Analysts: ‘Back off Mr Prime Minister’

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.”

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