Making headlines in Trinidad and Tobago today is the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister‘s alleged “storming” of a radio station to complain about critical comments made against him during a newscast – a move which some maintain is dangerously close to infringing upon freedom of the press. The subsequent suspension of the announcers involved has added fuel to the flame, despite station management's insistence that “the company's action to suspend two members of staff was not taken because of a visit by Prime Minister Patrick Manning to the station.” Only a handful of local bloggers has latched on to the story, but those who have registered the whole affair on their radar are being quite vocal about their views.
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog, which collates stories from local mainstream media, has not surprisingly put the story front and centre, in light of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago‘s statement on the issue:
The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago notes the unprecedented action of the Prime Minister with surprise and some concern. The Association deems the Prime Minister’s visit to the station as inappropriate in light of the fact that it can be perceived as an attempt to intimidate or to stifle freedom of the press.
The Association feels the Prime Minister has available to him many avenues of redress and should have perhaps considered the perception of his actions.
MATT values above all an independent media operating without interference or fear, however the Association as well notes that standards of journalism must be adhered to at all times.
Blogger Media Watch has been following developments closely, posting regular updates on different angles of the story. He called MATT's statement “conservative” and asked:
Is MATT or anyone else doing anything about this Manning/radio station incident? We are walking a dangerous line when politicians can block off a street, and demand apologies.
The post also observed that…
Several journalists tried to grill the PM on the Power 102 issue at today's post-cabinet press briefing, but he (as usual) coolly side-stepped them, saying he had a right to protect his name, or something to that effect.
Mr Manning told them he did not ask the station's management to suspend anyone, as he told them what they did there was their business. Interestingly he asked if any citizen of this country had the right to visit a radio station, and when he was told yes, he said that right extended to him as well.
Comments by “PW” to the Media Watch blog also got posted:
Please tell Patrick he is a public official and is not entitled to conduct himself in the same manner as any other citizen, otherwise ah want a ride on de private jet and he must pick me up in the State's car when he see me on the street.
In any case, I think the present laws do allow the same rights to politicians and the public, so maybe you were legally right Mr. Manning but you were morally wrong.
Watch out T&T the Broadcast Code is coming and this country will be just like Guyana when it arrives.
The National Broadcasting Code, which is currently in development, added another dimension to the controversy when the Prime Minister stated that in the future, he might pursue other avenues to lodge his dissatisfaction, including going to the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. But TATT told the media that should such a complaint be formally lodged, “they could not do anything because of the absence of a broadcast code.”
Finally, diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch put in his two cents’ worth:
I find it ironical that a man who thumbs his nose so frequently at the rule of law, now finds it convenient to use the law to his own ends. Another tool of dictators, mind you.
I have one question. In his lawsuits to come, will he be footing the legal bills? Somehow, I think not. He will use state money to wipe out all criticism of his government and his policies.
Of course, I could be sued for thinking out aloud.