Speaking as a former current affairs editor for the largest broadcast news organisation in the world I guarantee that any producer who sent back to base in London an anodyne story that was full of only what a “pretty place the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago” is with its “happy melting pot of black and brown people” and “its Miami-style waterfront” would never get another assignment and that particular report would never see the light of day. Journalists are meant to be sharp, discerning professionals who can see behind the mirage and smoke screens that they encounter daily as they attempt to relate what is really happening.
Enormous amounts of money are spent in vested interest stopping the rest of us from knowing what we should be able to know and it is the business of the news media to ask the unaskable questions, spot the obfuscations, see the unseeable, and tell it as they perceive it to be.
A former, well-known television news figure in Britain started a campaign about the culture of bad news there: He got little support from the public and his name was mud with his ex-colleagues. In many ways journalists have no option. We, the public, are all media savvy and we sense when the proverbial wool is being pulled over our eyes. Would you buy a daily newspaper, watch the nightly news or listen to the radio news bulletins if you only got stories of church fetes and pictures of happy smiling wedding couples? We all expect when we engage with the news that we learn something new and we want to know as it happens. The duty of the news agencies is to be accurate and to get the news to you as fast as they can.
So, imagine you are a first-time visitor in Port-of-Spain and headed up Independence Square from the new, impressive Waterfront and turned left up Frederick Street, or walked a bit further and turned up Nelson or George Streets what would you see? If you were a journalist what would you report? I expect what would strike you would be the huge contrast between the two realities, just blocks away from each other.
The dereliction of our once main street and the squalor of that to-be-condemned urban housing is what you would want to ask questions about. Don’t forget those are the first city dwellers you are likely to come across if you went walking eastwards. You would hardly walk westward from the Waterfront along that vehicular thoroughfare of Wrightson Road, and that is a shame because you would come across Newtown and the period dwellings there that we Trinis would be more proud of. As a foreign journalist I would be happy to come across Charlotte Street in its full glory one busy morning with the stalls of fruit and veg and colourful displays of goods and trinkets. Those bits of real colour and life are what one would want in a report.
What else would make the news (apart from the real business of the summit which, remember, is: “Securing our citizens’ future by promoting human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability”) would be if the cavalcade taking the spouses of the American leaders were to disappear down the frighteningly eroded road up to the Asa Wright Centre in the Northern Range, or if one of the threatening landslides along any one of our seriously neglected hillsides decided to discharge itself during the rumble of executive cars below. If you cast your eyes up at the collapsing mountain walls along the Lady Young Road or Maracas Road you will terrify yourself by the sight of imminent peril.
Another element of the news would be how a tiny but ambitious country such as this had enough gas and petro dollars in a time of recession to put on an expensive show while so much was left to do to improve people’s lives, especially given the Summit’s agenda.
Some of the “colour pieces” would show TT’s beautiful places but also relate to the Summit’s main themes and include the eyesore and environmental disaster that is the choked mouth of the East Dry River at the Beetham Estate and the heavily polluted sea at Sea Lots where wretched people eke out a miserable living. That is simply how news works and we just have to lump it.