Editors in crime Frankly Speaking...
By A.A Fenty
Stabroek News
November 7, 2003

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Does my caption come off like the old-time expression “Partners-in-crime”? Wholly unintended. Today I revisit, most briefly, the role of the media and editors in the season of crime.

Before and beyond the intense criminal enterprise that exploded upon our relative innocence since last year’s jailbreak.

Incidentally, the layman reader should know that there are various types and levels of editors. For example, some newspapers (especially) have an Editor-in-Chief (overall responsibility for all other editors, with the journalistic responsibility buck stopping at him), an editor (in charge of the paper on a daily basis), a Sunday editor, a News Editor, Women’s Page editor and sub-editors (who edit for grammar, style, slant, accuracy, etc.) For the sake of this piece, I’ll concentrate on the Editor responsible for all that is in the ‘paper or on the newscast on a daily basis.

Publishers and owners of media houses sometimes find it necessary to brief or orient their editors.

Government Information Service Heads do the same too. And, depending on the political climate, the particular medium’s interest or agenda, or a particular level of professionalism, News Editors are known to indulge in negative self-censorship. Espe-cially in the State-owned media, if there is such. All that is a backdrop merely to remind of the powerful, sometimes depressing or devastating influence the media can have on a society’s understanding or perceptions. Especially perceptions.

What a responsibility for editors who must strike a balance between publishing truth as early as possible or publishing whatever is reported first and the need to weigh compromises and even lives before the scoop.

Even before last year February some papers “investigated” crimes on their front pages beating the police to reports which they - the police - had to be careful and confidential about. Eyewitnesses, with or without biases or grudges, are quoted freely. They would hardly be inclined to speak to the police investigators however. Then there were/are newspapers, newscasts and television activists not necessarily police-friendly.

Granted there are reasons for some anti-police sentiment but responsible editors are there to disseminate news, features, advisories and other “stories” whilst ensuring the public good.

That can be done partly by supporting the good police practices. Last June 2002 - the Police and its Public Relations Unit courted the private media. Tried to establish mutual conduits of relationships. Hardly worked. The crime wave offered avenues for sensationalism, inside scoops and increased profits daily. Some editors threw ethics outside their editorial windows. (Someone else may wish to discuss the role and/or effectiveness of media monitoring committees or what passed for a Press Association in these parts.)

I know of an editor who established secure and sure insider-contacts with the Police in the heat of the crime wave. His ‘papers invariably turned up first at crime scenes, published names and incidents known then only to the police and sometimes even dared to anticipate the criminals’ next move. Nothing wrong with establishing insider contacts.

It is part of the profession. But it is how certain sensitive information is used! Like the time a released kidnap-victim shared vital information with the police in confidence - info the murderous kidnappers warned the released victim not to divulge.

Swiftly that “confidential” information appeared in the popular didn’t-care-a-damn newspaper. People had a right to know!? His edition had a right to publish and maintain interests and profits.

Then there was the newspaper who mentioned that an abducted victim, still being held, was the nephew of a wealthy gentleman who had just returned to Guyana. That one little but crucial detail was not known to the kidnappers when they carried off their victim.

Consider the implications. But had not the editor the right to carry that fact? What of his responsibility, however?

Recall too the television activists’ permission to carry the criminals’ message on TV. And an interview featuring a criminal just killed. How were those tapes obtained? Journalists have the right to protect their sources, was the American freedom-of-the-press response.

Even as innocent people were being slaughtered, it was not a matter of whose side the journalists were on, I’m told.

Finally, I must repeat the revulsion I felt - sadly it was brief - when the editor allowed his paper to carry a front-page photograph of a murdered man’s dismembered head on the road.

There is a “right” to carry a picture of a man’s head. Forget his relatives’ sensibilities in their grief. As I wrote then: I’m sure that if that head had belonged to the publisher’s son or the editors’ father, they would have published those pics too. Right!?

What say you, my ethical experienced editors? And would you believe this? Two or three weeks after the local publication of “the head”, I was in the sinful New York City, when a tabloid carried the photograph of a young man shot dead during Brooklyn’s Labour Day Parade.

I was surprised at the hue and cry over the tiny specks of blood shown. Have we not taken over - gore?

For your consideration...
1) Congrats Editor. On your thought-provoking editorial this Tuesday, “Beyond Ethnicity”. “It is as if the political culture has imploded and is doomed to express itself in an endless cycle of accusation and counter-accusation, while the larger issues develop beyond our examination and comprehension. The more challenging our national future becomes, the more trivial the politics.”

Profound observation that. But wait! Leaders must feel that they are worthy. Others knew that they were wronged horribly in the past. The thing is my editor: Both groups have to be large enough to concede, to forgive. Mandelas are in short supply.

2) Bharrat in Bartica: how accessible our young President. Such rapport. Being ‘bused in Linden by the aggrieved Rasta and “manhandled” verbally by the Bartica ladies.

What discrimination? So swiftly, it’s Baksh in Bartica. I’m placing my Bets on Baksh.

3) I’ll lose a few more of my Anti-American friends through this. When American soldiers are killed, their helicopters and trucks hit, particular Iraqis laugh, dance, celebrate.

Vow to continue knocking off Americans. Why don’t the Americans take them out? Preemptively? What? More Suicide-Bombers will be created?

4) It had to happen. Dr Tang questioning what is authentic Chinese Food. Bora, Pak Choi? Fried Rice, No Subgum. China is vast. Its cuisine varied.

What is real Indian food? Anyhow, a good debate to distract us from the destruction around us.

5) It’s just like when I was at the old GIS under past governments. Name three newscasts on GBC that did not begin with the words, “President Bharrat Jagdeo...”

‘Til Next Week!