Duke-Westfield
1996, 7). In August 1998, CL Financial bought the remaining shares and sold the
Independent in its entirety to the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), owners of
the Trinidad Express (Trinidad Guardian 1998, 1).
The CCN group kept the newspaper in publication for almost three more years. In a
1999 interview, then Independent managing editor Maxie Cuffie expressed optimism that
with the CCN name behind it, the paper had a "better chance" (Cuffie, 1999). "Hopefully
the stigma with the Independent being anti-UNC and all of that will change... and we'd
be able to survive," he said (Cuffie, 1999).
However, the ability of the publication to attract advertisers did not improve, and in
April 2001 Craig Reynold, CCN's Chief Executive Officer, announced that "while the
product was essentially a very good one, it failed to attract the volume of advertising
necessary to keep the paper afloat" (Internet Express 2001). The Independent published
its last issue on April 6, 2001.
Poor Government Relations
Former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Basdeo Panday firmly believed that
the island's newspapers depended on him and his supporters for survival (Siewah and
Rampersad-Narinesingh 1995, 136). He found evidence of bias in almost every issue of
the local newspapers, and encouraged his supporters to boycott several publications. In
1996, he targeted the Independent for special antagonism, claiming that its reporting
reflected both political and racist bias. He asserted that the media were polarizing the
country and discrediting his leadership with its anti-UNC and Afro-centric agenda. To
that end, he did not hesitate to castigate Independent reporters at every opportunity.
Content Analysis of Independent Editorials
The researcher examined randomly selected Independent editorials, from the time
of its daily publication, using two forms of analysis. The 30 editorials were coded in
view of their subject matter: editorials dealing with government's efforts to restrict the
media were coded "Restrict/Media." Coverage of the Panday administration was either
coded "UNC/negative" or "UNC/positive."
Editorials dealing with social, non-governmental issues such as road safety, the
police force, teachers' unions or national holidays were coded either "Social Ills" or
"Social/positive." Editorials specifically dealing with the Prime Minister were coded
"Panday/negative" (there were no "Panday/positive" editorials).
References to the "Panday government" were coded under "Panday/negative"
instead of "UNC/negative" because of the reference to the Prime Minister. As was
mentioned before, editorials dealing with the police or teaching force were coded under
"Social Ills" or "Social/positive" because the editorials contained no reference to the
government. Examples of each are listed in Appendixes A through F. Six editorials did
not fall into any of the above categories and were not coded.
The category with the greatest occurrences was "Social Ills" (8). This is not
surprising, since newspaper editors routinely comment on pressing issues that affect the
community. But it was noted that this category occurred more frequently than
"Panday/negative" (3) in light of the fact that the Prime Minister accused the Independent
of targeting him for special criticism.
The tables below illustrate the breakdown of the Independent editorials randomly
selected for analysis. The first table illustrates the coding schematic, while the second
table focuses merely on negative political coverage versus positive political coverage.
The third table shows the date and title of each editorial that the researcher selected for
Table 3-1. Conceptual analysis of Independent editorials
Subject Matter Occurrences
Restrict Media 5
Social Ills 8
Not Coded 6
Table 3-2. Positive vs. negative political coverage in Independent editorial sample
Political Positive Political Negative
Table 3-3. Full titles of Independent editorials and coding schemes
Title of Editorial Date Published
A step forward for Public Service Reform Tue 12/17/1996
Waiting to happen Wed 09/10/1997
Restore Public Confidence Wed 11/12/1997
Bound by the Constitution Tue 03/18/1997
Probe those cops Sat 08/09/1997
Crossing the line Wed 07/02/1997
The Singapore model of repression Thu 12/04/1997
One year of Independence Fri 05/09/1997
Full untruth Fri 09/05/1997
Go after them Tue 10/07/1997
Table 3-3. Continued
Title of Editorial
What now Mr Maraj?
Speaker out of line
Of rights and responsibility
Banking on short memories
Too many holidays
Think about the children
No clear alternative
On a dangerous path
Message of Independence
Life after Di
Down to the wire
Public service cuts a word of caution
More lies, half-truths and innuendos
Curb yourself, Mr. Prime Minister
Clean up this act
Leadership and credibility
In a previous chapter, the researcher described in great detail the Four Theories of
the Press advanced by media scholar Frederick S. Siebert (Siebert and others, 1963). The
relationship between politicians and the press in Trinidad and Tobago seems to mirror the
social responsibility theory. But more often than not, the established government reverts
to the authoritarian system that it has historically been more comfortable with. While
claiming to advance the ideals of freedom of the press and freedom of expression,
politicians have simultaneously attempted to implement legislation that would muzzle
independent media on the island.
The UNC government's Green Paper Reform of Media Law: Towards a Free and
Responsible Media is a suitable example of this fact. The office of the Attorney General
pointed out within its pages that there is a need to amend many of the laws pertaining to
the media in Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 4). This is true, but the
undercurrent of media control was just barely veiled by the Green Paper's modicum of
positive suggestions. The notion of an uncompromising press ombudsman "empowered
by statute to receive complaints of bias, incompetence, unethical behavior or unfairness"
was one of the proposals that incited loud protests from journalists all over the country
(Trinidad & Tobago 1997, 23); and it is not hard to see why.
Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday's distaste for public criticism is well-known
to Trinidadian journalists. He "has been known to condemn all opinions contrary to his
own as having a political agenda, and more often than not, a racist agenda" (Ramesar 7).
It was feared that the press ombudsman would have become just another way for him to
harass members of the press. For instance, he could go through the paper every day and
count how many East Indian writers were published, totaling up the sum every week for
review by the ombudsman. Would an adverse number in any given week have been
considered bias, worthy of punishment?
Paragraphs that outlined a media code of ethics also drew fire from media
professionals throughout the Caribbean. It was seen as the government's promotion of
developmental journalism and a strong indication that the Panday administration was
uninterested in fostering true freedom of the press.
Lessons Learned from Studying the Case of the Independent
Many factors affect the survival of a fledgling newspaper, including ownership,
demographics, circulation, editorial policy, and more importantly the political
environment into which it was born. On the surface it appeared that the Independent had
a respectable chance at a continued existence. It was 60 percent owned by CL Financial,
a stable and willing donor. It was published on an island with a high literacy rate and a
young demographic make-up. The editorial staff of the newspaper was comprised of the
most well-trained journalists in the country. And the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago
guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
However, the reality of the Independent's situation was that corporate ownership
led to them being sold to a bigger publishing house, one with a less confrontational
approach to reporting. "We can't be wild and outrageous," recounted former managing
editor Maxie Cuffie (Cuffie, 1999). "Before, you know, I put a story in the paper, I don't
have to answer any questions... [Now we] have meetings where I disagree totally with
what they're telling me (Cuffie, 1999).
The Independent's consumer base shrank as its stories began to mirror those of its
larger and more established competitors, and advertising revenue decreased proportionate
to circulation. The Panday administration also continued to ignore the editors' right to
freedom of speech. "Three of us were audited by the IRS. Maxie, Sunity and I were all
asked to file taxes for the last six years," recounts former Independent columnist B.C.
Pires (Pires, 1999). In the face of such complex pressures, it is no wonder that the paper
The researcher concluded from her analysis of 30 randomly selected Independent
editorials that the country's newest independent publication was not biased against the
government. The Independent did publish several editorials that were critical of the UNC
and their attempts to restrict the media. However, they did not publish anything that was
undocumented, or fabricate news for the sole purpose of criticizing the administration.
Even reporters not associated with the Independent felt compelled to denounce "the
UNC's unprecented attempts to control the press, the calypsonians1, the dissenters of all
stripes" (Yawching 2000).
In 1997, for example, one calypsonian sang a calypso titled "Panday needs
glasses." The song portrayed the prime minister as enamored with alcohol and blind to
the corruption in his administration (Lashley 2004). Panday declared after the 1997
calypso season that he was going to "make sure" that kind of thing never happened again.
The UNC government subsequently announced the decision to "withhold State funding
1 Calypso is a style of music that originated in the West Indies at about the turn of the 20th century.
Calypsonians typically use their lyrics as a form of social and political commentary.
of any activity in which calypsonians sing lyrics deemed distasteful" (Joseph 2000) and
even proposed a bill, titled the Equal Opportunities Bill that forbade the dissemination of
artistic works is reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or
intimidate another person or a group of persons" (Lashley 2004). Trinidad Express
columnist Selwyn Cudjoe relates that the UNC's propensity for corruption and media
suppression resulted in negative press coverage from all Trinidadian newspapers, not just
"For many, a UNC government symbolizes more lies, more distortion, more
illegality, more corruption, more undemocratic practices and more indecency" (Cudjoe
2000). And in a poll taken just before the November 2000 election, and subsequently
published in the Trinidad Express, 66 percent of the respondents acknowledged that the
UNC government was blatantly corrupt (Ryan 2000).
It is therefore not surprising that the Independent was seldom able to cast the new
administration in a positive light. However, within the 9-month sample there were
editorials that reported favorably on government actions or initiatives. In one editorial,
the editors wrote favorably about a code of conduct agreed upon by the government and
the Public Services Association calling it "one of the few pieces of positive news on that
front in a long while" (Independent 1996, 8). In another editorial the Independent praised
former president Arthur Robinson and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday for being so
forthcoming with information regarding their failing health.
"These are welcome departures from the tendency to keep the public in the dark
about official matters that has been part of our political culture for so long," declared the
editors (Independent 1998, 8). The former Prime Minister's attacks on the fledgling
newspaper seem all the more unfair in view of these examples, hence the conclusion of
one Independent editorial: "We implore Mr. Panday to give up the senseless, and entirely
unjust, war he is intent on waging against the constitutional rights of the media. Both he
and they have more important things to do" (Independent 1997b, 8).
The life and death of the Independent are reflections of the pressures editors of
independent papers have to face in pseudo-democratic states. Although the fight for press
freedom is a dynamic issue among journalists worldwide, local Trinidadians are not
overly concerned. They are aware of the "acrimony that has followed almost everything
the press has written about Government actions" (Solomon 2000). But as Pires explains,
"Trinidadians have a seven-day memory span: they will be angry and indignant for a
short time, after which all is forgotten" (Pires, 1999).
The laissez-faire attitude of the general population is responsible for the
astonishing brevity of public outcry in Trinidad and Tobago. The locals have resigned
themselves to political wrongdoing (Trinidad Express 2000). If the public had objected to
the government's treatment of the media more forcefully, the Independent staff may not
have had such difficult experiences.
On the other hand, it may take a greater international awareness of the rift between
the media and government in Trinidad and Tobago to force the parties to find workable
solutions to their problems. The island's administration does not want to be perceived as
undemocratic or authoritarian, because such an image flies in the face of the new
international penchant towards social equality and freedom. It could lead to sanctions, to
a decrease in foreign investors, even to a decline in income from foreign aid.
On the other hand, editors and journalists in Trinidad and Tobago should reflect on
some of the tenets of social responsibility presented by the government, seeing it not as a
threat, but as a suggestion.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'RESTRICT MEDIA'
Crossing the line Wednesday, July 2,1997
The campaign of the UNC-led government against the media has now gone beyond
the stage of complaints about "lies, half-truths and innuendos," demands for the dismissal of
journalists and draconian Green Papers on "reform" of media law. It has taken the form of an
illegal attempt by the police, on the orders of the Acting Prime Minister, to seize a tape
recording made by a journalist in the open and legitimate exercise of his profession.
Journalist Anthony Hector, covering the visit of Acting Prime Minister John Humphrey
to the site of a proposed hotel and golf course at Canaan, recorded an argument between Mr.
Humphrey and Mr. Hochoy Charles, Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly. On
Mr. Humphrey's orders, a senior superintendent of the police attempted to take possession of
the tape recorder and cassette, for the stated purpose of erasing the tape. Mr. Hector agreed
to erase the tape himself and did so.
A photographer from the Independent was also debarred from taking pictures of the
Mr. Humphrey's action in ordering the erasure of the tape was arbitrary and illegal, as
was the attempt by the police to carry out the order. Mr. Humphrey's claim that the meeting
was private has no validity. It was not in fact private, for the press had been invited to cover
the event. But it could not in any case have been private in any meaningful sense. It is the job
of journalists to run after ministers and record anything that they do that is newsworthy. Mr.
Humphrey would not have objected to photographs or recordings if he had been kissing
babies, assisting disaster victims or doing anything else that put him in a favourable light,
whether the press had been invited or not. If he does not want his arguments with other
politicians to be made public, he should conduct them behind closed doors.
The security forces, for their part, cannot hide behind their political superiors if the
orders they receive from those superiors are illegal. People were hanged in Nuremberg for
disregarding that fundamental principle. All functionaries must be continually aware of the
legal limits of their authority and act accordingly. Mr. Humphrey should have been quietly
advised by his security detail that neither he nor they had the authority to do what he was
proposing. This is quite apart from any advice he might have received from his political
entourage as to the undesirability of losing his temper in public.
Mr. Hector was under no obligation to surrender his tape to the police or anyone else,
and was justified in resisting any attempt to seize it. We could even wish that he had not
erased the tape himself, but waited for the police to take it by force. The charge of illegal
seizure might then have been added to the suit for assault that Mr. Hector, in our opinion, has
every right to bring against the police and perhaps the Acting Prime Minister.
We await with interest the results of the investigation of the Media Association of
Trinidad and Tobago into this latest incident of government intimidation of the media. Both
politicians and police must be made to understand the limits of their powers.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'SOCIAL/POSITIVE'
Probe those cops Saturday, August 9, 1997
It is very gratifying that the enquiry into the police shooting of Stephan Pereira,
Marcus Antoine and Lawrence Jobity should have been brought about by a public outcry.
There are no doubt some among us who would be inclined to shrug the killings off
with a good riddance". It is therefore heartening to see that so many of us, despite the
constant menace of violent crime under which we live, find the idea of a police execution
squad abhorrent. We hope the police hierarchy find it equally unacceptable.
For some time now there have been ample grounds for suspicion that the police,
frustrated at the acquittals and dropped charges necessitated by the intimidation and
murder of witnesses, have taken the law into their own hands and begun to shoot suspects
instead of arresting (or re-arresting) them.
Even the reports of the police themselves on the incidents strain credulity. In the
killing of Anthony Lizard" Bridgelal eyewitness reports called the police version into
question. Imran Ali and Bunny Bran, suspects in the murder of former Attorney General
Selwyn Richardson, were also killed in separate incidents by the police. Bran and three
others were outnumbered four to one by members of the Anti-Kidnapping Squad in four
vehicles. In that case the police claimed to find two handguns; in the case of Ali, one.
In both cases, as in the La Paille killings, the men were said to have been under
surveillance, and were supposedly on the way to commit a crime, not fleeing after
committing one. In none of the three cases was there any damage to the police cars, nor
was any policeman wounded, even though the police say they were fired on first.
Even in cases of lesser notoriety, we have become accustomed to reading that the
police see someone behaving suspiciously", approach him, find themselves fired upon, and,
in an exchange of fire", blow the person away with no harm to themselves. It is routinely
said that prisoners escaping half naked from prison vans or police lockups are dangerous
and may be armed", an obvious prelude to shooting them on sight.
However severe the problem of crime may become, the police must not be allowed
to set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner. Not only would this destroy the rule of
law and set at nought the principle of due process, but the next step could easily be police
hiring themselves out as paid killers, as in Brazil.
It may even be time for the police to tighten up generally on their use of firearms.
Not just fatal shootings, but any incident in which a firearm is discharged should be the
subject of an obligatory report and, if necessary, an enquiry. This in fact was the case in the
past, before the police began to carry firearms as a matter of course.
Professional bodies, and particularly the police, are notoriously reluctant to
condemn their own members. The enquiry announced by the Assistant Commissioner
(Crime) is to be an internal one. We sincerely hope it will be an enquiry and not a cover-up.
The only way we can be sure of this is for the evidence and the result to be made public.
Otherwise there will be a strong case for a permanent civilian police review board to
investigate cases of this kind.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'PANDAY/NEGATIVE'
Full untruth Friday, September 5, 1997
Princess Diana's relationship with the press may have been an ambiguous one. Mr.
Basdeo Panday's relationship with the press is perfectly straightforward. Everything is grist
to the mill of opprobrium in which he seeks to pulverize the media. Including Princess
And no occasion is too inappropriate for the Prime Minister to seize upon as an
opportunity to vent his pet hate. At the Emancipation celebrations, he chose to do it before a
visiting Head of State and our own President. He did it again at his Party's convention. Most
recently, he has chosen as his forum the inauguration of this year's School Feeding
Programme, and as a pretext the death of the Princess of Wales.
The accident in which Princess Diana died, Mr. Panday would have us believe, is
an example of what can happen when the press indulges its tendency to publish anything
about anybody". Governments, he argues, have a duty to protect their citizens against
things like that". He did not say which citizens, apart from himself, had asked for protection.
The link between the Princess' death and her pursuit by the paparazzi is tenuous at
best. The link Mr. Panday is trying to demonstrate between the activities of paparazzi and
press in Europe and the media in Trinidad and Tobago is simply non-existent. He should
thank his lucky stars that this is so.
In any case, what the European press publishes as a result of the efforts of the
paparazzi are photographs, not the lies, half-truths and innuendos" Mr. Panday sees, but
has never identified, in the local media. What they publish as a result of telephone
interception are transcripts of erotic conversations, not the racially divisive" material that Mr.
Panday's overheated imagination purports to discern.
Those who attribute Diana's death to harassment by the media are talking not of
inaccuracy or libel but of invasion of privacy. Mr. Panday, to our knowledge, has never been
photographed with a long-focus lens while disporting himself with a member of the opposite
sex. Or if he has, the press has been too discreet publish it. Nor has he been overheard
likening himself to a tampon or being called Squidgy". The complaint that the press had
published too many photographs of him with a glass in his hand came not from him but from
Wade Mark, and was proven to be quite unjustified. The complaint, that is, not the innuendo
Mr. Mark was claiming to see.
Mr. Panday should have limited himself to deploring the Princess' death and
extending condolences to the British Royal Family, government and people. In that, he
spoke for all of us. To use the tragedy for political ends is shameful. And the population has
not failed to notice that while he was exploiting the death of a foreign personality for his own
cheap purposes, neither he nor any member of his government saw fit to make a statement
on the death of Dr. Patrick Solomon, let alone attend the funeral.
We implore Mr. Panday to give up the senseless, and entirely unjust, war he is
intent on waging against the constitutional rights of the media. Both he and they have more
important things to do.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'UNC/POSITIVE'
Go after them Tuesday, October 7,1997
LEGAL AFFAIRS Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar must be commended for
moving with alacrity to handle the most dangerous situation that has arisen in the Registrar
General's department of her Ministry.
According to an exclusive report carried in the last Weekend Independent the
Registar General's Department, where all Government records dealing with births,
marriages, deaths, land titles and other legal documents are filed, has been infiltrated by
drug barons and other criminal elements.
Drug dealers, according to the report, have been paying corrupt public servants to
falsify, fabricate and duplicate their birth and marriage documents and have falsified land
and property deeds. This in a bid to beat the new legislation which provides for the
confiscation of properties and bank accounts of convicted drug dealers.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Minister by the Registar General.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar then took the issue to Cabinet which has appointed a Task Force to
deal with the problems.
No doubt Government's desire to act would have also been spurred by the
complaints of the foreign embassies, especially the Americans and Canadians, who,
according to the report, have complained of the unreliability of local official documents.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has stated that computerization of the country's official
records is one safeguard against the possibility of similar incidents recurring. She was,
however, reluctant to commit herself to a promise of criminal prosecution for anyone found
to have been involved with tampering with the official documents. While one can be
appreciative of the Minister's desire not to preempt the findings of a final report, it must be
obvious that anyone discovered to have compromised the integrity of the records must be
prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
It is the possibility of such strong action, and not the installation of computers, that
will act as a deterrent. Like the police service, salaries in the public sector are relatively low
and the corrupt public servants who have decided to augment their incomes by illicit means
would have been more easily coopted because the chances of discovery and prosecution
are so slim.
Given the ease with which the drug lords have been able to penetrate the
department housed in the same building as the country's two Houses of Parliament,
Government's decision to relocate the office of the Registar General is definitely a prudent
one, as even those offices run the risk of being compromised.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's department may definitely be in need of computerization,
but what is ultimately going to prevent anyone from accepting the blandishments of the drug
barons is the high probability of detection and vigorous prosecution. It is up to the
Government to ensure that these exist.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'SOCIAL ILLS'
Waiting to happen Wednesday, September 10, 1997
THE MOST striking aspect about the Chaguaramas accident that took the lives of
four people was not the number who died, but that so many people survived given the
circumstances surrounding the vehicular mishap.
According to newspaper reports yesterday, the car in which the victims were
travelling, returning home from a day at the beach in Chagville, contained 12 people.
Toyota Cressidas like the one driven by Augustus Lewis, as taxis are licensed to carry five
passengers. What on earth could have convinced the two adults who were in that car that
it was safe for 12 people, even allowing for the fact that the other occupants were children
with ages ranging from two to 17?
But that was not all. Not only did they cram themselves into the car, but they did
so with a driver who was admittedly drunk, and who had threatened to kill himself if they
did not let someone else take the wheel.
According to Ronnie Letren, one of the survivors of the accident, while on their
way to Port of Spain, Lewis, the driver, began speaking of killing himself, his fiancee,
Brenda Simmons, and her daughter, Aschell. But the other occupants of the car took it as
a joke until he drove the vehicle into a truck parked at the side of the road.
Brenda's sister Eleanor Simmons, went even further, and said that Lewis had
been making similar comments while on the beach. She quoted him as suggesting that
Akeen Simmons, one of those critically injured in the car, be allowed to drive or else I will
kill myself, Brenda and her daughter." Akeen is only 13.
It is easy on occasions like these to transfer blame to the police, the government
or some distant party whose intervention could have prevented the tragedy.
But as harsh at it may seem, the adult victims of that tragic crash must share
some of the blame for putting their lives in the hands of a drunk driver with suicidal
tendencies in an overcrowded vehicle. It is even more tragic that among the dead and
injured are children who were placed in a helpless situation by either a parent or an
If there are any lessons to be learnt from this tragedy it is that we should always
remember that we hold our lives in our own hands. Given the rising incidence of suicide
no one should easily dismiss threats by anyone to take their own life. Had the occupants
of that ill fated vehicle taken up the driver's offer to pass the keys (although certainly not
to a 13-year-old), the road fatality figure may have been four fewer today.
Most accidents can be prevented by exercising the proper care and precaution.
When however, people throw care and caution to the wind, a highly probable
outcome is the tragedy we had in Chaguaramas on Sunday evening.
INDEPENDENT EDITORIAL CODED 'UNC/NEGATIVE'
Outright lies Monday, January 12, 1998
What little credibility remains to the Panday government (as it was repeatedly
labeled in the Minister of Finance's budget speech) must surely have been exhausted by
the lies told inside and outside of Parliament over Ken Soodhoo's appointment to a post on
the NP executive.
Ambiguities, evasions and outright lies are obviously a prime weapon in the political
arsenal of UNC Ministers. Sadiq Baksh claimed that Ernst and Young had approved the
methodology of the airport contracts; Reeza Mohammed claimed IDB approval of his hiring
practices, and smeared Wendell Mottley in the ADB bad debt row. Now, Brian Kuei Tung
falsely assures the public that Mr. Soodhoo's post was advertised, when the NP Board itself
says it was not, and pours scorn on the very idea.
The statements by Energy Minister Finbar Gangar and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan,
Chairman of NP Marketing Company, though perhaps not outright lies, are as close to
falsehood as makes no difference. Seepersad-Bachan's claim that big corporations do not
advertise their posts takes no account of the fact that NP is a big corporation only in local
terms, and furthermore is a State enterprise. It also does not satisfy the public that Soodhoo
did not create the post himself. In fact, the Board's release to the media strongly suggests
that he did, for it openly states that it was Soodhoo who, while still on the Board, developed
the project of which the job was a part.
The most blatant example of misinformation, though, is the assurance given by the
Minister and the Board that correspondence with First Citizens Bank showed Soodhoo to be
clean". The Bank's letter was in fact a non-reply to a non-question. Far from clearing
Soodhoo, nothing could have been better calculated to stoke the suspicions of any potential
employer really interested in the truth. That the Minister himself realizes this is shown by his
remark that FCB's letter contained no evidence of wrongdoing that they were willing to
A person who has been accused of embezzlement and fired by one State concern
is not hired by another to manage $203 million of public funds, even if the job is a real one.
Would Finbar Gangar, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan or anyone on the NP board hire such a
person to manage their own money?
Unfortunately, their casual attitude to financial propriety, and the admiration many in
this country have always accorded to smartmen, suggest that they might. The Soodhoo
appointment is also further evidence of the network of relationships, political and social, that
plays so important a role in the management practices of the UNC administration.
The record of the present government is littered with instances of Ministers (and all
its members are Ministers) lying to Parliament, without censure and without apology. This
not only reveals a basic weakness in our polity. It also leads the public to wonder what other
misdeeds have been committed under cover of lies.
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Cassandra Debra Cruickshank was born on May 12, 1975, in San Fernando,
Trinidad. She attended high school there and moved to Texas in 1994 to complete an
undergraduate degree in journalism. In 1997, shortly after her marriage, she moved to
Gainesville, Florida, and began her graduate education. In 2005 after having served four
years in the United States Navy, she completed a Master of Arts in Mass
Communications and continued her military career as a Navy journalist.