I worked with Fazeer Mohammed and his wife at the Guardian when they both were there in the early to mid-nineties. I can’t say we were great friends but we had the casual, friendly interaction that characterises many office relationships; I knew they were orthodox Muslim but it never impaired their functioning, she in payroll and he in journalism. I’ve since been interviewed by him twice on CNMG’s talk show First Up, the most recent time being just a few weeks ago, with Roslyn Carrington, to publicise the Allen Prize and its inaugural seminar. He is a bright, on-point journalist with an aggressive but respectful interview style and to me it was a pleasure to be the subject of his questioning. But then again, I’m not a government minister.
Fazeer’s “downsizing” from that job at CNMG, described, he said, as a “cost cutting” measure, has left many media workers and observers keenly uncomfortable. MATT issued a press release in protest of the decision not only to fire Fazeer after a controversial interview with a government minister, but to replace him with Andy Johnson, erstwhile journalist and now the head of the Government Information Service.
GIS employees routinely go back and forth between privately owned media and the GIS, but I don’t know a single one who confuses the two. GIS is the GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICE. The people who work there may be reporters, editors and cameramen, but their responsibilities are very different from those of other media workers; they are there to report the business of the government, from the angle the government dictates. (Does it need to be said that privately owned media don’t have the same goal?) Andy Johnson is an excellent talk show host, and was a brilliant journo when he wrote for the Guardian and the Express–but he’s now the head of the GIS and there’s no way he belongs on air in anything other than GIS programming. CNMG is state-owned but it has from time to time asserted its editorial independence; you can tell that Fazeer, at least, believed that spiel. In the transcript of the excerpt of the interview I read in the paper, he asks a hard question about Kamla’s unfortunate statement on disaster aid but never gets an answer; instead, he was accused in the interview of being anti-Kamla and (as an orthodox Muslim) opposed to women’s leadership.
If it is government policy to usurp the editorial autonomy of CNMG stations, and to make CNMG employees government mouthpieces like employees of the GIS, then there should be a clear statement iterating that. If not, CNMG staff should be left to do their jobs without fearing they will be downsized if they step on the wrong toes or imply anything but complete support for the government of the day.