TABAQUITE MP Anita Haynes says Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga’s recent “joke” about giving State-owned media exclusive access to certain events while restricting independent media has “uncovered a lot of issues.”
She said the “foot in mouth situation” is no laughing matter.
On Saturday, there were reports of media having restricted access while covering the repatriation of Venezuelans from the Cruise Ship Complex, Port of Spain, with state-owned TTT being allowed access beyond a certain point.
Journalist Kejan Haynes reported this on his independent news and media programme, News at Seven.
He said he asked why only TTT was allowed in, while his reporter and Newsday's reporter were debarred, as had happened at other events. He said he was told off-camera by de Nobriga that this was to give TTT "a fighting chance."
After heavy backlash from media workers and people on social media , de Nobriga sought to clarify his statement saying it was “off the record.”
In a news release on Tuesday, he said: "I have seen the news report circulating and it is unfortunate that Kejan Haynes took seriously a statement made by me light-heartedly and supposedly off the record at the repatriation exercise on Saturday.
"Given the large numbers, and in keeping with the health protocols, it was determined that only TTT and the Information Division would have access."
He said instructions were given to ensure access to footage to all media houses requesting it.
"As Mr Haynes knows very well 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 any events or activities and I am surprised that Kejan should infer otherwise."
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has since described the situation as a “road to dictatorship and tyranny.”
Haynes and Opposition Senator Wade Mark shared similar sentiments at a virtual news conference by the party on Wednesday afternoon.
Haynes said if the government’s concern is making TTT more competitive and viable, “You do not do this by limiting the number of media houses or space for media to ask these hard questions…You do this by creating a wider space.
“We are being told that we have to trust the info coming from them (government) and trust that they are presenting it to us in an unbiased manner and that we’re getting all the facts.”
She said de Nobriga has neither apologised nor acknowledged that his reasoning is flawed.
“How you treat with public access to information and how you treat with media being present at stories are critical issues to our democracy.
“Nobody’s laughing with you so it’s not a joke.”
Mark said it was a “brazen and blatant attempt” at “silencing the media.”
In January, there was an ongoing incident with the UNC’s PRO Kirk Meighoo and then CNC3 Morning Brew host Natalee Legore.
Legore drew comparisons between supporters of former US president Donald Trump storming the Capitol in Washington, DC (fuelled by Trump's claims that last November's US presidential election was fraudulent) and claims of election fraud by the UNC in last August's general election.
Meighoo demanded that Legore apologise.
He argued that Dr Rowley and other members of the PNM were not defending free speech but instead, "They act as though they are fiercely protecting one of their own, who shamelessly and repeatedly forwards their nefarious political agenda."
He alleged that the PNM "are no enablers of free expression, but of wrongdoing."
The PNM had described this as a “ruthless attack on the media.”
Reminded of this, Haynes said that situation is different from what they are currently discussing.
“This is not a disagreement between a political entity and how a matter is being reported.
“You can have a disagreement on how you feel something has been reported.”