May 14, 2021

The alarming case of Mark Bassant

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Mark-BassantBy Rickey Singh From Trinidad Express Newspapers

Over thE years as a journalist of our Caribbean region, I have been both a witness to and victim of the politics of a few government leaders and cabinet ministers that resulted in geographical dislocations, and worse, including loss of employment and threats.

Thankfully, however, I never genuflected to the powers-that-be or compromised the fundamental tenets of the profession I continue to share with national and regional journalists—among them some of the best—here in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and elsewhere.

But never have I had to read the shocking account of a professional Caribbean journalist who felt compelled to speedily abandon his job and flee for his life after learning he had been targeted for murder by elements of his country’s criminal underworld.

And what is worse—in fact scandalous and terrifying—was the information that a few members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, whom this investigative journalist—the CCN’s Mark Bassant—had been accustomed to cooperating with, on the assumption of shared commitment to fighting crime, were involved in treachery that sent him fleeing from work and country.

I cannot recall ever meeting Mr Bassant, either here in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere. Nevertheless, I fully share the outrage of all journalists, media enterprises and organisations that have been denouncing and lamenting the shocking claims of collusion and conspiracy against a journalist who naturally trusted his police connections. After all, they were claiming ‘partnership’ with him in combating criminality, including gang-related murders.

Based on the coverage in the local print and electronic media, and in particular reports and commentaries in the Express, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams may well have done himself a terrible injustice by his own convoluted response to what Mr Bassant had reported.

In particular, given the gravity of the implications of Mr Bassant’s identification of the cops whom he said he was working with, was it really necessary for Commissioner Williams to go public with a response that conveyed the impression more of bias, or to focus on what he says are past errors on the part of the CCN journalist? Shouldn’t he have been questioning alleged misbehaviour on the part of certain police officers instead?

While understandably anxious to protect the Police Service he still heads amid mounting criticisms and disenchantment over lack of successes or breakthroughs in cases of murder and assassination, Commissioner Williams may well have inflamed passions beyond the corridors of the CCN enterprise that the Express so passionately reflected in its editorial of May 26.

Indeed, the Express went as far as to declare that the acting top cop was “unfit for the office of Police Commissioner”. In so doing it fortified an earlier call by the respected senior counsel and columnist Martin Daly who last week made clear his gut feeling that Williams “is not the right man for the job of Police Commissioner”.

Whatever the future of Stephen Williams in the T&T Police Service, the immediate challenge remains to bring to justice those who have been identified—cops and criminals—by Mark Bassant when he felt compelled to go public with his horrifying disclosure of the situation that triggered his hurried flight for physical safety.

This is an unprecedented development in the local media world—less than a month after the shocking assassination of the courageous senior Counsel Dana Seetahal. What next?

Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born Caribbean journalist

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Related story:

Death threats against Trinidad journalist condemned by International Press Institute

From Caribbean360

VIENNA, Austria, Tuesday May 27, 2014, CMC – The International Press Institute (IPI) Monday condemned recent threats against Trinidad and Tobago journalist Mark Bassant that led to the reporter leaving the country last week in fear for his life.

“We condemn the threats made against Mr. Bassant, which have highlighted the dangers that journalists face when attempting to reveal information that is in the public interest, even in a country like Trinidad and Tobago, where this form of harassment is unusual” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said in a statement.

“We urge the authorities to fully investigate these threats and bring the perpetrators to justice, thereby ensuring that press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago is upheld and that courageous journalists, like Mr. Bassant, can carry out their work.”

Bassant, a senior investigative journalist with the Caribbean Communication Network (CCN) TV6, said he had received the threats while working on sensitive investigative material and that both National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams had been made aware of the hit.

The Trinidad Express newspaper, a sister company of the television station, reported that “key underworld criminals” had made the death threat against Bassant.

Bassant told the newspaper that on May 7, “I got a call from a very reliable underworld source that certain criminal elements wanted to harm me because of stories I wrote recently that were showing them up.

“I made a report on it. The next day I was liaising with certain police officers involved in a specific investigation, only to later learn from other trusted sources that these same officers who I had spoken to earlier were leaking information about me and what I knew to the said individuals who orga­nised for my demise.

“I informed a high-ranking intelligence source along with another trusted senior intelligence officer about this development,” Bassant said.

“The senior intelligence office later conferred to me in a face-to-face meeting on May 9 that my name was on a hit list together with other persons. In fact, he told me that they had already been given the order to engage the targets, including me, and that the hit against me was starting at TT$20,000 (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents),” Bassant explained.

IPI said it was urging the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago to take immediate steps to ensure that Bassant and other journalists can cover important developments in the country without fear of retaliation.

IPI’s regional partner, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), also shared its alarm concerning the Bassant case.

“The ACM continues to be very concerned about Mark’s safety and well-being,” Wesley Gibbings, ACM’s general secretary.

“We hope that state security has accorded this high priority and that the perpetrators are brought to justice within a short space of time. We also call on all sectors of civil society to stand up in defence of press freedom and for the value of the work of journalists throughout the Caribbean.”

IPI said the media enjoy a high degree of freedom in Trinidad and Tobago, where IPI has been carrying out a campaign to abolish criminal defamation laws for more than two years.

“Nevertheless, harassment against journalist is not entirely unknown on the Caribbean island. Last March, according to local sources, a female reporter was accused by a government official of treason for publishing information critical of the government.

“Although the journalist has not been formally charged with treason, a charge that carries the death penalty, IPI has joined journalists in Trinidad in expressing concern over this type of harassment, which almost inevitably leads to self-censorship among journalists,” IPI said.

Meanwhile, the Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute (Transparency) said it is “gravely concerned” by the death threat made against the life of Bassant.

“Such a threat represents an attack on the freedom of the press which must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

“Transparency is further dismayed at the statement ascribed to the Acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams. A death threat cannot be excused or justified under any circumstances and in fact requires official condemnation from the Government and the Opposition.”

Williams over the weekend defended his statements he made during a radio interview following criticisms from the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) and Martin Daly SC, the former head of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

Williams said that while he has great respect for Daly in his capacity as an attorney-at-law, and agreed that there is freedom of the press constitutionally guaranteed in Trinidad and Tobago, he will never do anything to interfere with such freedom.

He said he hoped Daly had the opportunity to listen to the short interview and did not write his statement on the basis of what he read in the daily newspapers on Saturday.

Williams insists that “during the short interview, I never said that the journalist Mark Bassant ‘has looked for it by his irresponsibility’ and I did not allude to that.

“I wonder whether Mr Daly is aware of what exactly journalist Mark Bassant reported to the police. I will not engage in a war of words with Mr Daly or anyone else as individuals are entitled to their personal opinions,” he added.

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