THE Media Association (MATT) is urging the Government to ditch any policy to limit access to private media houses during government functions, but give unrestricted access to state-owned television TTT.
The call came in a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday after complaints that TTT was given preferential treatment during last Saturday’s repatriation exercise of Venezuelans at the Cruise Ship Complex in Port of Spain.
Journalist Kejan Haynes complained that he had asked that his media house News at 7 be allowed to get footage of the ship which arrived to take Venezuelans back home, but this was denied. However, TTT was allowed to do so. He reported that Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga had confirmed that this was intentional.
"The Media Association wishes to alert the public to restrictions on the news media’s access to public interest information from government offices in a time of a public health crisis and a state of emergency."
MATT said journalists were 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."
The association said, since March 2020 it has seen how Government’s communication strategies, decisions and approaches has limited the work of independent journalists.
"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 association said in court submissions last year, the Ministry of Communications described its criteria for access to Ministry of Health virtual news conferences as ad hoc.
MATT said it had made recommendations to de Nobriga on how to improve written correspondence but had got no acknowledgement.
"Therein, we also red-flagged the ineffectiveness of a single news conference to address wide-ranging issues of Government, arbitrary limits on questions, and the unacceptable number of queries reticently or vaguely answered."
The statement said, since then MATT has received multiple reports from journalists about unresponsive communications staff and difficulties accessing ministers/officials holding key responsibilities in these pandemic times.
"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 covid19 restrictions and protocols to deny access to independent journalists and instead open up the currently choked information flow."