IF IT WAS a joke, it wasn’t funny.
But it was not just Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Symon de Nobriga’s sense of humour that was brought into question by his suggestion on Saturday, that state-owned media should be given a better chance to compete through exclusive access to government events, at the expense of other media houses.
Of concern here is that a government member could so flippantly treat with, indeed disparage, the issue of equal access for members of the press.
Mr de Nobriga later characterised his off-the-cuff remarks to members of the media present as “ill-advised banter” made “lightheartedly” and also that the remarks were off the record.
At the same time, he sought to suggest he wasn’t joking at all, but was dead serious about the same remarks. Covid19 precautions required limited access, he said.
These confused and confusing statements – from the Government’s spokesman no less – betrayed a stunning lack of understanding of both his role and the role of the media. This is even worse in view of the fact that Mr de Nobriga and state media houses like TTT fall within the remit of Office of the Prime Minister.
We have no problems with pool arrangements for certain events. Such arrangements are standard all over the world. However, these measures must be subject to open rules and systems that are consistently and fairly applied. And pool reporters must truly be free to act in the public interest, as obtains in other countries.
Unfortunately, we do not have such a culture or tradition here.
Therefore, if the Government and Mr de Nobriga truly remain committed to a free press, as enshrined in our Constitution, they must immediately set out a government policy with regard to pool reporting, especially in circumstances in which there are health concerns.
They must furthermore guarantee equal access to pool material, regardless of the media house requesting them.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was clearly conscious of the dangers of Mr de Nobriga’s approach when she described it on Tuesday as “tantamount to state censorship.”
However, Mrs Persad-Bissessar was herself only a few days ago feeding the monster. She attacked some unspecified media houses for running with fake narratives and covering stories she deemed of dubious merit.
The truth is, no matter who is in power, the media is everybody’s favorite bobolee.
People are entitled to criticise the press, of course.
But often this crosses a line and plays into the hands of those for whom an independent press, however imperfect, is the enemy. The consequences of this may even be fatal, as the world saw under Donald Trump.
Mr de Nobriga is clearly concerned about TTT. He should be concerned about, and with, the media as a whole.