A flagship lowers the standard of journalism
My Column - Adam Harris
June 6, 2004
I consider myself a reasonable reporter. A long time ago I learnt that as I execute my duty I should consider my readers. My duty was clearly defined. I was entitled to provide them with credible, timely and accurate information.
As I became active in the media, I sat and learnt at the knees of the professionals that I should eschew my personal feelings when I had to present news. I was allowed to inject my opinions in columns, the likes of which I write for this newspaper each week.
Since then, I have attended a number of forums at which people who pride themselves as the custodians of the business of journalism pontificate on how the trade should be pursued. I often listened, making some observations when the need arose.
Just recently, when the United Nations Development Programme sponsored a forum for the local media operatives, there was Mr. David De Caires. He spoke of the shortcomings among the Guyanese reporters, particularly their inability to appreciate the need to carry both sides of a story.
I would always remember one of his comments. He simply said that we are not perfect, in fact, far from it, but we must strive for that goal of what passes for good reporting. So I was rather surprised when I saw what he allowed to pass for reporting in his newspaper.
His reporters latched on to a good story. They beat the rest of the local media with the news that a grown man was having the time of his life with a 13-year-old girl.
From my vantage point, I can safely say that when a man goes to bed with a woman, he would do many things before and after the act. When I was at university in Jamaica, I remember my communications lecturer, Everold Hoosein, conducting a rap session about the things men tended to do after sex.
The answers, some coming from the women in my class, were varied. It transpired that some men liked to talk, some smoked, some packed up and went home and some simply rolled over to sleep.
With a 13-year-old, the only thing a man could do is roll over to sleep because there is no kind of conversation that he could carry on with such a little girl. She would want to talk about her little friends or about television characters. Which grown man would be interested in such things?
Anyhow, the Stabroek News reporters came upon this case of the grown man and the child. The initial source of their information was the childís mother. She came over as someone not affluent in the least. She also seemed to be a woman who desperately wanted her daughter with her.
Carrying her story was necessary but when she began to make allegations against the other person the least we could have done was to contact the person against whom the allegations were made. I know that Mr. De Caires was a stickler for that kind of reporting.
I remember the time when I was the editor of New Nation. Mrs. Janet Jagan was unhappy about some things I wrote. Of course I wrote aggressively. I worked with the Peopleís National Congress and therefore my duty was to uncover all the ills of the opposition of the day.
However, something must not have gone down well with Mrs. Jagan so Mr. De Caires organized a meeting at his home. He invited Mrs. Jagan, Fr Andrew Morrison, and me. In the end we agreed on a standard of reporting. There I was, beholden to no one but to the people who paid my salary, agreeing to work with people considered to be doyen of journalism in Guyana.
That was testimony to my ability to be a professional. I must say that I agreed with what the small committee came up with. I also remember publishing a scathing article on Sports Minister Gail Teixeira. Someone who knew her well write a piece that was ad hominem. Obviously, the woman objected and she complained to the then General Secretary, Robert Corbin.
I understood her chagrin. She was not the only angry one at the publication. People whose sympathies lay elsewhere than the PPP were similarly angry. They let me know that no matter what, attacking people was a no-no. That, I understood.
I have never again edited a paper and allowed ad hominem attacks on people. I would have expected the same from Mr. De Caires. Therefore I was disappointed to learn that under his stewardship he allowed his paper to run a story without a comment from the person against whom the attack was levelled.
A little bird later told me that it was a management decision that allowed the person who wrote the story to ignore Mr. Reeaz Khan. For the first time I concluded that Stabroek News was capable of taking a position that was not in keeping with the journalistic principles.
It is true that I now work for a newspaper that is in direct opposition to Stabroek News. It is also true that there is no love lost between the two newspapers, largely because this newspaper has grabbed the lionís share of the readers.
The owner of this newspaper, Glenn Lall, happens to be Reeaz Khanís brother. It therefore meant that by going after Reeaz Khan, Stabroek News was going after Glenn Lall and indeed it was. Avid readers familiar with the kind of coverage Kaieteur News provides began to question the silence of Kaieteur News on the Reeaz Khan affair. That issue has since been addressed.
Having successfully highlighted the Khan relationship, Stabroek News continued in its contrived vein. The woman reported that she was interviewed by Prime News but Kaieteur News ended up with the answers she provided to Prime News.
Again there was the failure to contact Prime News to verify the comment. Perhaps the editor would argue that there was no need to verify the womanís comments. One argument may be that we report press conferences without checking the other side but there are times when one party at a press conference makes an allegation we check that allegation. Last week I had cause to remark that Guyana is full of laws but not enough enforcement of those laws. Stabroek News, like Kaieteur News, signed on to a code of conduct in the run up to the 2001 elections. Stabroek News has gone against the very code and in so doing, has only lowered the standard that we so desperately want to achieve in this country as far as journalism is concerned.
Just yesterday it headlined that Reeaz Khan and the girl were not in court. It did not say that they did not need to be in court. It allowed readers to deduce that the two deliberately flouted an order of court.
When all is said and done, though, Reeaz Khan allowed all this criticism to fall squarely on his shoulders and by extension, on this newspaper. He is not the first man to enjoy a sexual relationship with a teen but he should not have.
I cannot escape the criticisms if I should end up in that boat. People expect more of certain people. Perhaps if a cane cutter had been the one sharing the favours of this child the newspapers would not have sensationalized the story.
It is indeed true. People make the news and Reeaz Khan, because of his prominence in the society, really made the news.