In Defense of the Prime Minister

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 26, 2019

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt is easy to criticize the Prime Minister. I also take my shots when he makes egregious errors. This is why I suggested that he write what he says before he pronounces on national and international issues. His critics also need to be cautious before they condemn his failings.

The government, with all of its shortcomings, has acted responsibly with regard to the Venezuelan refugee crisis. The PM reported with pride, “American politicians commended this country for its position in treating with economic migrants coming to this country.” The politicians appreciate his achievements since they are dealing with a president who has intensified his crackdown on migrants and asylum-seekers.

I watched Ashley John-Baptiste’s “The Displaced.” It is a biased report of what is transpiring in our island regarding Venezuelan refugees. Although T&T has absorbed the highest percentage of refugees in the world, he dismissed this important fact in eight seconds.

John-Baptiste reports that 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to T&T, a number equal to 3.5 percent of T&T’s population. Three hundred and twenty-nine million people live the United States. Imagine the commotion President Donald Trump would have made if 11 million Hispanics entered the US during the period in which the Venezuelans entered T&T.

It was irresponsible of John-Baptiste to gloss over this fact especially when the U.S. Supreme Court “allowed the Trump administration to bar most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States while the legal fight plays out in the courts.” Such a court order “effectively bars most migration across the nation’s southwest border by Hondurans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and others” (New York Times, September 11, 2019).

John-Baptiste’s report was unfair to the government and our people in that he did not mention the tremendous sacrifices that have been made to accommodate these refugees. Rather, he emphasized that our government does not have a refugee policy in place, which is understandable given our size and inability to have anticipated such a problem.

The United Kingdom is about to break away from the European Union although “Freedom of Movement” is enshrined in the EU constitution. President Emmanuel Macron is planning to place tighter restrictions on immigration. He told his parliamentary colleagues “it was time to confront a crucial issue in French politics and be ‘extremely firm’ in applying asylum rules” (Financial Times, September 19). Having refugee policies in place do not prevent people from migrating to where the grass is greener.

Shankar Teelucksingh made a valid point when he criticized the government for not applying to the United Nations for assistance. However, the PM argued: “Once a refugee camp is opened, it cannot be closed…. So we resolutely refuse to have any refugee arrangements in TT” (Newsday, July 23, 2019). John-Baptiste may not agree with the government’s rationale, but he had an obligation to bring this fact to his audience’s attention.

Orin Gordon, a former editor of the BBC, pointed out that John-Baptist’s report was “superficial in parts” (Trinidad Guardian, September 19). The PM’s criticism should have directed his criticism to this aspect of the report rather than quarrel with the number of Venezuelans in the country. He should have emphasized the unbalanced nature of the report.

The BBC World News, broadcast in English in more than 200 countries across the globe, has a weekly audience of 84 million. It claims that it broadcasts “a diverse mix of authoritative international news and…delivers impartial, in-depth analysis of breaking news, as well as looking at the stories behind the news—not just what is happening, but why” (About BBC World News, April 14, 2015).

The PM should have turned his gaze to the “why” of the report and how well the government has coped with the crisis. Given the worldwide presence of the BBC, the T&T government is entitled to a balanced report since it is dealing with a crisis of great magnitude? “The Displaced” did not live up to BBC’s commitment to deliver an “impartial and in-depth analysis” of what is taking place in T&T.

The PM erred in his comment about the relationship between BBC and the British government. The BBC, an independent organization, “receives its funding from the British public” (Gordon). It is inaccurate to say it “mirrors and reflects British government policy” (Rowley, Express, September 19), although it may be sympathetic to it.

Our analysts also failed in their duty. Rather than analyze the inaccuracies of the program and its lack of sympathy for the government’s efforts, they felt at ease castigating the PM. Prof. Andy Knight, proclaims the PM “appears defensive and as though he has a very thin skin. Yes, he needs to chill. But to complain about the BBC to the British government about the media’s independence is ludicrous” (Guardian, September 19).

As the BBC is more likely to respond to pointed criticism of its programs, the PM should have complained about the implicit imbalance and bias of John-Baptiste’s report and how it makes T&T look in the eyes of the world. He did this when he said the BBC did not present “our Venezuelan situation in a truthful and professional manner” (Express, September 19). This was a necessary corrective on the PM’s part.

The PM lamented: “The BBC is too sacred to us in the Commonwealth for that nonsense to go on” (Express, September 18.) His complaint did not emanate from “mere peeve” (Express editorial, September 19), although such a feeling might have been implicit in his initial response. In spite of his inaccuracy about the relationship between the BBC and the British government, he was more concerned about how his country was depicted internationally and this is a legitimate and important concern.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of the Prime Minister”

  1. Dr. This is only one of the many mistakes of this Prime Minister. It seems that he lacks the experience and ability to make rational decisions. We are very disappointed in his tenor. We expected better. He takes things personally because he does not accept or comprehend that he governs at the wishes of the people of TT. We all should be reminded of the late PM Patrick Manning speech the parliment with respect to the present PM.

  2. Regardless of the circumstances, Prime Ministers should not issue personal challenges to any news organization There are other more effective ways to express the dissatisfaction of the government.
    The PM did not comprehend the independence of the BBC and its system of funding. He did not understand the relationship between the British government and the BBC.
    He assumed that all governments controlled the taxpayer funded media houses of their nations , in the manner in which the PNM utilizes the media outlet of T&T to spread propaganda.
    His letter to the BBC was correctly ignored. Whose next? The Queen.

  3. The neo colonialist in the BBC has always sought to project an image of human depraving when it comes to reporting on for British colonies. They seek to find minor disenchantments and then broadcast it as though all Trinis are against Venes coming to these shores. Their preoccupation with human development is found when exploring India space program, instead of looking at the space program which is one of the world’s cheapest. They journey to one of the worst slum and exploit the poor through these unrelated images.

    One cannot say for sure if the Prime Minister should have respond or the Minister of Information. I would have prefer the minister of information to respond to the report and correct the neo colonialist ideas. This is after all the Information Age and a time when nations want to preserve their image abroad. Last August I swam in a beach alone in Tobago. It was suppose to be peek season but the only people I saw in large numbers were Calcutta boat people. Over 90% in my estimations at this popular resort. Most of them were Christians who tend to be more forgiving in relation to Mr. Sandy remark. The low attendance of foreigners from Europe was due to the attack on an elderly English couple, the man cut across his face disfigured and barely made it alive. Back in England he was headlined a number of time resulting in the English and other Europeans staying away.

    A nation image must be protected surely there are enough educated pnmites who can stand up to the neo colonialist BBC and set the record straight. Errors must always be corrected regardless of who made them. People learn to respect you if you stand up to them.

  4. What is the purpose of the media in Trinidad and Tobago? Is the purpose personal and selfulfilling? Is the purpose to inform the population? Is the purpose to sell stories that are beneficial to the public or just to write stories they just want to?

    As a young boy growing up in a not so enlightened village in “the good old days”, the media was very instrumental in providing me with an education that was (in those days) very expensive for a poor family. The sources of education were very limited to the school yard, library, radio and print media. Today, our sources for getting information are extremely expansive and variable but with all that some are dependent on the print media for news. We, in this country continue to rely on print for accurate news with some even believing everything they read. It is with this in mind that a Guardian headline caught my attention.

    The Guardian article captioned “Ring the election bell, not Nasdaq bell” caught my eyes because the idea of ringing the Nasdaq bell is NOT given to any simpleton, it is ONLY a person of honor and high esteem who gets to DO that event. So, since that honor was given to our Prime Minister Keith Rowley, you would think that that news would be shared with the population, especially those not familiar with the standing of NASDAQ in the world financial exchange community. BILL GATES became a billionaire because of the trading of his Microsoft shares on that exchange. Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire because of the trading of his Facebook shares on NASDAQ. Most tech shares begin their IPO ands rise on the NASDAQ with the trading of billions of shares every day. Given this to a stature, with high NASDAQ is associated why would the Guardian use it as a cheap shot towards the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley?.

    The caption in question was not written to inform us (the public). It was the simple and mauvis langue reporting by Gail Alexander to report Roodal Moonilal’s view that Dr. Rowley should ring the ‘election bell’ and NOT NASDAQ’s at a UNC election rally. This to me is how we are duped by the media.
    If it is a simple UNC election rally then report it as such.
    But since NASDAQ was used in the caption to signify something of importance, why didn’t this report take the opportunity to inform the public of the importance of Dr. Rowley’s presence in the NASDAQ STOCK EXCHANGE? In my view this article is cheap and political and not news worthy of emblazoning with the hype of NASDAQ.

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