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:

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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