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.

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