Friday, 29 October 2010

Keith Smith

So many of us in the Caribbean media are holding our breaths and crossing our fingers as writer extraordinaire, editor-at-large and journalistic guru, Keith Smith of the Trinidad Express, lies in a hospital bed in Port of Spain fighting the biggest battle of/for his life. Hopefully, this struggle will also join his great journalistic repertoire sometime in the future.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Blindness of New Love

I remember the great Caribbean economist and thinker, Lloyd Best, expressing his political position by saying he could not describe himself as an unbiased commentator on most public issues because not only was he not a supporter of the political contestants at the time, he was against them all.

Best’s position soon became a part of my own statement of principle whenever prying acquaintances and even complete strangers attempted to wrangle a narrow partisan position out of me. For sure, this is not mere parroting of a teenage memory, but a view I have grown more and more to associate myself with over the years – especially given the level of contact with national and Caribbean politicians I have had as a journalist.

This is not to say that I have not often agreed with the national politicians. I agreed just as much with the late Prime Minister George Chambers regarding the need for urgent caution on matters of the national economy in 1981 (I was a Tapia candidate for the election that December), as I did with ANR Robinson on the same question in 1986 and with Patrick Manning in 1991 and, thereafter, with Brian Kuei Tung and with Mariano Brown and, now, Winston Dookeran. No mention of Basdeo Panday, because he never appeared to believe in or to be committed to anything on such questions.

How therefore could I have been “a PNM” in 1981? How could I have been “an NAR” in 1986 when the administration was soon branded by my column in the Express during that period as a “bourgeois revolt”? How could I have been “a UNC” when I participated in one of the most sustained campaigns for a free press we have ever witnessed in Trinidad and Tobago (credit for which has erroneously been assigned to retired publisher, Ken Gordon, by the way)? How could I now be “a UNC” or “a COP” when the signs of real political change seem so distant?

I however believe my journalism during the tenure of the respective political parties was as independent and as fair as is possible under authoritarian conditions – such as those under which we continue to endure in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Many colleagues cringe when I use the term “authoritarian culture” to describe the way we work in the Caribbean, but I insist that there need not be open ostracism, injury or death for there to be conditions that foster an absence of independent thought in favour of silence.

The most urgent political question of these times in the Caribbean therefore seems to be how do we break from the grasp of authoritarian politics and culture and seek true freedom and independence.

The former Education Minister under Chambers, Marilyn Gordon, struck my siblings’ names off a Balisier House Carnival band lineup, post-1981, Robinson’s Information hit-man summoned the “foreign correspondents” (I was a stringer for Prensa Latina back then) to discuss the slandering of the country overseas with a view to silencing us, Keith Rowley thought I was an agent of “the opposition” during 1991-1995 and Panday (to my utter bewilderment) branded me a “political dinosaur” sometime between 1995 and 2001.

Some were amazed that I functioned as a freelance television presenter and producer for the Government Information Division during the Panday era, was retained as Communication Coordinator for the Fifth Summit of the Americas under Manning and, since then, functioned as a Communication Advisor to a state regulatory agency, yet find time to write freely and openly about public affairs and the economy for various journalistic principals.

All of this comes readily to mind as we contemplate the prospects for the “People’s Partnership” administration in Trinidad and Tobago. It is difficult terrain to navigate, if only because of the disastrous path blazed by the previous regime, but it is an exercise we do not engage at our peril.

In many respects, though, the opinion-leaders to whom so many pay close attention are simply not engaging the task of casting a sharp and critical eye. Instead, there is either open adoration or barely-disguised hatred and quick resort to partisan labelling and open condemnation as, among other things, being “a PNM” or “a UNC” or “a COP.”

The fact is, I am not unbiased on this question, I am against all of them and what they, in essence, represent. This, indeed, constitutes an open declaration of political position and intent.


So, what now?

What now, is that I continue to openly declare myself opposed to authoritarianism and the sycophancy and kow-towing to authority that follow. The subtle corruption of keeping the bosses politically satisfied, at all costs. The bright-eyed blindness of new love and the penance that flows in its absence.

Already, the various shades of such corruption are apparent. There are shadows behind the trees that grow longer with each passing day. More to come.

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