THE EDITOR: Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s publicised displeasure about the media’s “glorification of gangsters” attracted a spontaneous denial by the Media Association of TT (MATT) as well as several journalists, such denial resting on “freedom of the press.”
Press freedom is indeed important. In fact, since 1962, were it not for a robust media in this country, political corruption and abuse would have been worse.
However, the relationship between the media, gangs and the police has become a special case now deserving deep introspection by the media themselves. The gang problem is now a serious political problem too. MATT says, “Journalists must report all sides.” Griffith says, “It is not a level playing field.”
There are times when editors should also think and act as citizens. Apart from the material gains (money, guns, drugs, sex, housing etc), gangsters crave and, according to their rank, demand respect and recognition both by gang members and mass media. Like terrorists. It is the glue that consolidates their power and attractiveness.
Such deeply-rooted cultural values must be understood if alternatives to the “gang culture” are considered. Griffith said last Monday, “At some point we must understand that giving prominence to persons of interest only adds to the perception and glorification of the gang mentality.”
Referring to the media, he added: “Why are they (media) so eager to find the views and comments of the very few that support criminals and benefit from criminal behaviour?”
Griffith should add to his comments the extent to which widespread media publicity of gang suspects unwittingly helps to perpetrate the bejewelled gang culture and attract recruits.
This is where the media and the general public would have had a better understanding of the commissioner’s gangster challenges. And further, help encourage the media, in addition to their press freedom defence, to think among themselves whether a more judicious crafting of gangster-related stories are justified in the dangerous circumstances facing the country. Neither absolute censorship nor unrestrained reportage.
Of course, allegations from Cedric “Burkie” Burke against police “mishandling” of his children should be reported. It is now for Griffith to respond. Former housing minster Dr Roodal Moonilal publicly shaking hands with Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez at a construction site in 2013 should be published etc.
The institutionalised habit of politicians – from central to local government – handing out contracts out of fear or for voting support must be reported and condemned. Hiding under the cover of technical jargon and “welfare” projects no longer fools a disgusted public.
The rapid and subversive escalation of gangs in this country now endangers lawful business, the political system and democracy itself. The media seem to have missed the dangers during the early days.
The perverse, corruptible linkages between certain well-positioned politicians and gangster clientism began formenting since the seventies with Crash Programme and DEWD and up to the nineties where gangs became disguised “party functionaries” promising not only “community peace” but voting support. I was a first-hand witness in 1981.
Instead of this, the Government should provide a good education and sustainable jobs in the various communities. With the media on the ball now, politically-supported gangsterism may be reduced and so too would Commissioner Griffith’s gangland challenges.
PROF RAMESH DEOSARAN via e-mail