THE PARTIES involved in the Sat Maharaj spat – the police, the media, Maharaj himself – have a duty to act impartially and to uphold standards of professionalism expected of them. To this end, we welcome Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith’s referral of this matter to the Professional Standards Bureau, the unit that reviews police conduct.
At the same time, we observe this is a matter that would be best handled by an independent agency with the power to conduct an arms-length review. The Police Complaints Authority or even a non-partisan committee of Parliament could be so tasked.
There are too many questions over the facts surrounding the response of the State to Maharaj’s universally condemned remarks. Nine police officers visited the premises of the Maha Sabha’s radio and TV station off the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway in Tunapuna last Thursday. The purpose of the visit was, ostensibly, “to get a copy of a programme which has been shared on social media and was cause for inquiry.” Whether written correspondence was issued before this visit is not clear. Nor is it apparent why nine officers were needed to get one digital file.
A release by the Police Service stated a warrant was executed under Section 13 of the Sedition Act, Chapter 11:04. It is worth noting a seditious act is one committed with seditious intention, an evidentiary threshold which requires proof of a mental state; that someone deliberately wants to generate “feelings of ill will or hostility between one or more sections of the community.”
The police media release stated the exercise was incident-free. In contrast, Maharaj claimed no warrant was presented. He alleged “extremely hostile and aggressive” behaviour on the part of junior officers. A photo was taken, he said, but as part of a cover-up.
Alongside all of this is the separate, but not unrelated, matter of regulation by the Telecommunications Authority of TT (TATT) which issues concessions and which is charged with overseeing them. TATT issued warnings to Central Broadcasting Services Ltd, the parent company of Jaagriti, pointing to the terms and conditions of the broadcasting concession. The regulator correctly noted a broadcaster has a duty to uphold standards, such as not discriminating against any group.
Somewhere along the way, however, a matter that normally starts with written correspondence escalated into a scene in which nine officers descended on Jaagriti, a station which the Privy Council in 2006 found had been subject to “arbitrary or capricious” treatment by Cabinet. We are left to assume unco-ordinated civil and criminal inquiries are in train simultaneously. But that is something that should also be subject to further ventilation.
Griffith should satisfy himself that the use of state resources in this instance was appropriate and that his officers are adhering to the highest standards, no matter whose door they knock on.