Cox on OPM interview: No bullying, nothing unethical

Donna Cox -
Donna Cox -

THE COMMUNICATIONS Ministry has defended an interview between the Prime Minister and CNC3 news anchor Khamal Georges and arranged by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

The ministry was responding to a Newsday article on January 15 in which the Media Association of TT (MATT) president Sheila Rampersad described the arrangement as "odd" and the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) president Kiran Maharaj described the use of the telecommunications concession by governments, specifically sections D31 and D32, as ongoing and unconstitutional.

The taped interview, which the Opposition has described as a "work of fiction," was aired Sunday evening on CNC3 and TTT but TV6 declined to air it citing commercial obligations.

The ministry in a release on Thursday said it wished to address the suggestion that the Government is acting unconstitutionally when it utilises the concession document to share information on Government policies and decisions. The ministry said the concession, which is signed by all providers of public broadcasting and telecommunications services, sets out the terms and conditions under which the Government can request airtime from broadcast stations.

"All free-to-air radio and TV stations agreed to the conditions set out under conditions D30 to 32 of their Concession. Section D 30 provides, inter alia: 'The concessionaire shall, on a free-of-charge basis up to a limit of 14 hours per calendar week…transmit any programme, announcement, information or other material which the Government may require to be transmitted as a matter of public interest…(and) such material shall, up to a limit of one hour per day, be transmitted without accompanying advertisement.”

Communications Minister Donna Cox said: “We are not unreasonable. For us, every request is the beginning of a negotiation. Often, stations inform us that they are unable to air Government programmes at the times we request, and so begins a discussion. We have always been able to reach some compromise.”

She said, for example, the Government gets one hour per week from one television station although the concession provides for up to 14 hours per calendar week.

"Moreso, it is incorrect that, 'Almost every week a media house gets a letter from Government expressing the wish to utilise the air time' as espoused by TTPBA’s president. The record will reflect that prior to the January request from the (ministry), the last request for air time was made in November.

“We value the media and its role in shaping a society we can all be proud of. We also value our relationship with the media and will do nothing to undermine this fourth pillar of democracy. But it is deliberately misleading to imply the Government bullied or acted unethically in its use of the concession and the OPM arrangement with journalist Khamal Georges.

Cox reiterated that the questions were not furnished by the OPM and Georges was free to ask any question he wished, although the OPM requested the interview.

"This arrangement is in keeping with industry practice."

The Government said it is mindful of its obligations to citizens and its commitment to a free press in TT.

"Each request made to radio and TV stations takes into consideration the delicate balancing act both parties face between commercial obligations and public interest. Nevertheless, information is a key pillar of any democracy and no one can deny that it is the duty of the Government to communicate its policies and decisions."

Cox said she is available and willing to meet with the MATT and the TTPBA to clear up any misconceptions.


"Cox on OPM interview: No bullying, nothing unethical"

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