Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago

The Media Association of T&T (MATT) yesterday chided Communications Minister Symon De Nobriga for saying that he was joking about giving State media preferential access over mainstream media.

In a media release yesterday MATT said it rejected De Nobriga’s decision and called on him to reverse it “immediately”.

“MATT rejects outright the Communications Minister’s decision to allow access to only State and Government media to the repatriation of Venezuelans last Saturday. If this is policy, we call on him to reverse it immediately,” MATT said.

“Journalists are witnesses on behalf of the public. We are the eyes and ears of the public where they cannot be. The free press cannot perform its constitutional role if it is to be made reliant on Government single-source information. The minister’s strategy limits the number of witnesses to one approved witness,” MATT said.

The association said since last year it has observed the Government’s communication strategies, decisions and approaches and found that it has been “limiting the work of independent journalists i.e. journalists not employed by the State”.

“The Ministry of Communications and the communication departments of several key ministries, including the Office of the Prime Minister, have been demonstrating a dangerous level of arbitrariness and naivete in restricting journalists’ access to information, news conferences and decision-makers,” the group said.

MATT said that in court submissions last year, the Ministry of Communications itself described its criteria for access to Ministry of Health Virtual News Conferences as “ad hoc” and that had MATT made “easy recommendations” for improvements in written correspondence to the Communications Minister in April 2020. “Our correspondence is yet to be acknowledged,” MATT said.

In that correspondence, MATT said it “red-flagged the ineffectiveness of a single news conference to address wide-ranging issues of Government”. MATT said the process places arbitrary limits on questions.

“We have since received a multitude of reports from news media journalists about the unresponsiveness of communications staff and difficulties accessing ministers and officials who carry key responsibilities in these pandemic times,” it said.

“MATT counsels journalists and media houses to exercise all journalistic caution when using pre-packaged material and to be diligent in advising the public when they so do. We urge the Government to avoid using COVID-19 restrictions and protocols to deny access to independent journalists and instead open up the currently choked information flow,” the group said.

Meanwhile, one MATT executive apparently disagreed with its response and yesterday executive member Lasana Liburd tendered his resignation.

In a post, Liburd said that he felt “out of sync with the current executive” and felt it best that he step aside.