Media Integrity In The Dock

Raymond vs Wilson

By AFRA RAYMOND
www.afraraymond.com

For those who are only now joining the story, this is a summary of what I feel are the vital issues here. My commentary column on the former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, was sent to her for comment by the Guardian’s then Acting Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Wilson. When I challenged that action as being surprising and unprecedented, Wilson responded that “…It is by no means unprecedented territory…”. At which point I resigned as a Guardian columnist and this broad discussion started.
This is the opening paragraph of Anthony Wilson’s post on Judy Raymond’s FB page on Friday 6th January at 12.04pm – “…In response to Mr Raymond’s comment, let me say that I have NEVER before sent any commentary to any politician or anyone else, apart from our attorneys, for pre-publication vetting. I say that without fear of contradiction and also state that that is NOT the newspaper’s policy or practice. (For Mr Raymond to pursue this point after this denial would simply be compounding the defamation.)…”

Quite apart from the unnecessary legal threats, since it was never my intention to defame anyone, we are now being told that this was a one-off decision to send my entire column for vetting.
Two questions arise –
Firstly—Why did Wilson seek to tell me, in relation to his decision, that “…It is by no means unprecedented territory…”?
Secondly, if we accept that this his second statement is the true state of things, another issue arises: Why was this exceptional consideration shown to the former Minister of Finance?
That is the ‘sole and only issue’.
The three alibis which Wilson has been using on the internet need to be set aside at once –
1. The attorney told me to do it – According to Wilson’s post of Thursday 5th January at 4.41pm on Judy Raymond’s FB page, the Guardian’s attorney’s advice on this question was – “…the subject of the article has not been asked to comment on the allegations. I think at the very least in order to fall within Reynolds, a comment should be procured….”. That advice could never be the same thing as sending my entire column.
2. The article was published before by Barbados Free Press—My article was published by BFP on Friday 30th December, but the first point is that when we spoke on the evening of 3rd January, Wilson told me that he did not know it had been published. Also, even if Karen Nunez-Tesheira saw the BFP posting as soon as it was published, how does that explain Wilson’s decision to send it to her for comment before making his own decision?

3. I thought it was entirely defamatory, so I showed it to the subject—Wilson, from his post on Judy Raymond’s FB page at about 1.00pm on Friday 6th January – “…I sent the entire commentary to Ms Tesheira because I formed the view that the entire commentary, from its proposed headline to the last sentence, was defamatory…”. So, if Wilson had already decided it was defamatory, why did Karen Nunez-Tesheira need to see the column? Why did Wilson send it to her?
Please note that at no point has Wilson admitted to doing anything wrong or breaking any principles or proper editorial policy. In reversing his position, Wilson did so with no admission of error or wrong-doing or anything being out-of-order at all.
Sad to say, it reminds me of CJ Archie and Justice Kangaloo returning their ‘Silks’ to the President, while being careful to point-out that they are not guilty of any error or wrongdoing, going further to confirm that their actions are not intended to be critical of either the Administration or the President. To my eye, the parallels are powerful.
In addition to finding out why Wilson took that decision to send my column to Karen Nunez-Tesheira, there is another question. Given that Wilson was at the time the Guardian’s Acting Editor-in-Chief (he has since been moved to the Group’s Business Media portfolio with the appointment of Judy Raymond as Editor-in-chief) and he has not accepted that he did anything out-of-order, I feel entitled to ask what is the position in going forward? Has the integrity of the Guardian been compromised by this unusual accommodation offered to a politician?
Well yes! I never imagined that the occasion would arise for me to quote Karl Hudson-Phillips with approval, but here goes…new times bring new issues, which demand new responses. I tell you.
From the leading story of the Express of Saturday 6th January about the CJ & Justice Kangaloo returning their silks – Hudson-Phillips criticised the CJ for his first press release on the issue, saying it showed “…an alarming lack of understanding of what is thought to be a very important institution in Trinidad and Tobago under his purview. His release can be considered a perverse avoidance of a serious issue. The sole and only issue is that sitting judges should not apply for and accept silk…”.
In my view, that powerful statement could be applied to the institution of the media.
An additional level of perversity intrudes here when one considers the fine Guardian editorial of Thursday 5th January on the broad matter of quality in our society and its implications for the ‘Silk controversy’.
Given the history of this aspect of the media, my view is that we need to be vigilant in this matter which calls to mind the 1996 incident involving the Guardian, with journalists having to face down an unholy relationship between politicians and publishers. We need to guard against the perils of self-censorship.
As I said, in the closing part of my resignation email—

“As far as I am concerned, this is a vital issue, hence my spending this amount of my limited time and energy on it. An independent, high-quality, courageous and honest media is essential to the advancement of our country. That conviction has been at the centre of my work with The Guardian and I am thankful for the opportunity to have had my views published in those pages. The enduring questions are how do we speak truth to power and more to the point, how can we be honest with ourselves.”

Afra Raymond is President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry http://www.jcc.org.tt/index.htm and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited – http://www.raymondandpierre.com

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