Boy, you watch dat video?

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-19-23-28-pmAn 18-second video was posted virally to social media locally.

One poster claimed to be a colleague of two medical workers at the Port of Spain General Hospital who’d followed them into a bathroom and peeped with a recording device over the wall of a closed toilet stall as they engaged in what the video depicts. The rationale of the self-proclaimed Peeping Tom was to confirm his suspicions about his colleagues’ disappearances while on duty, which others were not taking seriously.

Removed or blocked by sites repeatedly, the video still circulated excitedly in private messages. It arrived in my mailbox. Filmed over the wall, two men were collaboratively initiating sex criminalised by section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act.

When the Health Minister spoke with media covering his opening remarks about the national HIV response at a regional meeting of government and NGO HIV programme leaders, the video was a key focus of their questions. Min. Deyalsingh was clear he did not accept that what was being purported about the video was fact. Nonetheless, he deemed it worthy of investigation, and committed to take whatever action was needed.

Pixellated images from the video, and the minister’s response, appeared on CNC3’s news broadcast that evening.

A Guardian story ran the next day, with a cover tag “Male medics caught in sex act.”

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-20-23-10-pmTV6 ran a newsstory on the investigation that evening, and an Express piece appeared the following day.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-19-25-01-pmMost Facebook comments I read about the video had three thrusts:

Most, unsurprisingly, condemned the “nasty” sexuality, and some the men as foreigners (CNC3, too, called attention to their light-skinnedness) for bringing it here.

Some questioned whether sex between workers, even on the job, is newsworthy, or highlighted more pressing issues requiring Min. Deyalsingh’s attention.

Sceptics noted toilet paper present in the bathroom proved it could not be POSGH; others asserted the video’s foreign origin and previous circulation.

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More fundamental questions occurred to me, like many in the LGBTI community:

  • Should news media ever legitimate, or broadcast, an admitted Peeping Tom’s ill-gotten images?
  • Even if the video does depict absentee POSGH workers, shouldn’t the heavier hand of institutional discipline fall on the worker who held so little regard for health system values of confidentiality that they stalked co-workers, secretly filmed them naked behind closed doors, and put it online. Isn’t that the offence worthy of public outrage, media scrutiny, health ministry and regional health authority investigation—even dismissal?

Indeed, why haven’t police brought charges for cyberbullying, under existing legislation? Aren’t the thirst and righteousness with which the video was circulated the reasons LGBTI advocates hailed the bipartisan Data Protection Act’s heightened protections against sharing information about sexual orientation and sexual lifewhich are already law?

The video was a clear sensation in the media, which gave it new life. CNC3’s story has 16,000 Youtube views. Section 13ing might be as illegal between opposite-sex as same-sex workers. But what was “newsy” wasn’t “medics”; it was their outing as “male”. That’s what seemed to so exercise their purported co-worker stalker; and to justify turning us all into Peeping Toms.

My response to the video was not nearly as level-headed as I sound here. The coverage gutpunched me back to my 1970s adolescence, when this was the only way media represented LGBTI people. When there were no images of themselves as normal people with futures, which LGBTI youth need desperately to stay alive, live their potential, and not join the brain drain. For my young colleagues, how the minister’s substantive remarks about HIV and policy were entangled in and smothered by questions about the lurid sex video was their gutpunch. Back to a not distant time when their pleasure and desire were forever yoked by the media to disease and death.

I’ve always thought Guardian’s embrace of me as a columnist pathfinding, so my editorial leaders got an earful, took some blows on the chin, defended others, but reinforced a corporate commitment at Guardian Media Ltd. to non-discrimination on all grounds.

Unconscious bias abounds, whether homophobic, gendered or otherwise—something even our judiciary acknowledges. Building awareness of its behavioural impacts, and opportunities for prevention can be the focus of training for editorial leaders and media teams as a whole. It is something all newsrooms should do; and where, hopefully, GML will lead, and even invite others.

As news media increasingly compete with social media for viewers, readers and to deliver the story, strengthening old-school journalism safeguards us from the heightening risk of authorising fake news and legitimating grudges and spite. We also can ensure voices of LGBTI communities are invited to be heard in all stories about them.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-21-45-04-pm

Finally, we can all also resist the temptation to peer. Seriously. Sometimes it’s actually a crime to. With video after video, I’ve found, the public knowing or seeing does zero good. Even the well-meaning expert commentators. A handful of authorities and watchdogs with the power and motivation to correct or heal are all who need to see.

As for seeing, wish me well with eye surgery today. I’ll share my health financing adventure next weeknext week.

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