Minister: Govt's request to air OPM interview totally legal
Communications Minister Donna Cox has rubbished claims by the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) that the Government unconstitutionally requested air time to broadcast an interview with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Sunday.
Cox was responding to a Newsday article that was published on Tuesday titled “MATT looking into ‘odd’ OPM-arranged interview”. The report quoted TTPBA President Kiran Maharaj as saying that present and previous administrations have abused telecommunications concessions to request air time, something she deemed unconstitutional.
Minister Cox said the assertion was incorrect.
“We value the media and its role in shaping a society we can all be proud of. We also value our relationship with the media and will do nothing to undermine this fourth pillar of democracy,” she said.
“But it is deliberately misleading to imply the Government bullied or acted unethically in its use of the concession and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) arrangement with journalist Khamal Georges,” Cox stated.
The Minister also defended the petition to have media houses air the Prime Minister’s hour-long, pre-recorded interview.
Pointing to law, she reminded that the concession agreement was signed by all providers of public broadcasting and telecommunications services. She added that it sets out the terms and conditions under which the Government can request airtime of broadcast stations. Minister Cox noted that under the license, the Government is entitled to 14 hours per calendar week. However, she said it has settled for one hour per week from one TV station.
“We are not unreasonable. For us, every request is the beginning of a negotiation. Often, stations inform us that they are unable to air Government programmes at the times we request, and so begins a discussion. We have always been able to reach some compromise.”
She further denounced the suggestion that the Government takes advantage of the allowance.
“Moreso, it is incorrect that, ‘Almost every week a media house gets a letter from Government expressing the wish to utilise the air time’ as espoused by TTPBA’s President. The record will reflect that prior to the January request from the MOC, the last request for air time was made in November.”
Minister wants to set record straight on Rowley's one-on-one interview
According to the Newsday article, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) raised concerns about the way the interview with the Prime Minister was conducted.
MATT questioned why a journalist from a private entity was asked to do conduct an interview on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister to be broadcast by all media.
The Communications Minister reiterated that the questions were not furnished by the OPM. She added that she was willing to talk to both MATT and the TTPBA to clear up any misconceptions.
Key clauses of the Concession in full are as follows:
Section D 30:
“The concessionaire shall, on a free-of-charge basis up to a limit of fourteen (14) hours per calendar week, and thereafter at an agreed rate not to exceed eighty-seven and one-half percent (87.5%) of the concessionaire’s regular commercial rate for similar broadcast transmissions, transmit any programme, announcement, information or other material which the Government may require to be transmitted as a matter of public interest, during the concessionaire’s ordinary business hours, or at any hour to be selected by agreement with the Government. Such material shall, up to a limit of one hour per day, be transmitted without accompanying advertisement.”
Section D 31:
“Pursuant to condition D30, the Government may reasonably declare any matter or event to be of public interest and require the concessionaire to broadcast such matter or event, but the Government shall, in deciding the actual time of transmission and length of broadcast, consult with the concessionaire with a view to causing the least possible disruption to the normal commercial operations of the concessionaire.”
Section D 32:
“The transmission time allocated to the Government may be varied on the giving of twenty-four (24) hours notice to the concessionaire, except that, in the case of an emergency, such notice period shall be waived.”