Category Archives: Media

Annals of appalling reporting, Trinidadians and alcohol edition

A friend forwarded me the following Guardian story, which was published on Friday with the sensational headline:

Trinis drink more alcohol than water—Hospedales

In a word, awful. In two words, bloody awful. Any more words and this post will no longer be fit for children.

But as I am of late attempting to be constructive as well as merely scathing, behold the thinking behind my righteous indignation:

T&T is ranked as the 98th among countries with the highest consumption of alcohol.

This is a non-statement. It tells one nothing. Worse, it doesn’t actually make any sense. What are these countries with the highest consumption of alcohol, pray tell? And how many of them are there? Or did the hapless reporter, Richard Lord, mean to say:

Measured in litres of pure alcohol consumed by its citizens in a given year, Trinidad and Tobago ranks 98th globally, Alicia Hospedales, Minister of State in the Social Development Ministry, said during Wednesday’s debate…


She said that information was provided by the World health Organisation (WHO).

Did she, Richard Lord? Did she really mean that someone from the WHO handed her a report on the matter? Perhaps. Rather more likely, Ms Hospedales or one of her staff – unlike say, Richard Lord – did a cursory Google search and happened on this handy Wikipedia-provided, WHO-sourced list of countries ranked by alcohol consumption.


Hospedales said the Government’s decision to increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco products was a good one as it is intended to act as a deterrent to users of those products. Responding to claims from Opposition MPs Ramesh Maharaj, Dr Roodal Moonilal and Chandresh Sharma that the initiative was not likely to succeed, Hospedales said she begged to differ. She said the measure would be successful.

SIGH. There is no evidence in this story of either fact checking or even the most cursory editing, so I shall provide some:

Hospedales said the Government’s decision to increases taxes on alcohol and on tobacco based products as part of its 2010 budget proposals was intended to act as a deterrent to users of those products. Higher taxes tend to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices,  which may lead to reduced demand for the more expensive goods.

Hospedales disagreed with Opposition MPs Ramesh Maharaj, Dr Roodal Moonilal and Chandresh Sharma, who claimed the initiative was not likely to succeed.

And again:

The minister said T&T had been ranked among the countries with the highest number of Alcoholics Anonymous groups per capita in the world.

She said from statistics it seemed that citizens of this country were drinking more alcohol than water.

Gobsmackingly awful, but *thinking constructive thoughts*:

The minister said T&T also ranked (is this true? And if so, where? would have to ACTUALLY DO SOME REPORTING) among those countries with the highest number of Alcoholics Anonymous groups per capita.

On that point, there’s only one study floating around on the interwebs as regards “AA groups per capita” – it dates back to 1991 and posits, among other things:

the highest ratio of A.A. groups in 1991 was in Iceland (784 groups/million people), which has among the lowest levels of alcohol consumption in Europe, while the lowest A.A. group ratio in 1991 was in Portugal (.6 groups/million people), which has among the highest levels of consumption.

Which is interesting, given what Hospedales apparently said next (according to Richard Lord, anyway):

She added that it was a strong indicator that alcohol use and abuse “was a major problem in T&T.”

The study noted above implies exactly the opposite. Ah well.

As for this:

She said from statistics it seemed that citizens of this country were drinking more alcohol than water

I demand to see those statistics, unless she was making a glib generalisation. In which case, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THE REPORTER MAKE THAT CLEAR? Oh, right. Because it makes a sexy headline. *dies*

And so it ends:

Hospedales said the use of alcohol had caused a myriad of problems for individuals, families and the society as a whole. She quoted statistics which showed that in T&T “66 per cent of highway deaths was due to alcohol use, 63 per cent of fire deaths, 60 per cent of motor cycle deaths, 50 per cent pedestrian accidents, 50 per cent of drownings have all been due to alcohol consumption.”

And I edit, because someone should have:

Hospedales said alcohol had caused myriad problems for individuals, families and the society as a whole. She cited statistics [FROM? BECAUSE THIS IS QUITE CONTENTIOUS] which suggest that in T&T, 66 per cent of highway deaths were due to alcohol use. According to Hospedales, 63 per cent of fire deaths, 60 per cent of motor cycle deaths, 50 per cent of pedestrian accidents and 50 per cent of drownings have all been due to alcohol consumption.

For shame.

This is not the time to not know what you’re talking about

Several months ago, I bemoaned T&T’s “apparent lack of reporters who actually understand business, finance, law”.

The absence of sufficiently qualified finance and business reporters from the halls of T&T’s newsrooms is even more galling now, as the global financial crisis deepens.

And make no mistake, it is a crisis – one that few people in the Caribbean seem to have heard of, and even fewer to understand.

A recent post over at Media Watch provides a compelling example of this disconnect. In it, the author of the blog – “Martine” – is taken to task by a reader over her description of the recent declines in the US stock market as a “crash”.

Good. Because while American equity markets have gyrated wildly in recent weeks, and have fallen quite preciptiously from their historic highs, they have not crashed.

But Martine makes two additional errors in that post.

First, she refers to her recent posts on the “US stock market crisis.”

There is no US stock market crisis. There is a global financial crisis – every equity market in the world has been hurt by the fall-out from what started as a meltdown in the US housing market. And the problems are not confined to equities (stocks) – credit (debt) markets have also been seriously affected.

Second, and more serious still, is this statement:

We hope Curtis Rampersad of the Express will take to heart your point as well, since he also referred to the issue as a crash in his story on the AIG bailout in the Wednesday edition.

“There will be no immediate fallout but the crash in the US financial system and a global recession may inevitably affect investors and consumers in Trinidad and Tobago, a financial expert has suggested.”

Rarely do I defend Express reporters, but Mr Rampersad did no such thing.

Rather, Martine is wrongly conflating two entirely separate issues – events that may be reasonably be described as having caused a “crash in the US financial system” and a panic in the US stock market, which is only a small part of the whole.

Mr Rampersad’s article as a whole does a decent job of summarizing a complex topic, and I will comment on it here (my comments are in brackets):

There will be no immediate fallout but the crash in the US financial system and a global recession may inevitably affect investors and consumers in Trinidad and Tobago, a financial expert has suggested.

(May inevitably? Grammatical quibbles aside, it is safe to say that investors and consumers in Trinidad and Tobago will be affected)

In addition, there are new concerns from international companies operating here who may be worried about the effects of the largest financial meltdown in the United States in almost a century.


Republic Bank’s senior economist Dr Ronald Ramkissoon said yesterday that the turmoil in the US markets at the weekend arose because people were encouraged to save and invest in a range of products in different countries and while the returns were great, it also meant that risks were higher.

(Not exactly, but a decent effort. The recent turmoil in the US markets – and again, credit as well as equity, to say nothing of commodities and currencies – reflects a collapse in investor confidence in the strength and viability of institutions that are heavily exposed to risky financial instruments, etc.)

The fates of major financial institutions Lehman Bros and Merrill Lynch redrew Wall Street’s financial landscape as the former has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the latter was forced to sell to Bank of America.

(Very good, but some context would be helpful. What do Lehman Brothers and Merill Lynch do? Why did the latter agree in principle to merge with Bank of America?)

They were brought down by billions of US dollars in losses arising out of risky real estate and mortgage transactions.

(Well done.)

He said there could also be concerns from energy companies operating here about insurance coverage issues following the meltdown in the US.

(Worst sentence in the piece. Unclear. Should have either been better explained or edited out completely.)

Monday’s New York trading also saw the American International Group, the world’s largest insurer, scrambling to raise capital to stay afloat.9

(Good, but context.Why did it need capital? What happened to its billions of dollars in assets? Also no mention that AIG is the parent company of Algico)

Ramkissoon said during a telephone interview yesterday that this was not the first time large institutions failed in the world.

(True, but not since the Great Depression in the US have so many failed so swiftly, and back in 1929 the world was neither so complex nor so interconnected)

At times like this, he said it was useful to take a long-term view as it would not last forever. He noted that falling stock prices could actually benefit investors once the market had bottomed out.

(Statements like this piss me off. Why is it useful? How could investors benefit? When will the market ‘bottom’? What about the interim?)

With regard to the current financial meltdown, Ramkissoon said: “I see this as a correction phase and when you take the long view, there comes a time when you have to roll with the punches.”

(If by rolling with the punches he means, “be spectacularly bailed out by the US government”, sure. The man is clearly a Keynesian – in the long run, we are all dead and what not)

Local investors and depositors at local commercial banks should not be worried “right now” as their investments were safe because financial institutions here did not engage in some of the risky ventures Wall Street firms executed.

(Tricky. How does he know that? And take RBTT – recently bought out by Canada’s RBC – how does you know that RBC has not engaged in risky ventures? There’s no evidence to back up this statemen, and therefore no way to judge its veracity)

He said people’s money was safe but cautioned that the global economic situation would affect locals through recessionary problems.

(Again, really? What about people who have invested in the stock market, which is always a risk? What about people who have invested in funds linked to the performance of overseas stock markets? What, exactly, are “recessionary problems”?)

The fall in prices for commodities like crude oil, the rise in global food prices, plus the negative effects on travel and tourism could affect countries like T&T, he added.

American Chamber president Eugene Tiah was also concerned yesterday about the financial troubles in the US.

“Clearly now there is a complexity in terms of investments. Companies and countries invest in complex ways and one area of concern may be how they are linked” to companies in the US, he said in a telephone interview from his Phoenix Park Gas Processors office at Pt Lisas.

(Now that’s a good quote)

These subjects are not easy to write about, by any means. But they are far too important to get wrong.

Let the layoffs begin

The global financial system and the world economy are facing unprecedented challenges, but you wouldn’t know that if you only read Trinidad’s so-called “newspapers.”

There has been an almost complete lack of coverage of the meltdown that started in the US housing market, other than occasional Pollyanna-esque comments from government and the Central Bank that everything is just fine.

This occasional series at The Liming House – The Credit Crisis and the Caribbean – will provide a different perspective, and an analysis of the potential effects of this economic and financial crisis on Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean.

It will also engage in bad-tempered criticism of business and economic reporting from the region.

The Guardian’s front page story headilne on Saturday August 30th: “HCL FIRES 100”

The accompanying story, on page A5, bore the headline: “HCL retrenches 100”

Here’s the story, with my comments in brackets:

Inflation and a slow down in the real estate market are said to be the cause of Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Ltd having retrenched at least 100 workers between Wednesday and yesterday. (Are said…by whom? Loathe the lack of sourcing. Did one person say so? What were this person’s credentials, if any? Does he/she work at HCL (i.e a person familiar with the company)? Or is this the conclusion of the reporter, Sandra Chouthi?)

Commenting on the reports, Lisa Ghany, communications manager at HCL, said workers were not fired, but retrenched.

(At least there’s a comment from the company. But what an appalling lack of context. And what reports? So did this story appear elsewhere? And what’s the difference between retrenched and fired? From a company perspective, and in business -speak, a retrenchment is a reduction in the workforce in order to ensure the continued financial viability of said company. In other words, you retrench workers when it no longer makes financial sense to retain their services. All is not well at HCL. And where are the details on inflation? What’s the rate in Trinidad at the moment? Why would rising inflation hurt HCL? Total lack of actual reporting.)

She said more than 100 temporary, casual and permanent workers were retrenched, not 300, and that the “exercises are continuing.”

(From whence comes this 300 reference? Sparta? Context and background, please.)

She said HCL’s operations were being restructured in light of inflation and a slow down in the real estate market.

(Aha, so here’s the source of the boldfaced assertion in the lead of the story, a better version of which would have read: “Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Limited cut at least 100 jobs this week due to cost pressures from inflation and a slowdown in the real estate market, a company spokesman said.”)

Ghany said the retrenchment was part of a restructuring exercise as HCL had increased its staff from 500 to 2,500 in five years.

(What a sodding non-sequitur. Questions that should have been answered, or even asked: why does HCL need to restructure? Why had it quintupled its staff over five years? Come on.)

The HCL group has 22 companies.

(This sentence gets its own paragraph. Inexplicably.)

“We have different companies throughout the group that needed to be restructured to operate more efficiently,” Ghany said.

(And the Guardian provides not a jot of additional detail. Analysis? Forget it. I might as well be reading a press release.)

The retrenchment comes one week after Michael Fifi officially retired as chief executive officer of HCL. (Are the two events related?)

Its big project One Woodbrook Place is overbudget and behind schedule.

(What is One Woodbrook Place, for those readers who might not know? Where is it located? What is it? Condos? Office space? Was it a speculative build? (i.e. built on the hope that it would be rented out, but without any guarantee of such?))

Reports reaching the Guardian stated that HCL “fired” over 300 workers between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, with a total of 600 expecting to be sent home.

(Again with the lack of sourcing. Reports from whom? Why did you put “fired” in quotes? Is that what your source(s) said? Or are you obliquely acknowledging that “retrenched” is a more accurate description?)

Neither chief executive officer Hayden Ameerali nor chief operating officer Richard Le Blanc was available yesterday for comment.

(How many times did you try to reach them?)

One source said HCL was “significantly downsizing” with close to 1,000 workers due to be retrenched. Asked if the retrenchment exercise was linked with billion-dollar OWP, which is now 18 months behind schedule, the source said, “The whole thing has to do with One Woodbrook Place. It can make or break HCL.”

(This story is badly organised. And has no analysis in it whatsoever. How could OWP “make or break” HCL? Reputation? Financial stability? Did they bet the house on it?)

The source criticised the “inhumane manner” in which workers were informed of the retrenchment, some of whom have between five and ten years of service with HCL.

The source said workers were individually met with at HCL’s Organisational Centre, Orange Grove, and told they were “going home today.”

The cost of building OWP went from $800 million to $1.2 billion. The original completion date was December 2007.

(The lack of cohesion in this story reeks of poor editing. And alright, finally some numbers. But no indication of projected revenues from the project, so it’s left to the reader to surmise that “slow real estate market” + over-budget project = big headache. Sigh.)

On July 31, HCL announced that Fifi was retiring following a July 16 board meeting. Fifi officially left HCL’s helm of HCL on August 22, the same day he turned 66.

(What’s the retirement age in Trinidad again?)