Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Voices Hoarse From Empty Laughter

I live in a place where grandfathers and grandmothers relate stories told to them by their own grandfathers and grandmothers. In some cases, tales of torturous journeys across the deep dark waters of the Kala Pani are matched by memories of barrack yards cast with the sweat of slaves.

My own maternal grandfather would have, if we had asked him, reminisced about the parched, barefoot schoolyards of Guangzhou, his own engagement of the Kala Pani – and his midnight embrace, many years later, at Ramleela, with little Miss D’Hurieux whose parents told of masters past and present.

This is the place where stories are told. Houdini begat Atilla begat Kitchener begat Rudder and we know much more than we care to remember because they cared to sing and to make music for all time, through the haze of Sawdust Caesars scattered in the wind over time. As empire begat empire begat empire.

Today, it is a place where silence reigns while the fat go hungry and the thin grow angry. A place of plenty, but a place of little. A flag flies on the barren island in the din of empty, metal drums and voices hoarse from empty laughter.

This is the place I call my home. It used to be a place that was my home. Freedom has fled the frame and seeks the shade of the treacherous Manchioneel.

If today the silence grows and prospers and prevails, it would be because we have shut up and let it reign. We, grandparents, are not telling the story anymore. The scores are written for us and we whistle them to no one in particular in the wind.

This, again, is the time for poetry and poets and foolish old men and women with stories to tell. Men and women who have the right to remain silent but who dare not exercise it.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Outrage over Firing of Trinidad TV Show Host

On Saturday November 6, the co-host of one of Trinidad and Tobago's more popular morning television talk programmes, Fazeer Mohammed, received a telephone call from the state-owned media network. The caller advised Mr Mohammed that his services were no longer needed at the station because of a "cost-cutting" exercise.

Problem is that on Thursday November 4, Mr Mohammed had been engaged in a heated on-air exchange with Foreign Minister, Dr Suruj Rambachan. During the interview, Dr Rambachan interrupted to ask the host if he had a problem with the fact that the recently-elected Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, was a woman.

Mr Mohammed, a practising Muslim, said his faith did not condone women in leadership positions within the religion.

His sacking is linked to the ensuing exchange, which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT4fRxhnLes

On November 10, the Trinidad Express published this editorial:

Political interference?

In keeping with its apparently helpless compulsion to shoot itself in the foot, the People's Partnership administration has now wrought an unholy and toxic mess at the State-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG). The firing of talk show host and sports commentator Fazeer Mohammed will not be received as the cost-cutting measure claimed by the company's interim chief executive officer, Ken Ali. Darkest fears will be entertained over what was in the mortar apart from the pestle.

Citizens calling talk shows yesterday, posting comments on the Express website, and discussing the issue elsewhere, have linked the performance of Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, who was a guest on the First Up show last Thursday, with Mr Mohammed's precipitate dismissal two days later. Mr Rambachan, surprisingly assuming the role of the show host he once was, questioned Mr Mohammed on whether, as a Muslim, he had a problem with women leaders.

Displaying more diplomacy than the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Mohammed replied that he did not believe in having women in religious leadership, but that he had no problem with a woman as a national leader.

CEO Ali claims that the decision to terminate Mr Mohammed had been made long before that interview. He and the Government will find this line a hard sell. Even if it is true, Minister Rambachan, by his attitude and words, has undermined the Government's free speech bona fides, and the ensuing action can have only destabilising effects at CNMG.

Neither does Mr Ali's claim that Mr Mohammed's firing was a "cost-cutting measure" fly very well. The most effective cuts in cost would be ones which made the CNMG profitable.

Mr Ali may not be aware that, in its former incarnations as Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) and the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), the company's books actually went into the black. That success was short-lived, however, in part because political interference by the United National Congress administration undermined viewership. Bending to political pressure always harms media houses which, like banks, must be seen as trustworthy in order to survive. This is so even for privately owned media, as the Guardian newspaper discovered in 1996, when it appeared to be kowtowing to government power.

The Partnership's wielding of the rod of political correction, in its dual capacity of government and proprietor, will further undermine CNMG's professional standing, and potentially cost the station viewers and therefore advertisers. It appears that the new administration, like that under Basdeo Panday, needs to appreciate that the State-owned entity cannot viably subsist as a Government mouthpiece or pawn. Its reason for being remains to serve the interests of all the people, not just People's Partnership partisans.

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