JOURNALIST Dr Sheila Rampersad challenged claims of media irresponsibility levelled by Minister of National Security Stuart Young yesterday at a conference on Freedom, Facts and Fake News held by the University of the Southern Caribbean at the Radisson Hotel, Port of Spain.
In his feature address, Young said, “Daily I see fake news, but I don’t lash anyone. You have the responsibility to do fact-finding and not just pick up things from social media.” He complained of the New York Times and The Times of London publishing “fake news” that 250 TT nationals had joined ISIS, when in fact the world’s top intelligence agencies had told him it was 130 Trinis.
“All countries face fake news. There’s always an agenda – what’s trying to be achieved here. It’s very prevalent in the TT media, where you are all have people feeding you info and you run with it without fact-finding,” Young complained. He said that last night he got a video on his WhatsApp account of supposed shootings in Sea Lots, only to find out later it was from months ago.
“What’s the agenda? To create a sense of panic and insecurity and that things are out of control.” He said the truth was the police had locked down Sea Lots on Monday after Sunday’s drive-by shootings. Saying he is the most-attacked politician in TT on social media, Young nonetheless said he is willing to engage the traditional media.
Young criticised global PR firm Cambridge Analytica for allegedly running a campaign in the 2010 general election to create apathy in young voters of African descent, but ineffective against young East Indians, who would obey their parents to go and vote.
Rampersad, in her opening remarks at a panel discussion later, was unimpressed. She said BBC Radio recently had a programme on the psychology of blame that she saw as apt. She said the Government has blamed others for difficulties over the Sandals and Dragon Field deals.
“This is the first time in my 30-year career that I’ve had to sit through a hectoring of the media,” Rampersad said. She said while Young had spoken about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was the media that exposed it all.
She added that a number of issues should arise over the twinning of the national security and communication portfolios, presumably referring to Young’s dual duties. Rampersad challenged Young’s upset at the ISIS figures, saying if wrong numbers were supplied, that should simply count as an inaccuracy rather than “fake news.”
Picking up on Young’s earlier remarks, she scoffed, “So everybody’s got agendas except Government?” She detailed some of the challenges facing independent journalists, such as character-smearing and the threat of lawsuits, saying just one of the latter is enough to shut you down.
The event was also addressed by the facilitator, BBC broadcast journalist Neil Nunes, and its patron, British High Commissioner Tim Stew.