PM says Only Mainstream Media at his Press Conferences

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PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the policy for media attendance at press conferences hosted by him is by invitation only.

He also said it was his prerogative to only invite mainstream media to his press conferences.

Dr Rowley made the comment at a Mix and Mingle function of the People’s National Movement (PNM) at the Waterfront in Port of Spain on Monday evening.

His comments follow a statement by the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) that there were valid concerns by journalists who were denied access to the prime minister’s press conferences.

AZP News Editor-in-Chief Prior Beharry said he has been denied access for some time while businessman and radio host Robert Amar of 104.7 MORE FM said he was escorted out of the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s just before the press conference last week Thursday with the prime minister and the Covid-19 response team.

And senior broadcast journalist Stephen Cummings, who has a current affairs programme on Family Focus Broadcasting Network Isaac 98.1 FM, said he too was not allowed at the prime minister press conferences.

In a statement on Friday, MATT noted, “With the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions, the Prime Minister’s office has yet to provide either guidance or criteria for access to press conferences held at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.

“If interested media houses are denied access to question the Prime Minister about his announcements and a list of specially invited media guides invitations, there should be clarity about what qualifies one media house as ‘special’ over another.

“All practising journalists should have an opportunity to question the Government in person, and if space or social distancing is a concern, as it was during pandemic restrictions, then an opportunity to rotate journalists for access should be the norm.”

And the Sunday Express Editorial titled OPM must state media policy called for clarity in the matter.

It stated, “A transparent policy regarding media access to the Prime Minister’s news conferences is long overdue. In the absence of policy clarity, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) risks being accused of pursuing a dangerous path of arbitrarily ­deciding what constitutes a media house and who is a journalist or not.

“The backlash against the OPM after it denied the host of a current affairs programme access to the PM’s news conference was the inevitable result of the OPM’s lack of policy and failure to move in step with a changing media landscape.”

The editorial added, “A major challenge of this increasingly complex media landscape has been to distinguish professional media from non-professional, not to mention propaganda media posing as professional.”

It stated, “We accept that there may be logistical challenges, such as space, in hosting a large media corps at the Diplomatic Centre. In such cases, OPM has the option of resorting to a hybrid system which would allow accredited journalists to pose questions either in person or virtually. The opportunity to question public officials, including the PM, is core to the work of the media. No self-respecting media house would accept being relegated to the role of mere spectator watching live coverage of the PM’s address. The role of the journalist is not to regurgitate the statements of public officials, but to represent the public interest in seeking answers to the public’s questions.”

At the PNM function at which many journalists were invited, Dr Rowley denied there was not press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago.

He said, “If there’s a press conference at the Prime Minister’s residence and we invite TV6, CNC3, TTT, Channel 5, even Loop of the modern era, I find it difficult to accept that it is said that if I don’t allow every media Mary and Johnny that there is not press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago.”

“I heard a suggestion that what I should do is rotate the invitation if a fixed number is a number that we’re using and I would like to ask CNC3 would you accept being rotated out of the press conference so that the latest blogger who calls himself the media with a name and a jersey comes in?”

He said, “If I don’t invite every Tom, Dick and Harry from the media then that is confirmation that there is not press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Dr Rowley said he spent hours responding to questions from the media.

He added, “And then I’m told that if some… disturber is not allowed onto the compound that important questions will not be asked. And that begs the question, if such miscreant is not in, is the mainstream media saying that there is some important question that they have not asked?”

He said, “I will preserve the prerogative of the Prime Minister’s office to invite mainstream media to Prime Minister’s press conferences… when we think we have 12 or 14 media houses, we think we’re covering the ground very well, and therefore tonight we plead not guilty.”

In a release on Tuesday, Opposition MP for Chaguanas West Dinesh Rambally said the ban on journalists by the prime minister was “total violation of press freedom.”

Dinesh Rambally. AZP News/Azlan Mohammed

He said, “Rowley is using the bizarre and artificial distinction that only ‘mainstream media’ will be allowed to enter the Diplomatic Centre. The use of the term ‘mainstream media’ to justify the ban is arbitrary and can be stretched to fit the Prime Minister’s preferences.”

Rambally added, “One suspects it’s the fact that  Mr Amar publicly debunked the Prime Minister’s false claim that he never appointed Wendel Mottley to oversee negotiations in the infamous SANDALS fiasco when Rowley had in fact done so, which has earned Mr Amar his ban from the Diplomatic Centre.

“Rowley saying he ‘can’t let in every Tom, Dick and Harry’ is all the more absurd given that  Mr Amar is in possession of a state-sanctioned broadcast licence and AZP News is run by Mr Prior Beharry, a journalist of long standing within the local media landscape. It is clear that Rowley is simply attempting to stifle the media he doesn’t approve of.”

He said, “Rowley’s latest action is illustrative of another creeping trait of a deeply dictatorial and oppressive regime. Today  Rowley is targeting Robert Amar and AZP News, tomorrow he will be targeting all media outlets which he considers to be critical of him regardless of whether they are ‘mainstream media’ or not.


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