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posted 12 Jul 2013, 17:29 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 12 Jul 2013, 17:30 ]



Recent events at the Guardian newspaper cast a spotlight on the much-mentioned, but little-understood concept of “freedom of the press”. As usual those who end up getting the shaft are the workers/journalists. 
The constitution of Trinidad and Tobago under the section THE RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS dealing with enshrined rights states: 
4. It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely:…(k) freedom of the press. 
There is no elaboration about what freedom of the press means or how it is to be upheld or how remedy is to be sought if it is violated. What is this freedom of the press that everybody is talking about? The National Workers Union (NWU) suggests it means different things to different interests. To the worker/journalist it means playing the watchdog role; providing a rigorous accounting of those in power and those who want to be in power, in both the public and private sector. 
To the consumer of the media product, freedom of the press means being provided with reliable information and a wide range of informed opinions on the important issues of the day. To the engaged citizen/activist/, one who wants to participate in shaping the society, freedom of the press means being able to express views on any and everything deemed to be important in the functioning of society. This, of course, depends on having access to media. 

To the owners of the media, freedom of the press means the use of the media to propagate a view of the world that supports the capitalist outlook, advances the commercial interests of the corporate owners and reinforces the status quo rather than facilitates social transformation. In capitalist society, there is an ongoing class struggle revolving around the relationship between Capital and Labour.
The media are part of the gayelle in which various class positions are fought out. But that struggle takes place within the context of the dominance of the capitalist class. The media is increasingly controlled by conglomerate capital. The Guardian is part of the print, radio television and internet section of the McAL conglomerate. 
The reality is that “freedom of the press” is determined by the relations of power and dominance in the society. There is no one size fits all; no ideal concept of freedom of the press that is subscribed to by the differing social interests. 
The media is driven by commercial considerations. The bottom line determines everything. The print media no longer depends on sales income. The advertising dollar is the main source of revenue. (That is why they love elections). In T&T the main advertiser is the government. Our society is organised on the basis of a cosy crony capitalist arrangement between the State and the capitalists. The capitalists finance the politicians. When the politicians get into office they route the resources of the State to the benefit of the capitalists. 

The government and the media owners to an overwhelming extent determine the degree of freedom the worker/journalists exercise. The right of press freedom, in reality, is often no more than the right to consume information that the government and the capitalists want us to consume. If they determine that the line has been crossed then they come down on the workers/journalists like a ton of bricks. 

The government and the capitalists have always interfered with the way the media operate. In 1975, after the formation of the United Labour Front the voices and images of certain trade union leaders were banned from being broadcast on state-owned media. Prime Minister Chambers, during the 1986 election campaign expelled journalists from a PNM meeting. 
The Panday regime got into serious conflict with the very Guardian which led to wholesale resignations. Prime Minister Manning stormed a radio station. Who can forget the on air battle between Minister Rambachan and Faz Mohammed, which led to Mohammed losing his spot on CNMG? 
There have always been charges of print media not being able to access newsprint or being subjected to a government advertising boycott. This latest instance of government intervention is just the latest example of a long-standing condition. 
The National Workers Union defends the right of journalists to carry out their tasks in the face of interference and obstruction by the government and the capitalists and expresses admiration for the principled stance taken by the three journalists who resigned’ . 

The National Workers Union advises the trade union movement that if it wants to get its views and opinions across to the nation in a systematic manner, it cannot depend on the capitalist media, but must give serious consideration to developing its own media (which it did in the past). The development of social media opens up a new opportunity for freeing the press from the claws of the capitalists and the State. 
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Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer – Cell: 785-7637)
Gerry Kangalee,
12 Jul 2013, 17:29