The things that pass for news these days
My column - Adam harris
June 20, 2004
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When I became a reporter more than 30 years ago, it was by accident. I happened to like writing so I took to sending a few articles to the then Guyana Graphic where the now dead Eleazer Watson was the news editor.
Sure enough, Mr. Watson sought me out. Until then I was just a name of someone from Bartica who happened to be writing the odd news piece for his newspaper. He was smart to recognise that I was reporting on things that none of the other papers did. In those days, unless something big happened in Bartica and the interior to warrant the presence of a reporter from Georgetown news from that part of the word went ignored.
I distinctly remember what I still consider my masterpiece. I had gone to the Hinterland Road Project in 1969 when the Government recruited volunteers to help construct a road from Mahdia to some remote part of the interior. It must have been that piece that helped me get fully into this job.
The then Information Minister Shirley Field-Ridley was considering setting up a branch of the Ministry of Information with responsibility for Bartica-Mazaruni-Cuyuni. They approached me out of the blue and the rest is history.
Unlike some of my colleagues today, I decided to read all that I could about the profession. I was then exposed to a period of training by some of the knowledgeable people in the business. A few years later I was to head to Jamaica to be fully trained in what I now do best.
One of the things I learnt was to be a professional, because people respected you for whatever you wrote. If you happen to be a columnist, they may not always agree with your views but rest assured they respected them.
Over the years, people came to respect me for my views. They found that I was credible despite the efforts by some to discredit me. I still remember President Bharrat Jagdeo trying to get over the message that I lie whenever I write for Kaieteur News. The same President Bharrat Jagdeo, however, recognised my ability and even invited me to work in his administration.
The fact that I took the Guyana Chronicle to the pinnacle of the newspaper business before I left in 1992 is neither her nor there. Suffice it to say that all those who worked under me learnt that one important tenet in the whole business was to recognise a good news story.
Of course, there would be some fashioning because a story is never complete without the reporter getting all the sides. Regardless of how sensational or how sincere one side sounded there must always be the other side.
In my lifetime I heard many sensational things but refrained from rushing to print because they were too good. And it was a good thing that I did because when the truth came out, the whole story was different.
There was a time when word came that a man had been killed. The person providing the information professed to be an eyewitness. It later transpired that the man was very much alive and actually walked into his home while his relatives were holding a wake. Needless to say, the story that followed was even better.
More recently, many media houses ran with the news that George Bacchus had taken a lie detector test at the United States Embassy in Georgetown. Of course it sounded nice but the truth is that nowhere in Guyana do we have the facility to offer anyone a lie detector test.
Therefore when Evening News ran with a story that the very George Bacchus had told them about a plan to kill a number of people, including the Chief Magistrate, I was surprised. As a professional and knowing the sensitivity about broadcasting such a thing I would have tried to get some corroboration.
The ideal thing would have been to go to the PPP, since that party was named as being behind the hit list but everyone knows that even if there was truth in the matter, the PPP would surely deny. A thief would never admit to his thievery. People caught red-handed and charged with a crime always seem to plead not guilty, as if to say that the charge is trumped up.
But there must have been someone else who could have corroborated this fact. Before I publish such a story, I would have asked Bacchus to name one or two other persons who could have verified his statement. But Evening News, the newscast that I helped found in 1993 and made the leading newscast in Guyana, did no such thing.
On Wednesday night, I learnt how much my departure from that newscast hurt the organisation. With my departure went professionalism. There have been at least three editors since I left in April 2000 and none could have really classified as an editor. Mr. Anthony Vieira most certainly recognises this.
There was Hector Stoute, who did not last long. Then came Tommy Rhodes, who was never really a newsman. And now there is Clem David.
Clem David and I had a lot in common. We got married to women from Bartica on the same day, July 3, 1971. We both held our receptions there. Both women went to the same secondary school and they both reside in the United States. But apart from that we have nothing else, except perhaps that we both work in the media.
Now when Clem and his young people ran that story about the hit list, I called him and questioned his sense of judgment. He simply told me that he had a good story. One night later he was to get another “good story”, one about me crossing some floor.
Politicians cross floors; reporters simply do their job and vote for whom they please at election time. Because of my big mouth and my brash attitude my politics was never in doubt. But I hasten to say that I never allow my politics to get in the way of my profession. I simply report on what needs to be reported, regardless of whether the news is from the PNC or the PPP.
So when I heard about crossing the floor at first I thought that they were suggesting that I was becoming gay. Then I thought that perhaps I was running mad. It was not until much later that someone told me that the Evening News had placed me firmly in one political corner so that all my reports should be biased in favour of one or the other political party.
But let’s see why I came under Evening News in general and particularly Roy Babel’s scrutiny. At Friday’s press conference with Dr. Luncheon, I said to Roger Luncheon that I learnt that he and his party had a hit list, which by now would have been public knowledge, having been broadcast by Evening News.
Babel decided that my comment to my schoolmate and classmate from as early as 1960 was newsworthy. That comment meant that I was crossing the floor and in any case, since I was so prominent, the news of my crossing the floor was a big thing.
All I would say is that my telephone rang incessantly ever since then. People who really know me advised me to shut my mouth, to let the comment pass. There were the political animals who raised their eyebrows and there were those who couldn’t care a hoot.
I wish to say to Clem and young Babel, news is not what you think it is. You were wrong when you ran that story about the GPL Board Chairman, you are wrong about the hit list and you are stupid to associate a reporter with a politician.
There is no floor crossing in this job and there never will be, unless you see people working in the state media as “them” and the others as “we” and when that person leaves one for the other then that person crosses the floor. Did Marcia Hope, Beverley Alert, Sohodra Rampersaud, Dwayne Fowler, Neeaz Subhan and even Michael Gordon cross the floor?