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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Statement by Newsday

Newsday finds it unfortunate and quite disturbing that Mr Josh Surtees, one of our columnists – now former, by his own choice – should utilise social media and other channels and personal contacts to share a selective account of the relationship we had with him in connection with stories surrounding the recent efforts to repatriate two Trinidadian boys from Syria.

If Mr Surtees’ desire was to be an agent of the cause rather than a journalist, then that is his business.

Our approach to the story in question was one of sensitivity given the tender ages of the boys and the very precarious hole from which they were to be extracted, not to mention the threat everyone connected faced in having to thread among the warmongers in the most dangerous space on earth.

This did not deter us, however, from seeking the balance that the principles of our profession would demand in our coverage of any matter.

Hence our publication, as part of the developing story, of official statements issued by the government and others, taking no position in so doing, but continuing to seek out the truth.

Mr Surtees chose not to mention that the first response to our publication of that clearly identified government release came from Mr Clive Stafford Smith, the human-rights lawyer involved in the rescue mission.

We published that response, in full, online, within two hours of receiving it, and included an introduction highlighting the fact that Mr Smith contradicted the government’s version of events to the point of describing it as “disgusting” and “insulting drivel.”

We also republished Mr Stafford Smith’s statement in full in the following day’s print edition, as an op-ed, as Mr Surtees refers to the statement: that is, on the page opposite the paper’s editorial.

Mr Surtees should know that is how true journalists operate daily. It would have been unethical of us to ignore an official statement coming from any quarter on such an important matter and we make no apology for adopting this approach.

As for our expecting some indication that Mr Surtees had written a story for another newspaper, like any other media house, we would have expected some loyalty from an associate in pursuing the story.

We never looked on it as supporting anyone’s ride to glory, and surely we did not wish to make it appear even remotely as if we were exploiting the hapless circumstances of the children to be competitive.

It was our high expectations of Mr Surtees as one of our contributors that led our Editor in Chief to express our disappointment (not anger) that, given his intimate involvement in the process to bring the boys home, he did not find it fitting to give us a heads-up on that development in our search for the facts.

We noted his response about his being impeded by the sensitive situation in which he had found himself, and we moved on. We wish Mr Surtees the best and hope he is able to do the same.

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