The fake news media in Trinidad

The fake news media in Trinidad

Photo : Dr. Kumar Mahabir

It was political scientist Dr Kirk Meighoo who first mentioned the concept of fake news in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) in relation to the marginalisation of Indian perspectives and culture in the traditional media.

 Meighoo was speaking of fake news at the launch of the new, free online newspaper www.icdn.today at the Chaguanas Borough Corporation Auditorium on October 21, 2017.

 Fake news is defined as a kind of propaganda journalism that is intended to mislead and deceive readers or viewers. The concept of fake news can be applied to the mainstream, so-called “national” media in T&T because it does not fairly and proportionally report/reflect Indian views and culture in their coverage.

According to CSO (2011), Indians constitute the largest ethnic group (35.4%) in T&T. Africans form the second largest (34.2%) group. Mixed Afros and Indos (Douglas) make up 8%. Mixed persons consist of 15% of the population. 

In a population of 1.3 million, T&T has ten local television channels, 36 radio stations and three traditional daily newspapers (Guardian, Express and Newsday).

One illustration of fake news in Trinidad is the year-end review which is usually reported annually in December by many radio and TV stations as well as newspapers. One example is the 2017 year-end review of culture titled “A year in culture” written by mixed-race journalist, Joan Rampersad, and published in the Newsday (30/12/17).

A year-in-review is traditionally released in late December to cover the events of that disappearing year. Year-end reflections often summarise the highs and lows of events in a month-by-month chronological order.

The two-page review by Rampersad was divided into the following sections: “December”, “Jazz”, “Film” and “Obituaries.” It is not surprising to note that not a single mention was made of an Indian cultural event, production or artiste.

Not surprising because almost all of the media houses are located in the capital city of Port of Spain where few Indians live. The editors of Newsday are also non-Indians:  Judy Raymond and Jones P. Madeira. And even when the editors are Indians, they come from Central Trinidad and become Creolised in urban Port of Spain. Some examples of those who fall in this urban Afro media culture include Omatie Lutchman-Lyder and Sunity Maharaj-Best of the Express.

Joan Rampersad’s “December” section of her year-end review highlighted the relocation of Desperado Steel Orchestra, a film featuring calypsonian the Mighty Sparrow, the trial of soca artistes Machel Montano and Kernal Roberts, and the QED, Lydians and Marionettes Christmas concerts. Not a single Indian cultural event was mentioned.

No reference at all to the literary evening of readings and discussions hosted by the NCIC Nagar on December 3, 2017. Or the launch of the book Witty and Wise by Ariti Jankie in Chaguanas on December 10th. Or the Manipur women dancing drummers who held audiences spellbound in Fyzabad, Felicity and Port of Spain (Central Bank) from December 7th to 12th.  Or the Shiv Shakti Dance Company’s Christmas Concert at the Nagar on December 18th.

In her year-end section on “Obituaries,” Joan Rampersad highlighted the death of cultural figures Joyce Wong (promoter of Best Village), Claudette Blackman (wife of soca pioneer Ras Shorty I), Derek Walcott (poet), “Brigo” (calypsonian), Anthony Voisin (guitarist), Julia Edwards (dancer), Devon Matthews (soca singer), Earl Crosby (music store owner), Deborah John (Express journalist), Neville Aming (Carnival pioneer), Edmond Hart (bandleader), Dianne Marshall-Holdip (Carnival adjudicator), Michael Mano (musician), McDonald Ward (masquerader) and Peter Joseph (comedian).

Not a single Indian was referenced in a list of 15 cultural personalities. This form of blatant discrimination is tantamount to apartheid against Indian cultural artistes.  Again, no mention of the death of the legendary chutney singer Anand Yankaran on January 2nd, renowned tabla drummer Dexter Raghunanan on January 18th, or vocalist Nazimool Khan, brother of Ruby Gupter-Khan, on August 20th.

Joan Rampersad’s review was enhanced by four colour photos portraying eight (8) named cultural figures: Grace Jones, Christian James, Michael Anthony, Devon Matthews, Etienne Charles, David Rudder, Lima Calbio and Michael Mooleedhar. Despite his last name, filmmaker Mooleedhar appears Mixed. If he is an Indian, he hides his physiological identity under a cap covering his well-groomed, flowing dreadlocks.  Mooleedhar has never been publicly photographed attending an Indian cultural event. From all appearances, there is again not a single Indian portrayed in the photos of eight cultural icons.

In his book entitled Is there Racial Prejudice in the Press of Trinidad and Tobago? (2009), Courtney Boxill sketched the relationship between race and space in local newspapers. But it is Dr Raymond Ramcharitar in his book Breaking the News: Media & Culture in Trinidad (2005), who added colour to Boxill’s sketches. Using content analysis, Ramcharitar illustrated how the Afrocreole-controlled newspapers have consistently “blacked out” Indian events in their coverage. He provided compelling detail to prove that Indian culture has been treated by editors as “alien insertions” in the press.

THE WRITER is an anthropologist who has published 11 books.