WHEN Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar appeared at the UNC’s virtual meeting on Monday, she had scandalous information to share.
She referred to what appeared to be a flyer inviting the public to an event purportedly officially entitled: “How to land-grab and get away with it.” The images of two senior PNM members were prominent on this graphic.
“Are you for real? Are you serious?” the Opposition Leader said. “Disgraceful. These people have absolutely no care for anything.”
But three minutes later, it was Ms Persad-Bissessar who was revealed to be the one who had not taken care. A note was passed to her informing her that the graphic was Photoshopped. The event in question was actually about land tenure.
“I’m still right,” the UNC leader replied. She was speaking on live television.
It is bad enough that a former prime minister could be so seemingly gullible and make such a rudimentary error.
It is worse that, after the error was pointed out, presumably by one of her own aides, Ms Persad-Bissessar opted to double down and pretend nothing had gone amiss and that somehow her criticisms were still valid despite being based on a bogus document.
This is not what is expected of someone presenting herself as the leader of a government-in-waiting. This is not what is expected of a political veteran steering a 33-year-old party. And this is certainly not expected of someone who has fallen victim to elaborate political fabrications in the past – for that is what Ms Persad-Bissessar routinely tells us the E-mailgate affair was.
Instead of being wrong and strong, the Opposition Leader should have shown true leadership. She should simply have apologised and moved on.
Her failure to do so brings into question not only her judgment but her credibility at a time when a strong opposition is needed more than ever.
Today’s world is awash with disinformation, dangerous conspiracy theories, “deepfake” videos, fake social media profiles, bots and all manner of doctored digital documents. It is important for all people – and leaders in particular – to ascertain the credibility of what they disseminate.
This newspaper has suffered frequently from our images and front pages being altered by political trolls who do not bother to conceal their crude distortions, so that it is obvious at a glance that they are not authentic. Yet a surprising number of otherwise sophisticated people are fooled.
There are legal implications to spreading such false material, as several court cases setting precedents about social media use have found. Some who think it funny to share misleading memes or doctored documents may face serious consequences after sharing defamatory fabrications.
We expect any opposition party to place officials under scrutiny – such scrutiny is in the public interest. But there is a clear difference between serving the public interest and using Photoshop to effect character assassination.