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Shock Over Former Minister's Death – and How Trinidad & Tobago's Media Reported It

National Security Minister Martin Joseph (left) receives military vests from US Ambassador Roy Austin (right) while Ag. Commissioner of Police Glen Roach looks on. 2007 Photo by Trinidad-News.com, used under a  CC BY 2.0 license.

National Security Minister Martin Joseph (left) receives military vests from US Ambassador Roy Austin (right) while Ag. Commissioner of Police Glen Roach looks on. 2007 Photo by Trinidad-News.com, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

In the usually idyllic bathing spot of Grange Bay on Tobago's north-west coast yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago's former National Security Minister Martin Joseph drowned while going for a morning swim. Over the weekend, there were official rough seas alerts, asking citizens to stay away from the beaches, as waves were unusually high and waters choppy. While the autopsy has confirmed the cause of death, officials have not determined what exactly caused Joseph to drown. This morning, the Meteorological Office issued another rough seas bulletin.

Upon hearing the news of Joseph's disappearance yesterday, his political colleagues were hoping for the best:

Sadly, news of his death was soon confirmed on Twitter:

Netizens expressed their shock and sympathy:

Soon, however, some people were expressing a different kind of shock — this time, over the manner in which they felt the local mainstream media sensationalised the story.

C News found itself in hot water after asking in a poll whether people felt that Joseph was misunderstood during his tenure as National Security Minister. One commenter, Jonathan Fournillier, responded:

That was a very stupid question that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Very insensitive C news

Jewel Joseph agreed:

The media is very insensitive while the country lost an ex minister and someone lost their husband and a father they trying to politicize this. Shame on u

Another Facebook user, Pb Balisier, compared the question to the tactics of Ian Alleyne, host of a controversial television show about crime in Trinidad and Tobago, who has often crossed the line of ethics in broadcasting:

I think we are losing respect for those who have passed on in this country, from Ian Alleyne broadcasting people bodies on TV to other shows and papers plastering out departed loved ones in their front pages and finally stupid questions like these. Regardless of your or standing in society or your political affiliations you should be shown some sort of respect after all that's what separates us from the uncivilised souls in today's society.

Another television station experienced the backlash after its evening news broadcast, in which it asked, “Do you think Martin Joseph was a better National Security Minister?” The station's Facebook page was flooded with comments. De Bush Tea took issue with the grammatical phrasing of the question:

better than what and or who?? who/what I comparing him to / with ? that question missing something .. maybe it should have been ‘Do you think he was a GOOD MoNS’

Most other Facebook users, however, were appalled at the question's timing and content. Jason Lewis thought that “none of the TV stations should have shown images of the dead covered body on the beach” as he found it “disrespectful”, and Mendoza SD asked:

Really us [sic] this what this media outlet has to ask? Can his family be allowed to grieve ?

The satirical blog Wired 868 really let TV6 News have it, saying that the station went “full corbeaux on late Security Minister” – a reference to the local term for vultures. The station reportedly showed Joseph's body as it lay on the beach, as well as footage of him being covered up. They broadcast these two images over and over — some say as many as three or four times — throughout the course of the televised report:

A 65-year-old man tragically drowned in Tobago this morning. Mr Live Wire knows what you’re thinking: What did his corpse look like and was he any good at his day job?

You weren’t thinking that at all? Well, TV6 surely was.

And so a married father of four who held three Ministerial portfolios and had enough university degrees to make Suruj Rambachan drool was reduced to a looped video of a motionless body in a red trunks—thankfully, it was not yellow—and childishly superficial narrated analysis of his time as National Security Minister.

The post continued:

At a time when Martin Joseph’s family and loved ones are grieving his loss and his eight-year-old daughter is getting a heartbreaking lesson in mortality, TV6’s viewer question was: “Do you think Martin Joseph was a better National Security Minister?”

Four years and four National Security Ministers have passed since Joseph last held that post. Is now really the time for his job appraisal TV6?

The blogger, “Mr. Live Wire”, was critical of the rapidly deteriorating standards of the local media:

In case you are wondering, 88 percent of voters declared that Joseph was indeed a better National Security Minister. But then maybe they thought TV6 Head of News Dominic Kalipersad intended to somehow resurrect Joseph and stick him back in the hot seat.

Is there any other scenario where their question might have made sense?

We can handle stupid questions though. The broadcasting of dead bodies during dinner is something else entirely.

Does the media leave anything for the imagination anymore? […]
TMI, TV6. Anymore of this and the company’s logo might as well be a corbeaux.

More references to Ian Alleyne rounded off the discussion about TV6's handling of the story, strongly insinuating that the coverage was geared towards getting ratings as opposed to responsible journalism:

No matter how many dead bodies you show, TV6. Ian Alleyne ent coming back.

Wired 868 reader Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight ended on a hopeful note:

Who among us wants a life, (any life for that matter) so vibrantly lived, given to bursts of charm, anger, real emotion..to be seen by anyone glancing to look, lying pitifully alone on a beach? […] This excellent write must be discussed & digested, & yes, we should vomit […] up all the disgusting display of human less ness…no more! We will not be Ian Alleyne ‘wanna sees’ this year, 2015. We will be dignified & respectful or at least, we should die trying.

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