Former director of the University of the West Indies Institute of International Relations Prof Andy Knight sees Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s move to pen a letter to the British government about an inaccurate British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary that there are 40,000 Venezuelans in T&T as ludicrous.
His comments came two days after Rowley objected to the BBC report titled The Displaced which was circulated on social media.
On Monday, Rowley said his Government will write the British government to set the record straight, stating that his government had only registered 16,000 Venezuelans which would allow them to work for one year in T&T.
The BBC, however, stated they are standing by their report and corroborated the 40,000 UNHCR figure that had been widely reported, while British High Commissioner Tim Stew said the BBC is independent and its government is committed to freedom of expression.
Knight said Stew was within his right to point out to Rowley that the British media, including the BBC, are independent of government, as they should be.
If Rowley has information that is at odds with the BBC’s reporting, Knight said he has every right as leader of the country to present those facts.
“But he needs to do so taking the high road,” he said.
Looking on from the outside, Knight said Rowley “appears defensive and as though he has a very thin skin. Yes, he needs to chill. But to complain about the BBC to the British Government is ludicrous. He will most likely get the same polite but firm response that the UK Commissioner gave. If the PM goes further and tries to stifle the media’s reporting he stands to be perceived as draconian. It is not a good look at all.”
He urged Rowley to “act prime ministerial and diplomatic.”
In a democracy, Knight said the public can decide which version of the narrative they believe and support.
“I don’t think that the PM’s railing against the BBC or complaining to the British government about the media’s independent reporting is going to do much for his reputation,” he said.
Knight said he has never seen a leader who wins an election but “continue to act, behave and talk like he is the leader of the Opposition. There is a sign of insecurity there that I just can’t understand.”
Political analyst Professor John La Guerre felt the situation could have been handled differently by Rowley.
“His approach was not altogether correct. I think he could have highlighted his concerns to the BBC giving them a time in which to respond.”
If the BBC had failed to respond swiftly to the issues raised, La Guerre said then Rowley could have come forward and present his case.
La Guerre advised the PM to drop the matter.
“I think that matter should be allowed to die a natural death. Move on to new pastures. It does not make political sense to engage in a war with the media because the State will always lose that kind of war.... that is an unnecessary and uneconomic war. “
He said attacking an international power media house like the BBC will only bring international rows and complications for T&T.
“I don’t think this fight is worth it. The Prime Minister should back off.”
Yesterday, Rhondall Feeles president of the Single Fathers Association of T&T took to social media to condemn the documentary, stating it showed that T&T was not hospitable and welcoming to Venezuelans to our shores.
Feeles said the documentary did not depict us in a positive light.
“All the bigger nations...I heard they say all kinds of things about Trinidad. You know what, I ain’t hear anybody say thanks Trinidad and Tobago as yet. We as Trinidadians we ain’t go say nothing. We go let people say anything because it seems to be political.”
He said T&T has “a series of problems with racial divide that we have been trying to rectify for years.”
Speaking on the Morning Brew programme yesterday, former editor at the BBC Orin Gordon described the report as “ superficial in parts” and having “some flaws.”
Gordon who worked with the BBC for 20 years said, in essence, the report of Venezuelans fleeing Nicolas Maduro’s government and what they were going through in a neighbouring country was captured accurately.
“I think Prime Minister Rowley, with the greatest respect, fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between an entity such as the BBC and the Government,” Gordon said.
The BBC which guards its independence zealously, Gordon said receives funding from the British public and not the government.
“The message from the Prime Minister to the British High Commissioner seems to suggest that the Government that the British High Commissioner represents could tap the BBC and to tell them, look, you are wrong to Trinidad and Tobago.”
He said Stew “isn’t able to exert that influence on the government and the government isn’t able to exert that influence on the BBC.”