Tag 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.

The T&T Guardian needs more than a cosmetic change

For the sake of my blood pressure, I try not to read the local newspapers. This is difficult, given my obsession with news and media and my day job as a reporter, and more often than not I succumb.

And each time I pick up a copy of the Trinidad Express, or the Guardian, or the Newsday, I am disappointed, embarrassed, infuriated by the spelling and grammar mistakes, the obvious lack of editing, the flagrant plagiarism and copyright infringement, the errors and the inaccuracies.

Which brings me to the Guardian’s redesign. Aesthetically, the new design is a significant step up from the monochromatic drabness of the paper’s previous incarnation. But the changes are all superficial – in terms of content, it’s business as usual.

Take this gem from the editorial on Tuesday June 10 hyping the redesign:

“…readers will notice the introduction of new typography (called fonts) which should make the reading experience more enjoyable.”

New typography called fonts eh? You couldn’t make it up. But this is a minor quibble, compared with the delicious irony of an error in a story printed just above a blurb outlining the paper’s corrections policy on page A3.

(And now that I know the Guardian does have a policy of correcting “significant errors as soon as possible”, I intend to keep them informed of the many mistakes that litter their pages. I will report back on how that goes, so watch this space.)

The Media Watch blog also picked up on the error, noting:

On page A3 there’s an interesting story about a young man who appeared in court charged with turning off a computer in the Register General Department.

And would you believe directly below that story is a section called Getting It Right, which says “It is the Guardian’s policy to correct significant errors as soon as possible.”

Directly below.

You might say that was not a significant error since the writer of the story really just meant to say Registrar General’s Department…

There were some errors of transposition – is the name of gentleman referred to in the story “Man left to die on hospital bed” (story by Radhica Sookraj, photo by Rishi Ragoonath) Anthony Atlo or Anthony Alto?

And quite a lot of editorialising. Michelle Loubon’s report on a promoter “fuming” over the $200,000 he is being asked to pay to rent the Jean Pierre Complex for a Learie Joseph concert provides one example of this widespread practice: “[Glasgow] flatly refused to pay the exorbitant price.” (emphasis mine)

You may think $200,000 is exorbinant, Ms Loubon, but no one asked for your opinion. This is a news story, not an editorial.

And of course, my favourite bug bear, an absolute outbreak of pieces without bylines. Media Watch highlighed two of the more pernicious examples:

On page B34 there’s a story on sleep titled ‘How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?’. We thought it looked familiar, but there was no byline in the Guardian so we searched the net and found it – the same story we read last week at Time.com.

The story on page C16 on hearing loss also looked familiar. Ah yes. We read it on the BBC website on Monday. They copied down to the picture of the ear.

Come on editor, where is the attribution? Why can’t you stick in somewhere in the story where it was copied wholesale from? This is not the first time you’ve done this and it’s not a habit you should be happily repeating. What about copyright issues?

None of the financial market reports had bylines either, while the oil report on A11 was lifted – without attribution, of course – from a Reuters story. Separately, in the salmon-coloured Business Guardian, the Commentary on page 26 – “Apple to unveil faster IPhone [sic]” showed either a complete lack of news judgement, or a studied laziness on behalf of the editors.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Guardian, Apple unveiled a faster iPhone on Monday. This Bloomberg story, to which you devoted a whole page and an ad for West Indies Stockbrokers, is four days old. Four days. Please, get out from under that rock and sort your paper out.

Moving on.

Then there’s the blurb in the classifieds section, which blithely states: “you can place your ad by phone any pay by credit card.”

I presume they meant “and pay”, but you just never know.

And someone tell Bobie-Lee Dixon that it is possible to write an interview-based feature without fawning over one’s subject (in this case, Diane “Radical Designs” Hunt). And that “fashionist” is not a word.

But I digress. Here’s Dixon on Hunt:

Even in her “dress down mode” Hunt seems well colour coordinated with a look that just says, “hey I know my fashion,” and indeed she does.

With a winning smile across her face Hunt said her dream and aspiration is to make a serious contribution to fashion in helping to organise the industry and to make it more viable

And what is with the aversion to “said”? It’s a good word. A simple word. And it avoids having to write things like this:

Hunt also gave a breakdown of the different types of fashions that exists. “People only think of fashion as the designer,” she articulated.

I will not, for the sake of my aforementioned bloodpressure, comment on the sheer wrong-ness of “different types of fashions that exists.”