Communication Minister Symon De Nobriga is now concerned that comments made in “jest and off the record” are being blown out of proportion.
De Nobriga was the subject of a media report on Monday which stated that he confirmed that State-owned Trinidad & Tobago Television (TTT) was given preferential access over mainstream media.
According to a media report on Monday, De Nobriga was at a repatriation exercise in which some 700 Venezuelan nationals were boarding a vessel to return home.
While representatives from TTT and the Information Division were allowed to board the vessel for coverage, two representatives of mainstream media were barred.
Despite the optics, De Nobriga denied yesterday that the Government was blocking traditional media while giving TTT extraordinary access.
“Yes, I am concerned that it is being blown out of proportion because the comments being attributed to me were made in jest and in response to an equally casually posed question from (reporter named). It was off camera and off the record,” he said.
De Nobriga has denied that the Government was seeking to ban traditional media and instead cited COVID-19 protocols as the reason for the limited media access.
However while two arms of the State media were allowed to board the vessel, other media had to cover the event from the street.
“There was no instruction to ban media. A situation arose where TTT and Information Division were in the process of covering the repatriation exercise. As has been the practice due to Health Protocols, it was the intention to disseminate the footage to media, upon request- that instruction was given to the Director of Government Communications,” he said.
“There was never any intention to put anyone at a disadvantage, or to bar any particular media house,” he said.
Political analyst and Constitutional expert Dr Hamid Ghany weighed in on the issue and questioned whether banning media was a Constitutional violation. To that, De Nobriga said that “freedom of the press is enshrined in our constitution, which I have taken a sworn oath to uphold”.
“For the sake of clarification, let me state categorically and for the record once again, there is no policy that provides or affords the state-owned media –– TTT or any arm of the Information Division –– preferred or exclusive access to events or activity,” he said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley received two brand new Cape Class Patrol Boats, the TTS Port of Spain and the TTS Scarborough) at Staubles Bay in Chaguaramas.
Reporters who attended that commissioning also said that TTT was allowed to accompany the Prime Minister on tour, they were relegated to the upper decks.
De Nobriga is denying that this was because of any Government policy.
“The Ministry gave no directions to that effect. I know media were on hand to conduct interviews on the jetty but to speak to anything else would be speculation,” he said.
Reporters did say that the direction came from the Coast Guard.
The accusation of political interference is not new. Back in 2011, under the former People’s Partnership government, former foreign affairs minister Dr Suruj Rambachan was forced to defend himself against similar concerns.
At the time TTT was still known as Caribbean News Media Group (CNMG) and journalists alleged that there was political interference in the reporting of news. Questions about the interference came after Rambachan and host of CNMG’s First Up morning show, Fazeer Mohammed clashed. Mohammed was let go not long after and while CNMG cited cost-cutting measures, staff believed it was because of the heated exchange between the Minister and the host.
Yesterday, Rambachan responded to texted questions on Government overreach into the media.
“The media was never as free as it was under the partnership. You are referring to an incident with Fazeer where I asked him a pointed question as to his position on women as leaders. I never fired nor instructed anyone to terminate anyone,” he said.
By 2015, then minister of communication Maxie Cuffie also had to defend against accusations from the Opposition about political interference at CNMG.
Cuffie, a former journalist, had denied all accusations.