In the news, death threats have been sent to local investigative journalist Mark Bassant. These threats come after his investigation into the assassination of Trinidadian attorney Dana Seetahal SC.
If you’re an everyday Trini, that means that our country has gone to the dogs. If you’re even just an aspiring journalist, that means a lot more…
From when I completed my Journalism certificate a few years ago to this day I still feel like people don’t understand what’s the purpose of journalism. It’s got nothing to do with just telling people what’s happening, or embarrassing famous people, or simply telling people interesting things. It’s about democracy. Yes, just in case you didn’t know, the news (like everything else) is about power. But where most things are about fighting for or undermining power, journalism is tasked with sharing, guarding and mitigating power. Put much more simply, a journalist’s job is to make sure that a citizen’s vote counts for as much as possible, and that they know all they need to know before they vote for anything ever again.
Investigative journalism, maybe more than any other form of journalism, is critical to that democratic defence. These are the folks who let us know whether this new health plan or education scheme is working, whether that politician is skimming the foam off the top of the budget, and whether the anti-crime plan in the manifesto is worth anything one term after the fact. With that in mind, Mark Bassant might just have been doing his job too well…
When Mark Bassant delved further into the terrifying murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, what he was doing was more than discover a cause and time of death. He was attempting to lift the veil on a possible criminal organization that could execute a task – and even a person – with such strategy and prejudice. He was attempting to reveal the inability of our current protective mechanisms to defend its citizens of any class, or even to respond to a rapidly developing criminal threat. He was attempting to give citizens the information they need to demand the systems and responses they deserve to feel safe. He, like countless journalists before him, have tried in their own small ways to bring this to light, and it seems that we slip even further into the darkness. There’s a point where I say that this is all our fault, but I want to save that for a little later.
First, it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of this is the government’s fault. And I’m not just talking about the fact that they’ve been relatively powerless to respond to the kind of crime that Bassant eventually ended up covering. I’m talking about the fact that in the last few years the government has attempted to strip the so-called Fourth Estate of the tools it needs to defend the democracy. This means, at the very least, that those voted in care enough about power to inhibit the systems that protect those who vote for them. It is this same somewhat inhibited system that Mark Bassant operated from – the same one that had a journalist’s office and home raided for information pertaining to an article he wrote (and by a former news media head and politician, by the way).
The value of the news in nation-building and national safety isn’t new at all. The Windhoek Declaration, a press freedoms statement developed by African journalists in 1991, reads, “The…fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation…” In an article for ‘Nieman Reports’, Professor James Carey writes, “No journalism, no democracy; but, equally, no democracy, no journalism. Journalism and democracy are names for the same thing.” And he is absolutely right. If our journalistic integrity and safety is compromised, there is no tool to retain order in the constant sociopolitical power struggle that the common man often doesn’t get to participate in. But, also, if the powers that be are failing to mitigate the threats to their own people and power, then journalists aren’t safe to search for the truth at any rate.