Last update: 20-Dec-2013 2:48 pm
Friday, December 20, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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UNC slams PNM threat to stop ads
The Opposition People’s National Movement’s (PNM) threats to media houses to halt the controversial “split vote” advertisements are an ominous red flag that media freedoms and the right to individual freedom of expression were under threat from the Keith Rowley-led PNM, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj said yesterday. He was speaking after handing over flood compensation cheques to farmers at Aranguez, San Juan. He presented 310 cheques, worth $2.8 million. Maharaj was commenting on legal action which PNM leader Keith Rowley’s attorneys threatened against media houses this week over the satirical ads. His lawyers, Alexander, Jeremie and Company, demanded that media houses should stop publishing and broadcasting the ads which appeared on television and in all three daily newspapers in the build-up to Monday’s St Joseph by-election.
They purported to be a thank-you letter from the PNM leader to Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner on the recent local government elections and prompted a fierce reaction from both the PNM and ILP. Yesterday, however, Maharaj said: “The PNM’s move on media houses also clearly shows that press freedom and the right to individual freedoms of expression will be under threat with any possible Rowley-led PNM administration and that is supported by the fact that the PNM has a solid record of suppressing the media. So one doesn’t have to look too far to see how this could arise in this latest PNM.” Maharaj said former PNM Prime Minister Patrick Manning had “left a barber salon in South” and drove to the Power 102FM radio station to take issue with comments made on the station. “Rowley was part of the Cabinet and said nothing then,” he added.
He said: “When the PNM denied the Maha Sabha from getting a radio licence, when they burned the Guardian in Woodford Square and called the Guardian names, when they brought Newsday’s Andre Bagoo before the Privileges Committee of Parliament and also Express’ Sasha Mohammed. “This beef with the media is in the PNM’s political DNA. They have always tried to manipulate the media and they can’t wash it away with the rebranding of Rowley.” Saying the PNM’s move against media houses was a sign of fear and desperation over Monday’s by-election, Maharaj added: “That ad they are upset about, I think, epitomises freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which is enshrined in T&T’s Constitution. “Among our art forms, we have many people who create things of a similar nature. “But for political purposes on the occasion of this by-election, the PNM is clearly willing to sacrifice press freedom and democracy as the media is considered the watchdog of democracy. “Also, one of the hallmarks of T&T society is satire, innuendoes, double entendres and similar other forms, especially in calypso and the Pichakaree competitions. Can the calypsonians and Pichakaree singers expect similar pre-action protocol letters from the PNM?”
Maharaj added: “The PNM’s move in this issue is a very ominous, very significant sign for press/media freedom, given that the PNM has said it is an alternative government in waiting and the society needs to take a close look at this red flag development.” He noted that media advertising was a revenue stream to pay media workers’ salaries. “But the PNM’s action in this regard is suppressing economic activity in this area,” he said. “You may not agree with someone’s opinion but in our democracy you will defend their right to express it and this is the core issue in this matter. “But the PNM seems very unwilling to see this and more willing to sacrifice our democratically enshrined rights and freedoms to their own selfish political short-term purposes,” he added. Maharaj said yesterday’s cheque-distribution to farmers was not an election gimmick, since such handovers had been done frequently for farmers all over T&T and also fisherfolk.
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