Trinidad journalist ruffles media feathers; now under attack

“A rift between me and Sunity Maharaj became a public spat when several journalists from theTrinidad Express newspaper decided to berate me across social media for my Facebook post exposing Maharaj,” Braveboy told Caribbean News Now.

The responses saw Braveboy being denigrated for being a Grenadian living and working in Trinidad and Tobago; fabricated articles published in the Express against Braveboy, some without interviewing her, and comments solicited from opposition politicians to cement the Express case against Braveboy that she is a “blogger” and talk show host paid by the government. 

It all started when Braveboy posted a comment to her Facebook page suggesting that Maharaj was a media consultant for the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), comprising the Trinidad Expressnewspapers and TV6, as well as being a consultant for its competition – Guardian Media, comprising CNC3 TV and the Trinidad Guardiannewspaper. In addition, Braveboy also claimed that the Express columnist was a media strategist for the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM).

According to Braveboy, Maharaj never refuted her claims; instead, a caustic thread of social media posts was launched by former Trinidad Express sports journalist, Lasana Liburd, defending Maharaj.

Liburd, who now runs his own online newspaper, went so far as to accuse his media co-worker of having psychological problems.

Braveboy said Liburd and Maharaj are not qualified to determine who has psychological problems. 

“They like to use these strong clinical terminologies when they have no reasonable understanding of the terms” she said.

In her regular Sunday Express column, Maharaj wrote about the fracas, drawing other namedExpress journalists and the newspaper editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder into the fray.

The vilification of Braveboy by the Express has led to a media firestorm in Trinidad that has been raging for weeks, consuming Trinidad Express column and editorial inches; radio and television airtime and an intense online debate on social media.

The Trinidad Express articles have attempted to defame and marginalise Braveboy as a “paid government blogger”.

“I suppose they used the term ‘blog’ in an attempt to be derogatory; what the Express and its gang of reporters do not know is that international journalists of high pedigree set up weblogs and they blog. So there is nothing wrong with blogging,” Braveboy noted in response.

The public quarrel also helped raised new questions about the link between local journalists and politicians; whose mutual interests are apparently being served by what passes for news reporting and commentaries. 

What was especially egregious in the Trinidad Express articles was the reference to Braveboy’s place of birth. In an April 5 article, Express reporter Denyse Renne wrote: 

“Grenada-born Braveboy, who is employed at state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG), had launched persistent and sometimes slanderous attacks on Maharaj.”

The article went on to claim that Braveboy is a talk show host at 91.1 FM, and has been in Trinidad and Tobago for the past ten years, having been employed under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

“Renne never asked me how long I have been living and working in Trinidad and Tobago, so to say I have been here ten years in her article is a fabrication. If I slandered Maharaj, she can resort to the courts as an option,” Braveboy responded.

“What is also ironic is that Renne, who is equally culpable when it comes to attacking a fellow journalist [Braveboy] on Facebook, was assigned to write this story. This is clear evidence of the questionable ethical practices employed by the Trinidad Express,” she added.

Braveboy has in fact been living and working in Trinidad for more than 15 years under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy arrangement for regional professionals.

Braveboy has also questioned what she sees as a suspicious link between Express columnist Maharaj and opposition operatives and also what she sees as conflicts of interest involving many other reporters.

Braveboy said she has been writing about corruption and lack of ethics in the Trinidad and Tobago mainstream media for over five years now. 

As part of the campaign against Braveboy, the Express has resorted to outright manipulation of the regional media watchdog as well as local politicians to make it appear as though they support its position.

Specifically, Maharaj, who plays a major role as the convener for the interim executive of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), a historically troubled and largely ineffective organisation, apparently stage-managed a statement by Clive Bacchus, the president of the regional Association of Caribbean Media (ACM) that was then used as evidence of ACM support for the Express to the exclusion of the other media workers affected by the ongoing dispute.

However, no one from the ACM contacted Braveboy to substantiate the facts of the situation.

Furthermore, three attempts by Caribbean News Now to elicit further comment from Bacchus and ACM secretary, Wesley Gibbings, have produced no substantive response.

An Express reporter also sought a comment from legal affairs and justice minister Prakash Ramadhar on how he perceived attacks on the media.

The Express then used his comment in a March 26 article, making it appear as though he was supporting its articles attacking Braveboy. 

Ramadhar subsequently told Caribbean News Now that he never knew his comments were going to be used in this manner. He said he thought it was a general question and not pertaining to anything specific. 

In its apparently obsessive quest to discredit Braveboy, the Expressnewspaper obtained a comment from opposition PNM candidate for the 2015 general elections, Camille Robinson-Regis, followed by an editorial on March 26.

This pursuit lasted another week in the daily newspaper, with another article that misrepresented Braveboy’s comments in a phone interview she had with Denyse Renne.

Renne phoned Braveboy and sought to find out if she was paid by the government as a blogger to attacked Maharaj and investigative journalists. 

Braveboy replied: “I am a journalist and this is a slanderous question.”

Renne claimed that Braveboy said that she is a journalist, not a blogger. 

”I am a journalist and not a blogger. I have been writing about journalists six years now. The answer cannot be yes or no,” Renne reported Braveboy as saying.

“This is a totally fabricated quote by Renne,” Braveboy told Caribbean News Now.

Braveboy noted other false statements in Renne’s article published by theExpress, which quoted her as saying Maharaj’s late husband Lloyd Best died and left nothing for her. The story falsely claimed that it had proof in a February 19 social media post to prove its assertion. 

However, according to Braveboy, the comment was made by someone else on Facebook. 

“I challenge Denyse Renne to publish the evidence she claims she has, where I made those comments about Maharaj’s late husband. I shudder to think that these imagined and made up articles is what the Express and that reporter are passing off as investigative reporting,” Braveboy commented.

Braveboy questions the role of the Trinidad Express and its staff in local politics, especially opposition interests and wants to know what is Sir Fred Gollop’s interest in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago that he should allow the newspaper to defame and assault other local media workers with untruths and fabricated stories.

Barbados-based Gollop is the chairman of ONE Caribbean Media Limited, the regional media organization under which the CCN group and the Trinidad Express falls.

Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed suggested in online postings that journalists who may be on the payroll of the opposition People’s National Movement have turned their guns on Braveboy because she dared to question their work. 

Communications Minister Vasant Bharath has also denied that the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led administration pays social media users to attack journalists and citizens who are critical of the government.

“Because someone has dared to raise questions; questions that need to be truthfully answered, some in the system are determined to squash the messenger,” Braveboy said in a recent response.

“The situation here is rife with contradictions and conflicts of interest, and this has done the journalism landscape here no good. All these suspicions remain, and all these people need to answer,” she said.

Braveboy said “the orchestrated attack” on her has been underpinned by lies and innuendos without seeking to address the real issues at hand.

Braveboy said both her work and her credibility can stand up to the scrutiny to which many of her critics are not willing to subject themselves.

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