It is the height of irony that our local social media platforms on TV—often presumed as lacking in the accepted journalistic principles of rationality, discretion and fair play, et al—are some of the places where some of our critical issues as a nation are brought into focus.
This, even as our more accepted media continues to treat these same issues, if at all, with a conservatism that is its hallmark, and those individuals and organisations that are expected to give voice to such issues continue to maintain a deathly silence.
Gregory Aboud, in his letter in the last Sunday Express, “T&T’s syndrome of silence”, speaks of a pervasive silence over issues at all levels at the top and among the population, highlighting how easily the several murders at the weekend had been glossed over and almost completely forgotten; and Rajendra Ramlogan in another newspaper on Monday, in an article headlined “Waiting for Godot at Auzonville Park”, writing of a nation “perpetually asleep” over the critical issues which affect us.
There are many perspectives to this deafening silence. Maybe it is because we are Third World, no different from countries in Africa and South America, where patronage and privilege are rife in the politics, the favoured preferring to enjoy the perks of corruption rather than speak out against it in the national good.
Ours in T&T is a classic manifestation of how such patronage and privilege are enmeshed in a politics of ethnic division, in which leaders for the faithful can do no wrong and corruption is allowed to reign without a voice against it as the beneficiaries feed off the trough.
Then there is threat of subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation, as in the case of journalists in interviews being dissuaded, and not so discreetly, from probing certain issues, or the perennial threat of libel over seemingly false claims or language unbecoming of senior public officials, which begs the question that with such a Sword of Damocles over their heads, whether local journalists possess the strength of character to stand up for issues on principle, whatever the consequences.
So is it any wonder that our journalists will continue to look for safe spaces, not rocking the political boat or aggravating the establishment or the leadership, with respect to Covid, reporting only on the fact of no US vaccines without probing the impact of Maduro/Chinese connection on such a denial, or on the numbers without asking questions of the effectiveness of the cycle of treatment considering the recurring deaths for such a small country, or the recent management of the virus without unearthing the real causes or being accommodating to a leadership which continues to be less introspective, and more contemptuous of public reaction, no better illustrated than in the insinuation, according to one report, that the people are chickens that must “scatter” after purchasing KFC!
And will they be obliged to gloss over other issues like the impending mothballing of Atlantic LNG Train 1 without asking questions about who or what are responsible or about the closure of Petrotrin and the continuing masquerade over its reopening?
But if our local journalists are constrained in their efforts to be investigative in their approach, will those who should, like the individuals and organisations who often set themselves up as acting in the cause of the people, supplement or fulfil that role?
I think not, for our politics of the self, as against the interests of the nation, has made us a people of “silence”, as Aboud would say; or a nation in a state of “perpetual sleep”, as Ramlogan sees it.
What have we got, then, except these seemingly boisterous media platforms to at least create the illusion of a society asking questions about itself?
Dr Errol N Benjamin