Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Thursday, January 30, 2003  

Is there a "terror threat" in T&T?

The Express would like us all to believe there is, and under regular circumstances (meaning, the professional way in which the Express usually handles its investigative journalism) I'd be willing to take the warning with as much seriousness as hearty scepticism, as I usually do.

In this instance, however, I'm inclined to rubbish the whole thing as mere nonsense. How could any serious-minded person not? The sensationalism of the initial Sunday Express report ("Exposé: Terror Threat: Islamic group unveils secret 'chemical labs' ") with, as Denis Solomon in the Express today calls it, the "cloack-and-dagger account" of journalists being blindfolded and taken to a "secret" location, and shown luridly-coloured powdered substances arranged in neat piles (as if they were spices on sale in the Central Market - that heap of red powder looked a lot like paprika to me) would be so risible if it weren't so pathetic.

What were the powers that be at the Express thinking when they went with this story? I agree with Editor-At-Large, Keith Smith, writing today that possible threats such as these, even if - sometimes especially if - they come from a "lunatic fringe" need to be taken seriously.

But that's not what the Express did. They sensationalised and irresponsibly handled an issue that should have been treated quite differently. And, as Denis Solomon rightly asks, why weren't the police notified so that they could arrange a trail? The argument in the front page editorial of yesterday's Express that as an "independent" paper they could "play no direct role" in notifying the authorities of an issue with potential consequences for the security of the nation, seems to me a feeble cop-out.

Of course, the overarching question in all this is, would a terrorist group so graciously invite the media into its fold to report, photograph and film their potentially deadly activities?

The politicians, naturally, have not helped the matter, with the government insinuating the issue is part of an opposition plot, and the opposition claiming the government is in bed with Al-Qaeda. (What was that about lunatics, Mr Smith?)

If there is indeed a "terror lab" I do hope it is found and all those associated with it held to account. But right now I'm more concerned with the sad turn the Express has taken with this affair. The Express prides itself on its independence and journalistic strength and probity, and for the most part justifiably so - it's worth more than all the other papers combined on the strength of its best (pun intended) columnists alone.

All the more reason why their unprofessional handling of this affair is such a disappointment. They don't seem to see it that way, although I have a suspicion that down in Express House it's a different scenario. What happens in the days and weeks ahead will be quite revealing.

posted by Jonathan | 10:14 AM 0 comments


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