Senior Counsel Martin Daly has described Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s attack on the media as very troubling, adding his tone at Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing was also “very authoritarian.”
“Regardless of the merits of what he is saying, he is very authoritarian in tone and from time to time this Government takes on a very authoritarian tone and that is very troubling,” Daly said yesterday, a day after Rowley attacked the media over its coverage of Venezuela Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez’s visit to T&T, saying it was not independent and was protecting the interest of its owners.
Daly said when someone in the Prime Minister’s seat speaks in such a tone, it is often to intimidate “some commentators and journalists”.
When pressed about the merits in Rowley’s speech, Daly said there were none in his speech.
“With regards to the basis to which he has attacked the media, the foundation is really very shaky,” he said.
“This Government’s credibility over the Vice-President (Rodriguez) visit was damaged because they would not come out and make the kind of full statement like what (Minister of Foreign Affairs Dennis) Moses made in Parliament and like what the Prime Minister said on Thursday.”
Rodriguez visited the country on March 27 and it was only on Tuesday, two months later, that Foreign Affairs Minister Moses broke his silence on the matter, saying Government had stood by the decision taken before the United Nations and at Caricom level to recognise Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Noting the time Government took to relay its stance to the public, Daly said, “Once you leave that kind of information and accountability gap, you must expect that your credibility will be damaged.”
Daly added that with such a controversial matter, regardless of who raised it the Government had a responsibility to respond. He commended the media on being responsible with its reporting on the entire matter by seeking out expert international relations experts and getting expert opinion on it.
“After all, whatever you think about this issue, the United States was saying to us you doing something that we don’t like it. You think people hear a super-power say you doing something wrong, you must expect the public to wonder what is wrong. I am not saying that there was anything wrong, I am saying what was being reported,” he said.
“It appeared that there was a problem and the public became anxious.”
Daly said the group of local reporters was diverse and the Prime Minister had suggested this mixed group all had a single agenda.
“That this diverse group has become some sort of collective with only one way of thinking is very far-fetched,” he said.
Retired public service head Reginald Dumas meanwhile said while he did not listen to Rowley’s speech, he saw the response from the media defending itself and spoke to people about it. He said following this, he concluded Rowley needs to provide examples and evidence to support his accusation that the media is being influenced by its conglomerate owners.
“He made a charge and then said he will talk about it in the fullness of time, what am I to say? I can’t say that the charge or the details of the charge are correct or incorrect because he made none,” Dumas said.
“It would be helpful if the Prime Minister were to indicate to the public of T&T the charges in detail that he is concerned about.
“If people are so concerned about the bottom line that they will make compromises with the facts and truth and so on and get things deliberately wrong, then that is a serious matter.”
He said if Rowley felt that way, he needed to clearly indicate the source of his worry.
“What precisely is bothering him and he has to give some examples. At the moment, I am up in the air, I don’t know what he means,” Dumas said.
For the past two weeks, the media has been focused on getting details of the meeting between Rowley and Rodriguez, which has led to a possible fallout between T&T and the United States regarding a breach of the Rio Treaty, and the sale of fuel from the Paria Fuel Trading Company to a company which may have ended up in Venezuela.
But Dumas advised, “You (media) need to continue to press him to give details. The issue of the Venezuelan VP has been going on for weeks and not only in terms of editorials, you have been calling into radio stations and writing the media saying we don’t really believe what is being said.
“That goes beyond the media, it is not the media houses saying these things, it’s the people.”
Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Gabriel Faria yesterday said the business owners planned to meet to discuss what the Prime Minister said.
“I am unsure what the Prime Minister was referring to,” Faria said.