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Friday 24 May 2019
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Choko, a media enigma

Enigma. This is described as “a puzzling thing or person.” And so the rise and fall of 36-year-old TnT Mirror reminds us of the enigmatic Patrick ‘Choko’ Chookolingo, its founder/editor and previously editor of the faded Bomb. He was like no other. He demonstrated a large appetite for pappyshowing the powerful elites, snobbish upper class or more precisely, frontline politicians. His story helps reveal the nature of our media market. What people buy.

Enigmatic Choko showed no fear of threats by big business or advertisers when he pounced on them. In fact, he often replied by leaving blank few pages of the TnT Mirror or Bomb for demonstration. Very popular across the country, this dark-skinned, handsome Madrasi-looking heavyweight did not attend cocktail parties, never showed regard for media awards given out by big business, thus avoiding hypocrisy. Never bootlicking politicians to get a “government job.” Choko’s office space and desk were always modest – his enigmatic lifestyle. He favoured a few – eg, Karl Hudson-Phillips and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj (his sometimes lawyer) – but never went overboard.

A few days before his passing (1986) I visited him at his Maraval home. There he was, sitting in a wheelchair on the top floor, head bent, looking down at the stairs. He briefly explained what his doctor (Dr Toby) was doing for him. None of the usual laughter. Our light friendship did not stop him from pappyshowing me as UWI lecturer, headlining me as “Dr Deo” even while I was doing a column for the sister paper, Target, under Ken Ali’s editorship. Once a fake story came to him about me. He knew it was fake and called to warn me about being “careful with that person” who gave him the fake.

When he criticised or pappyshowed you, it was usually without malice or spite, the professional way. And for that, people, high and low, trusted him. They knew they could supply information with required confidentiality – a connection which often supplied him with his Friday front-page scoop. Not like today. Sharing confidences in today’s “dog eat dog” society is very risky. Obviously, the partisan TnT Mirror suffered.

When he was news editor of the Grenadian Voice in the mid-sixties, as president of the San Juan/Barataria Georgian Youth Assembly (one of many lively youth groups across the country), I headed a four-member youth mission to Grenada. The team included Miss Ebony (Joan Cherrie). He contacted us and did a front-page story with our pictures, resulting in invitations from several government officials.

He was an expert on the populist psychology of TT. He well knew the extent to which group jealousies, working class resentments and ethnic rivalries existed. He knew there was a sure market there. The class conflicts, religious rivalries and political jealousies regularly gave him front and back page scoops. Justifying his profitable, tabloid irreverence, he warned: “A newspaper is not an academic journal.”

He knew how to provoke and tease. He had Nancy Tweet, a weekly column based on bedroom stories slyly fed to him. The “story-telling” was crafted in such a way that most likely you knew whom he was writing about without calling exact names.

He delighted in relating how a lot of “high class” people, with short pants, would rush out on Friday nights to buy the Bomb or TnT Mirror, no doubt to see if their names were called in any of his columns – Choko Spectacular, for example. Then there was “Would you believe,” a sarcastic-flavoured column. For example, today he would write sarcastically “Would you believe politicians deserve big salaries for all their hard work and honesty?” He ridiculed the media association. Lloyd Best and James Millette were irreverently “Twisty and Twirly.” The two parties were “Bim and Bam.” Mainstream derided him and he reciprocated lavishly.

This adventurism led him to write about “the judges wife,” after which the law society and solicitor Inskip Julien took legal action against him. That didn’t stop him. Several new stories about judges and their lifestyles emerged. If you as a reporter wanted a job at the Bomb or TnT Mirror, Choko would want you to first write a story criticising your previous or current newspaper, thus certifying your loyalty to his paper. The enigmatic Choko.

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