David Leander was on remand in prison accused of the murder of Sash Sawh, at the time a Minister of Government. He was admitted to prison during last week in a state of collapse. Immediately, accusations of him being poisoned in prison, with the collusion of the authorities, were made by his relatives. The private media not merely reported the event but highlighted the accusation of poisoning. Driven by these reports, Leander’s ongoing health condition became a matter of intense speculation by the media and others, and the cause of his illness by poisoning was spoken about as an established certainty by certain politicians. From the first day of his collapse the media, or some sections of it, was aware that Leander’s condition was possibly due to a diabetic crisis. Yet we heard nothing about this possibility until after Leander had died. All we heard was speculation about poisoning.
The assassination of Sash Sawh and his siblings was an event of tragic proportions, carried out with brutal efficiency. It moved the nation to grief for those who died and relief for his wife, Sattie, and children who were spared by fortuitous circumstances. We avidly scanned the news handed out to us by the media for tidbits of information in the hope that we will read that the murderous villains had been captured. The wait was a long and disappointing one as we heard of the killing of one after the other of the suspects in shootouts with the police. We breathed a sigh of relief when David Leander called ‘Biscuit’ was charged in the expectation that, if found guilty, at least one of them would face the lawful consequences of that monstrous cruelty.
Fate has once again disappointed us. David Leander called ‘Biscuit’ collapsed in a diabetic coma and was rushed to hospital. Part of one of his feet had already become gangrenous. He died after his kidneys gave out. We will now never know the full story behind the assassination of Sash Sawh and his siblings if it turned out that Leander had been guilty.
But the public which relies on the media for information would have thought, and expected, that the media would deploy its normal investigative capacity in trying to discern the truth about Leander’s illness. Not so. We were fed with a daily dose of accusations by relatives who told the story about an ‘Indian’ woman taking in cane juice for Leander who drank it and collapsed. (There was no follow up by the media of the story about the ‘Indian’ woman; so the obvious prejudicial effect of this has remained hanging as a cloud over the event). We cannot say whether the relatives learnt about the reason for Leander’s collapse. We certainly know that at a certain point the accusations ceased. We would have expected that the doctor/s treating Leander would have told the relatives of the cause of his illness. Could this be a reason for the end of the accusations? We do not know. But if they were told, their silence allowed the allegations of poisoning to persist.
We do not know if the media went beyond the relatives. If they did not then they were egregiously negligent and did not fulfill their obligations to the public. In any event, how is it that in the face of a clear diagnosis of Leander’s condition, which must have been made within hours of his admission, the media did not pick it up? Sure there are questions of confidentiality in the doctor/patient relationship. But this also applies in the United States where it is rigorously enforced. This did not stop the US media from learning almost immediately upon the death of Michael Jackson all the details of his collapse but also that he was likely to have died as a consequence of an overdose of prescription drugs.
Leander was in the custody of the prison authorities. The accusations directly concerned them. Yet nothing came forth from them nor was there any indication from the media that they spoke to the prison authorities. It is clear that the authorities bear a great deal of responsibility for the speculation of poisoning to gain a foothold so strong that it may never be dislodged.
But this opinion does not relate merely to the authorities. It relates mainly to the press. There were dozens of officials and staff at the hospital and in the state bureaucracy who knew or ought to have known or could have found out what was the diagnosis of Leander. And, whatever the negligent conduct of the authorities in failing to quell the speculation, the media has an overriding obligation to bring the truth to the public. The public interest was not served. The media failed in its duty on this occasion.