World Indian Network (WIN) Communications yesterday fired freelance reporter Darryl Heeralal over statements he made on Facebook regarding protest action in Sea Lots, Port of Spain, which were viewed as being racist.
After Heeralal was fired, the station's general manager, Sunil Ramdeen, called on journalists to reconsider their use of social media in their capacities as private citizens.
Heeralal, who was a freelance reporter with WIN TV on Sunday posted as his Facebook 'status' a remark that used a derogatory term for people of African origin and also incited violence against such people, as he criticised the Sea Lots community that has for the past two days staged protests and blocked the westbound lane of the Beetham Highway.
Many members of the community are outraged over the deaths Sunday of Hady Paul, 28, and her daughters, Akasha, eight and Shakira, seven, who were killed when a car, driven by an off-duty policeman, crashed into them while they were on the pavement.
Heeralal's statement quickly went 'viral' and a swell of disagreement ensued, including a war of words between political groups on the forum.
Individuals and activist groups demanded that Heeralal be disciplined and he was fired yesterday.
Heeralal issued an apology via the same forum later in the afternoon, saying:
"My statements can only be described as racist, insensitive, unfortunate, uncaring and crass. And for it I apologise, unreservedly, firstly to the people of Sea Lots, Beetham Gardens, Laventille, Maloney and also too all those who I offended by my racist and inappropriate statements."
In a telephone interview, Ramdeen said the station was "saddened" by Heeralal's actions and the event demonstrated the need for a review of the use of social media by workers in a field such as journalism.
"This is a serious issue," Ramdeen said.
"We (journalists) don't have the luxury of disassociating ourselves from ourselves as journalists. To make a statement on social or any media, you have to know what the repercussions will be."
Ramdeen said social fora such as Facebook must be regarded as "the animal it has become" and speaking arbitrarily on such soundboards must be approached with caution.
In a statement earlier, Ramdeen said the company was shocked by Heeralal's statements, which it viewed as "a serious lack of judgment".
Ramdeen described the media's responsibility as a sacred one, moreso in an ethnically diverse country like Trinidad and Tobago.
"We believe in equality of representation by the media for all our citizens, wherever they may be, from Cedros to the Beetham, and we reaffirm ourself to those beliefs," Ramdeen stated.
"It is an affront to every employee in this company, as it is to the country as a whole, to make statements that seek to divide or condemn along lines of race. Even worse in a way that seems to incite violence against any particular race."
In his apology, Heeralal also apologised to his friends and relatives of African heritage and said his comments were meant to draw attention to "crime, urban poverty and fear in the society".
"My statements were particularly unfortunate especially coming in the midst of the sorrow, hurt and pain caused by the accident and the plight of the people of Sea Lots," Heeralal said. "I take full responsibility and accept the full consequences of my actions and again apologise to all those who have been impacted by my lack of judgment and humanity."
Commenting on Heeralal's post, Express reporter Renuka Singh wrote on Facebook on Sunday: Darryl Heeralal isn't known for diplomacy, but in this case I grudgingly agree..madness.
Singh yesterday said in hindsight she should have been more specific in her statement as she would never condone racism and or any call for violence against any person or group of persons. She said she was sorry, adding that she was surprised that the "racist" label was applied to her.
"I should have been more specific in my comment about what I was agreeing to. My agreement was solely on the fact that, as he had said, hardworking, law abiding Africans and Indians would continue to be held ransom by rioters who will now be placated and appeased by politicians.
"While I can understand why my name and my comments are being highlighted in this situation, I can only promise to be more vigilant and responsible in my public comments in the future," she said.
The Express position regarding the professional conduct of its journalists is clearly stated in the OCM (One Caribbean Media - parent company of the Express and TV6) Statement of Editorial Principles and Operational guidelines:
"Whether on or off the job, OCM journalists are required to maintain the standards of behaviour associated with responsible journalism including fairness and respect for all, including themselves."
The management of the Express is currently addressing the issue of Singh's Facebook post.