No Justice for Angels

The strong get more


While the weak ones fade


Empty pockets don’t


Ever make the grade


Mama may have


Papa may have


But God bless the child


That’s got his own


That’s got his own.

—God Bless the Child, Billie Holiday

Somebody’s child. Born out of love. Carried for nine months. Dead on the front page. Too obscene to forget. Too callous to comprehend. Somebody’s child. Reminding us that some of us are editors and can choose to put other people’s dead children on the front pages of their putrid tabloid newspaper, and some of us are mothers who weep for our dead children and some of us consumers who allow newspapers to feed our blood lust. Turn your face away. It is too much to bear. Too much to fathom that your life and your child’s life could end up being on the front page of someone’s putrid little tabloid. A day’s worth of newspaper sales. Your child’s life, all her smiles, and her discoveries, every flutter she made in your belly, every moment you marvelled at the wonder of human creation.  Something that you made. Out of love. Reduced to a headline and a front page.

Turn your face away. Wish it could be for good. It’s not the first time. They’ve done this obscene, crass and indecent injustice to somebody’s loved one. You know if it were their child, they would want to mourn in private. They would not want thousands of fingers on the face of their child. Taken in such a brutal way. Will this stop people from buying their driver’s licence? Will this stop people from the road rage? What do we do when we can’t take it anymore? Boycott? Try to ignore them out of existence? So that no other family will ever have to confront their loved one laid bare on the front page of a putrid tabloid again? So that children can have dignity in life and death too? Defenceless ones can rest in peace too? Innocent ones can maintain their innocence without the stink of those who try to capi-talise on human tragedy, whose desire for profit removes them from any connection to their humanity?

Why do they think they can do this to us? Why do they think we will take it?
Maybe we like it so. Maybe we are so inured now. So cynical about life and death that a dead baby on the front page of a putrid tabloid is no scene. Number one newspaper indeed. Good news newspaper indeed. Number one may be an enviable position if it meant that you were confronting us with our ugliness as well as our beauty. Number one may be something to aspire to if it meant that truth was not in the gore of the wound but in the exploration of the wounding and the speed of trying to find the healing. Oh it is too much to bear. It is time for us to rethink what stories we tell and how we tell them. To ask who or what is truth and what right do we have to utter it?

Because every time you think there’s nowhere else below for us to go, the bottom falls out again and we descend further into our la basse of unfeeling. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, that children couldn’t possibly be more of an abused and voiceless group, some adult is there to prove you wrong. You have to wonder if the devil is really real. If the devil busy in truth, just running about kicking Trinis in their backsides prompting them to do the most evil of acts, under the guise of truth-sharing. Who is wrong in this situation? Is it the mother for having the child in her lap out of a car seat, out of a seat belt? Is it the photographer for capturing the face of a dead child laying in the grass? The editor who thought it would make a great front page?

The child for being born in the first place? Somebody’s child, oh God. You turn away from her face. Her perfect cherub cheeks. But she stays with you. Haunting you, keeping you awake at night. There is no justice for angels who land in highway grass. There is no love for innocence in this gory time. Turn away, close your eyes. Try to forget her eyes forever closed. Like their hearts that cannot understand why this is wrong. Protect your heart from the hurt, because they think they are right and they in their putrid tabloid righteousness will do this crime again. And get away with it. Leaving us hurting, crying, grieving for innocence lost that can never be regained in the thousands of hands of their readers.

Well Said, Papa Patos

On truth devoured
Silent play in the shadow of power
A spectacle monopolised
The cameras eyes on choice disguised
Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?
Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?
Yes a spectacle monopolised
They hold the reins, stole your eyes
All the fistagons the bullets and bombs
Who stuff the banks?
Who staff the party ranks?

—Guerrilla Radio,Rage Against the Machine

I never thought I would say this, but maybe Papa Patos is right. It irks me to admit it too. That I could agree with anything he says is enough to give me a headache and make me want to leave the country before zaboca season starts properly. The clip came on the radio early on Tuesday morning. A screeching voice that I didn’t immediately recognise as the big daddy himself. I guess I haven’t ever heard him sound so high-strung. It sounds like Papa Patos is finally getting antsy about just how many of the party faithful still love him and would turn out whether or not he sent a bus to pick them up and provided free pan, free rum and a rent-a-crowd appearance fee. The announcer cut through the audio clip to explain that the PM had been addressing party faithful the night before at Woodford Square when he said that he didn’t think the media were playing their role properly.

It’s not the first time that he’s expressed this sentiment. Let’s not forget the whole storming the radio station and getting the announcers suspended because he is a regular citizen who has a right to complain if something bothers him. Maybe he can’t help himself. It’s a time-honoured tradition in Trinidad now for Prime Ministers to have suspicion and contempt for the media. Papa Patos is right this time though. The media aren’t playing their role properly. If they were, people like him would never be able to hold on to power for as long as he has. The default response of course is to presume that anyone who expresses a thought that is not toeing the ruling party’s line must be working for the opposition. Because of course a citizen can’t possibly think in a way that is independent without someone else planting the seed of disagreement in his or her head.

That the media are populated by citizens who are nervous about crime, nervous about falling advertising revenues that pay their salaries is neither here nor there for Papa Patos. But it should mean the world for us. Because if the media can’t truly represent the concerns of the people of this nation, then what is the point of publishing newspapers, what is the point of producing a radio or television broadcast. If the media can’t quarrel with the Government the way that most citizens can only dream of having an opportunity to do, why are we here? Papa Patos is right. I mean, if the media really were doing their work, half of the bobol and bacchanal that people get away with in this country would be properly scrutinised. Indeed, if we had the vulvicular fortitude to really do our jobs we’d have him a little more than sweaty and hysterical in Woodford Square.

Unfortunately many of the people who work in the media are as paralysed by fear as the rest of the population. Or just generally uninterested in coming out of their comfort zones, investigating, questioning or challenging the stories they report on. The critical eye is virtually non-existent, and what is left in its place is some occasional whiny criticism. We are ill-equipped to find the facts, let alone challenge anyone with them. Whether it’s on the Merhair issue or the smelter issue as reporters we are missing the point and getting caught up with the smoke instead of the fire. Information is the only weapon necessary when you are fighting for freedom, and there is information that is missing from our collective national consciousness. However if Papa Patos thinks the role of the media is to be a glorified public relations outfit designed to make the mess that they make smell like roses I hope we continue to be abysmal failures. If the role of the media is to defend a nation with the truth, then we desperately need to start sharpening our tools.

No We Can’t

We goin right down to the heart of the matter

Where reality bites

And illusion shatter

Right down to the heart of the matter

Desire go buss

And reality scatter

He promise the fire next time

And who eh dead

They badly wounded

—Talk Yuh Talk, 3 Canal

No we can’t. We can’t speak out.  We can’t have opinions.

No we can’t. We can’t go on air and question our leaders. We must behave. We must tow the line. We must be loyal subjects or be labelled as traitors.

No we can’t be outspoken. We can’t be satirists or investigators or analysts. We must take nice pictures of ministers.

It was a dream dreamt many years ago by a man in dark glasses who would sometimes take off his hearing aid so he didn’t have to listen to other people’s nonsense.

It was a dream he dreamt when he was putting his own mentors under house arrest for having too many radical ideas.

No we can’t.

We can’t have a functional media because that would mean there would be too many unanswered questions.

It was a dream founded in a divided society. Where big business calls the shots for small journalists and editors become the pawns and take intimidation like they take free tickets and nice food at corporate functions.

No we can’t.

We can’t be anything else but suspicious of each other. We can’t speak our truths without first wondering and agonising about who will be antagonised.

It was a dream dreamt by teeth-baring maximum leaders who set their minions on defenceless journalists. Who demand apologies for real and imagined offence.

No we can’t.

We can’t move on from this stagnant stink of self-censorship. How it go look if you say that? They go come for you. Legal or illegal. Accident or accidentally on purpose.

No we can’t.

We can’t bear to think that we have a right to speak up for ourselves. So we hold on to our hurt or become vapid exhibitionists who only read the papers to see who was in which cocktail party.

No we can’t. We can’t be Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. We can’t satirise our leaders or make fun of their mismanagement of our lives.

No we can’t.

It was a dream born out of picong and mauvais langue being no longer acceptable except on the hustings or in Parliament.

We must be all that the maximum leader wants of us. His vision is the only one that matters.

Some animals are more equal than others. But the leader says that all citizens have the right to speed up the Bus Route and through the traffic. All citizens have the right to buy gas to have outriders and air-condition on full blast. All citizens have the right to clear the traffic out of their way in the heart of the city to pull up outside an office and walk in and complain.

All citizens have a right to ignore the Media Complaints Council and private legal advice. It’s not a big deal.

No we can’t.

We can’t possibly think that change is ever going to come to this place of ignorant, quick to anger, thin-skinned leaders.

We can’t ever get out of this morass of idiocy.

We can’t get up off our backsides and select someone younger and more thoughtful, whose vision is not of his own reflection.

No we can’t.

We can’t imagine ourselves ever as anything else but good slaves, doing massa’s bidding. We can’t bear the threat of massa’s whip coming down on our backs, or worse the committed slave that sells you out for daring to try to escape your enslavers.

We can’t be anything that is not expected of us. Loyal servants, with ready smiles and words of praise.

We must not ever even suspect that there is another way. For what would be left of our leaders if they were to realise one day that we didn’t need them to be our thought police? What would they be without their control and their veiled threats but frightened old men who want to hold on to their power like they want to hold on to their thinning hair and even thinner grasp of logic and/or reality?

No we can’t.

We can’t ever forget that they need us more than we could ever need them. We can’t ever leave them alone. Who then would give their lives meaning and purpose?

No we can’t.

World Press Freedom Day

It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
Guerilla Radio, Rage Against the Machine

It took me a long time to write this week’s column. I didn’t do my usual ‘type whatever came into my head’.

I mean, now that Robin Montano is making front page news saying that he wants to sue people for forwarding e-mails they did not author, I can only imagine what other interesting tortures they’ll come up with for people like me who like to think we live in a democracy.

But it’s like Papa Patos was saying the week before, it’s a question of behaviour. And not of what caused the behaviour. It’s like getting rubbed down by the Babylon because you have a bandit face or getting blanked from entry into a nightclub because you too ghetto black or too country Indian.

It’s a well-known fact that I’m not particularly fond of shoes and wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those power suit things. In other words I don’t have court clothes and so maybe I need to be a little more careful about what I say.

I hemmed and hawed a lot more than I usually do. Pacing back and forth, changing the music several times. Wondering if it were possible to write a column that didn’t cause offence to somebody powerful and mighty and capable of intimidating a poor defenceless little journalist like me.

Especially now that every time I pass the Prime Minister’s residence the security detail hails me out by name. But maybe I shouldn’t even be saying that, lest someone should possibly maybe perhaps construe that as some kind of anti-Patos-ness on my part.

It’s World Press Freedom Day today, and I guess some of us would love to boast at the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is the only English speaking Caribbean country to be in the top 20 of the World Press Freedom Index (we’re number 19). Even UK is number 24 and the USA is number 48.

I’ve been thinking about this number 19 status. How we ended up there. Do we really have press freedom or is it just that nobody takes the media seriously enough to think of anything that gets published or broadcast as a threat to their authority or their profit margins?

Maybe the media are as much of a pappyshow as all other institutions in this country, like the church or parliament. Toothless, useless. Maybe we’re all just going through the motions because we don’t know anything else or can’t do any better.

Maybe journalists are really just there to meet deadlines and fill space so that big business can make money off whatever is entertaining Trinbagonians the most that day.

Maybe this is why this is the only form of local television that most supposedly local television stations invest in. The news is information and entertainment enough. No need for police shows and comedy shows and dramas because all of these get played out every night in the news and the whole nation stops to take in the stories and watch themselves perform their best acts.

So if a dotish e-mail that reads like bad fiction could get that kind of rise out of our favourite economic hit-man of the day, I wonder what he would do if some journalist really started doing like everybody would like to happen and investigate the Udecott.

Or I wonder what would happen if someone were to really begin to investigate what the hell the EMA does, if they didn’t know that a 60-room hotel was being built right around the corner from their headquarters. I wonder when someone will really assess whether they have the capacity to manage our potential for a serious industrial disaster or even to protect the many communities in this country who are at risk as we speak.

And I wonder if I should feel ahow about wondering if even Zimbabwe could get rid of Mugabe why are we still stuck with PNM inefficiency. Oh yes, it’s that whole non-functional opposition problem.

Okay, so the truth is, the day I feel frightened to say what is on my mind is the day I die, but what really frightens me is that in the face of all that is wrong and given the studious lack of interest in the powers that be to set it right, where are the journalists who are willing to do the work to ensure that these stories get told? Where are the editors who will support them? Where are the camera people and the hackers and the bloggers doing the dirty work?

It’s the journalists who usually get the tootsy end of the stick first when democracy is under threat. Here they don’t get shot, they just get silenced with a big salaried corporate communications position. Which, for me, is an unfortunate fate far worse than death.

The heart of the matter

So the latest zeppo in the media world is that our favourite economic hitman with a big heart is calling for the head of a local journalist.

The source of his knickers being in a bunch this week, is not, curiously, the fact that the entire country is royally pissed off that our Prime Minister seems to be giving him a lot of lee way with our money, but rather that there’s an email in circulation raising some rather interesting points about his life story.

Incidentally the email started spreading like a dry season Northern Range bush fire on the same day that the Rottweiler got dismissed by the big Pappy.

I’ve seen the email in question, as has everybody else with a computer and an active email address. Everybody knows there’s nothing that Trinbagonians like to do more than forward emails, whether they are true or not is immaterial.

Anyway, so incensed was our dear friend with the big chest muscle that he decided to make an example of this local editor who, like most other people, passed on the information.

And I don’t have court clothes, eh, but I just want to put my two cents in and say, doesn’t it seem as if the conquistador doth protest too much? Put another way, if you don’t have cocoa in the sun, why oh why are you looking for rain?

Funnily enough, we’re observing World Press Freedom Day on May 3. I wonder what kinds of questions this latest piece of intimidation and ‘example making’ will raise. She wasn’t the only one to receive this email, why make her a target?

A most interesting and unfortunate development.  We’ll see where this example of big people bullying takes us.

Bus head in de Gayelle

Silly me

I made an attempt at responding to a comment made over at Mediawatch, an interesting initiative from anonymous media observers commenting on the state of the media in Trinidad. Well, who tell me do dat! It’s turned into:

“It is often said that you know someone by their writings, but sometimes some writers manage to give their readers the perception they want them to have of them. That proved true in Attillah’s biting response to what I am sure would be a concern to many.”

and
“Is attilah’s mask falling off? I used to read her columns. Won’t be anymore. Her interview style is not great to say the least. I watch gayelle all the time. Their programming is great for the most part. Her show is the weak link.
CLJ”

This is by far, some of the best hate mail I’ve received in a while! I wait with baited breath to see how long they’ll be sending in their comments…Still I wish we could get on with the business of discussing the direction of media in the country instead of focusing on who has a right to be on tv. But as I said in my last email to the media watch people, this is the way we do things here and i guess we like it so…

here’s the part of the conversation that wasn’t published, for unknown reasons by Media Watch.  But then again the person who writes the blog has chosen an interesting nom de plume – Martine Dennis – and i am at pains to believe that a well known BBC World anchor of Sudanese ancestry gives two shakes of a rat’s arse about the state of Trinidad’s media:

Hi Martine
I don’t have a problem with you using my comments, but I’m concerned about the editing bit! I will probably also post this conversation to my own blog. this is giving me a chance to clarify my thoughts on things, so thanks! (sorry, this is long because I’m a writer…)
I don’t think that we should confuse technical problems with content issues. even the so-called great stations have problems. every night there is some kind of problem with the teleprompter on CNC3, the CG screen they use for the Jaye Q show is constantly blinking in and out. just imagine what it would be like if they too were attempting to do all day programming!
we have always had a lowest common denominator approach to broadcasting in t&t and unfortunately this becomes even more painfully obvious when you try to run all day programming.
i have limited knowledge of the tech stuff so I want to address some of the concerns you have about content.
Firstly, I get very nervous when people start talking about ‘vernacular’, because linguists will tell you that what we speak is a Trinidad English or Tobago English. Let’s remember that standard English is itself a dialect of the Old English language developed by the Anglo Saxons and that less than 20 per cent of the population of the British isles speaks standard English – the Welsh and the Scots and the Irish speak varieties of English that up to a couple years ago you would not have heard on mainstream BBC news…
Oh and BBC in Britain is a public broadcaster with no commercial commitments to distract from the main mission, which is to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. Its internal broadcasting is funded by a levy paid by everyone who owns a television. This has been in place since 1949. the BBC now has a budget of a few billion pounds and a staff of thousands. Paying for a TV licence means that everyone who has a TV has an investment in what is being presented to them. It also means I believe, that the BBC has been able to develop a very distinct sense of English television and radio (but this was also aided by long established literary and thespian traditions) – which is why British humour and audio-visual representations are so radically different to what you get on American television. basic things like the soap operas which are popular there are soap operas like East Enders, coronation street, that tell the stories of regular working and middle class people as opposed to the more fantasy based lifestyles of the rich and famous type soaps that have characterised American television. But I digress…
TE is a structurally distinct creole that happens to use a Standard English lexicon, but is syntactically a callaloo of French, Asian and West African languages that reflect the diverse ingredients that went into its creation. why should we deny this? standard English is the language of power in Trinidad, and as such you will not hear Trinidad English being used in the news, for example. I do not agree with your analysis that all of the programming of Gayelle is in ‘vernacular’…Magella on a morning I know speaks SE and does not show her belly at all!! Marcia uses SE sans ‘green verbs’ (unlike many in the news -print and electronic-who wouldn’t know how to get a subject and verb to agree if their lives depended on it and this is because of a problem known as hyper correction because they were never taught English as a language distinct to the one they spoke but were still told that the way they spoke was ‘bad’), as does Reagan on Dreevay, as does Paolo on Skews – which is undoubtedly one of the most important shows we have ever had on television in Trinidad. The only shows that have a majority of TE are Snacks, Rosie, Sunset Strip. Macajuel Time has been on re-runs since the unfortunate passing of Jason Daly who also delivered his show mostly in SE with the occasional use, like myself and many other Trinbagonians, Trinidad English for emphasis because this is our natural first language of communication. I dare to argue that if television is a means of communication then it needs to be done in a language that can be understood by the audience. there are great examples of this in haiti with radio stations using kréyol as opposed to the language of power French to communicate things to their listening audience that they simply would not have absorbed or identified with had it been delivered in French.
on the question of niches…different people watch TV at different times of the day. i think you are making an incorrect assumption that only people over 40 are interested in local programming. dreevay is geared towards a younger audience, as is new voices, whereas Marcia’s style of delivery would appeal to a 35 and over crowd and Verna St. Rose is another audience again.
i believe that gayelle’s niche is a trinbagonian who is bored of being fed American bullshit. as far as I know Gayelle is a community television station -your street as your community, your town as your community, your country as your community, the region as your community, the human race – ever expanding circles. This ethos is based on a grassroots media model (a la indymedia or adbusters) a politics that is people centred and driven – this is my understanding based on my own politics and based on the work I have been doing going into communities with New Voices. It is a politics of inclusion, in an industry where everyone else practices a politics of exclusion (for example i have friends who have been threatened with dismissal from TV6 for having natural hair).
Unfortunately this society is mired in several things including an obscene classism, and an obsession with seeming modern while abandoning everything that makes us unique. I personally don’t want to watch every show and see an imitation Katie Couric, or Jon Stewart or Jerry Springer. But I also don’t want to become an exoticized ‘empress’ skinning my teeth and performing for the camera. Gayelle has had four years with very limited resources, contending in a market that does not see the value of having local programming all day every day. I don’t think the mission needs to be refined at all, but definitely the execution needs a lot of work. And money!! It is also a question as I think George Lamming has said of decolonizing our palates. This applies as much to our food choices as our taste in televsion. And I also feel impatient, but I’m trying hard every day to do something about it. Too many people are gunning for it to fail. I am trying to fight the good fight and prove that we can in fact value ourselves and invest in ourselves to see ourselves inside our own TV.
best

Attillah