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Walkout at Guardian

By JANELLE DE SOUZA Thursday, July 11 2013

click on pic to zoom in
WALKOUT: Trinidad Guardian journalists Sheila Rampersad, centre, Anika Gumbs-Sandiford, left, and Suzanne Sheppard, back right, leave that newspaper's...
WALKOUT: Trinidad Guardian journalists Sheila Rampersad, centre, Anika Gumbs-Sandiford, left, and Suzanne Sheppard, back right, leave that newspaper's...

THE Guardian newspaper on St Vincent Street yesterday experienced a second walkout in recent years as three investigative journalists resigned with immediate effect. There were also unconfirmed reports the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond, managing director Gabriel Faria and sector head of media at ANSA McAL, David Inglefield had also resigned.

Journalists who left are Sheila Rampersad, Public Affairs Editor and columnist, Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne who confirmed their resignations claiming, “unacceptable political interference.”

Faria appeared on CNC3 television’s newscast last night saying he was still managing director but made no mention of Inglefield. Both CNC3 and the Guardian are owned by the ANSA McAL Group of Companies.

Speaking to reporters outside the Guardian Building yesterday afternoon, Rampersad, spokesperson for Renne, Gumbs-Sandiford and herself, said they were just the initial wave and believed there would eventually be more resignations. “We have taken a position about political interference in the work that we do and imposition of directives about how journalists are to function. We think that is totally unacceptable. It has become unsustainable,” Rampersad said.

Rampersad claimed editors had received numerous telephone calls from management any time an article that was deeply critical of government was published. She claimed journalists had also been harassed by politicians and put under a lot of public scrutiny. In addition, she said they had battled the situation for a while but decided to make a statement with their departure.

Gumbs-Sandiford and Renne were the authors of several investigative stories relating to the government, some of which were not exactly accurate. Up to yesterday, the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) sent Raymond a letter questioning the accuracy of a report by Gumbs-Sandiford. The letter said the articles, published on February 19 and July 6, which spoke of tensions between NCRHA CEOs and NCRHA Chairman, Dr Shehenaz Mohammed, “contained false and highly defamatory statements”, against Mohammed.

Rampersad said a series of events and attacks on journalists came to a head on Monday during a meeting. She related that at the meeting, editors heard that Faria had resigned and were told that Raymond was being reassigned to work on a project creating editorial policy, which would set rules for the functioning of the newsroom. Raymond would retain the title of Editor-in-Chief but would not be in the newsroom or function as an editor. This statement seems to have been denied last night by Faria who insisted Raymond was still Editor-in-Chief.

Rampersad said, “We were further told that a person unnamed was going to be attending and participating in our afternoon editorial meetings. We were not sure what the function of that person was. We assumed it to be some sort of monitoring and reporting role. We were extremely uncomfortable with that.” At 3.15 pm yesterday, Raymond was seen driving out of the underground garage of the Guardian Building. It was reported that she too had written a letter of resignation, but had not yet handed it to management as she was consulting a lawyer. She did not answer questions from reporters.

Newsday was told that the train of events started when the owners of the Guardian instructed Raymond to stop being so critical of the government. She refused to do this and was supported in her decision by Faria. However, in last night’s CNC3 television interview, Faria denied all reports that he had resigned. “I can assure you that I am still the Managing Director of Guardian Media. I understand that we have had two resignations out of a pool of just over 100 journalists,” he said.

Faria said he had “no idea” about political interference. He received no calls from anyone in government. He said the Guardian was trying to improve its standard of journalism and reporters may have thought the new rules unreasonable.

In a release yesterday, the Media Association (MATT), whose vice president and president are Raymond and another Guardian editor, Suzanne Sheppard, said it is monitoring developments at the Guardian newsroom and what is says appears to be a threat to press freedom.

“Reports thus far indicate that senior Guardian officials have questioned the newspaper’s editorial line and this pressure is reportedly resulting in an editorial reshuffle at the newspaper by its publishers,” said the MATT release.

Yesterday’s unrest was the second walkout of the editorial staff at the Guardian. In 1996, then Editor-in-Chief Jones P Madeira and managing director Alwin Chow resigned after public calls from then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, for a public boycott of the Guardian for unfair reporting.

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