TTPBA: Prime Minister’s statements on media ‘unfortunate’

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley address members of the media during the post cabines press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday.

The Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) has responded to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s assertions concerning media fairness and journalistic integrity, in this country.

The following is the full text of the statement issued by the TTBPA, this morning…

“The Interest We Protect is the Right of the People to Know
and to Report Without Fear or Favour”

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” ─ Article 19, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The TTPBA notes the comments of the Honourable Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and views them as unfortunate. As an individual he is free to hold an opinion, as a Prime Minister elected by the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, he must have an expectation, as a member of government, of being held accountable. The position of our Prime Minister is familiar and over the decades the media has been subjected to similar comments by our country’s leaders. Prime Ministers and governments change but media remains. It is also normal in an election year that tension between incumbents and the media heightens. It is déjà vu chatter!

Over the years the media has experienced cyberbullying by politicians; a Prime Minister going to a radio station and pulling the plug; threats of revocation of a broadcast license and the refusal of a broadcast license; attempts to fetter freedom of speech via legislation; among other matters. This is part of the tug of war between governments and media in several countries of the world. It is an aspect of society that is constant and a characteristic of democratic nations.

The all too familiar attacks on the media from all parties anytime the facts reported are not to their liking should not numb us to the dangers this behaviour presents. Not only to the physical danger to journalists, as ardent supporters are unable to see through the politicking and take matters into their own hands but to the danger to our democracy. A free press, which includes freedom from intimidation and reprisals, is a corner stone of democracy and the increasing assaults and venom with which they are delivered should be a concern to us all.

Our journalists remain committed to the public we serve and to the principles of truth without fear or favour. In a democracy the role of the media is to hold our leaders accountable and we must insist upon transparency. We believe our news must be fair and balanced. Where there has been inaccuracy, we correct it. The media is a reflection of our nation’s people. In a plural society such as ours with 36 radio stations, 3 daily newspapers, 10 local television stations and subscription television, we seek to fill the multitude of appetites. There is a difference between “news” and commentary, opinion and analysis which may have a perspective. These angles are meant to inform the public we serve and to empower them because they have the right to choose and make their own decisions on issues that affect their daily lives.

The statement by Prime Minister Rowley that “the media has interests to protect” and his specific reference to media owners is concerning, especially when the credibility of these entities and the public’s reliance on their news coverage has stood the test of time. The government also owns media that competes with private enterprise and that may be seen as self-serving as it is subsidized by tax-payers.

Yet independent media has never protested the existence of government media. Independent media has also applauded the work of government with the most recent example being the response to Covid19. But when there is an issue that demands answers, we will not step back and leave our public in the dark.

The interest we protect is the right of the people to know and to report without fear or favour. Our commitment to the voting public and our search for truth is what we safeguard. The media and the government have a shared mission – to serve the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. It is a common objective that we are bound by daily, in the interest of the highest good of the public.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.” ─ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.