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Rowley, Gopeesingh in rowdy tit-for-tat

Published: 
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Education Minister Dr Tim Goopeesingh during his contribution at the sitting of Parliament, yesterday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

What might have been a normal debate on the Libel and Defamation (Amendment) Bill turned into a rowdy tit-for-tat in the Lower House yesterday, between Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. It got personal, with Rowley saying he did not know Gopeesingh, his friend from university days, had loose screws. It began with Gopeesingh’s contribution to the bill, which will abolish malicious defamatory libel.

 

 

The bill was piloted by the Attorney General with the intention of removing the clause that made libel and defamation a criminal offence. The Opposition does not support the bill. Gopeesingh charged the last PNM administration had used State intimidation against the media and traced its war with the Newsday newspaper. 

 

He said after Suzanne Mills wrote a column in the Newsday headed “No Red House for Manning,” the PNM launched an assault on the newspaper, withholding advertising and refusing its reporters entrance to press conference with US President Barack Obama, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2009. He said Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon scolded reporters for not writing stories on the Government.

 

Diego Martin Central MP Amery Browne was the first Opposition MP to attempt to use the Standing Orders against Gopeesingh. He said according to Standing Order 36:6, no member should mention another member’s name. But Deputy Speaker Nela Khan shot this down, saying Gopeesingh was quoting from a newspaper article.

 

Emboldened, Gopeesingh proceeded with obvious relish to trace the Patrick Manning administration’s assault on the Newsday after an article written by reporter Andre Bagoo. He charged that a politician slapped Bagoo’s recorder out of his hand. Amidst a chorus of protests from her colleagues, Opposition Whip Marlene McDonald shot to her feet, citing Standing Order 35:6. 

 

Khan overruled again and allowed Gopeesingh to continue. He recalled that recently deceased Newsday editor-in-chief Therese Mills was hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee with Bagoo to answer 100 questions. “One of the icons in the world of journalism, God rest her soul,” Gopeesingh said. He turned the heat on Opposition Leader Rowley, charging he had attacked the media three times. Rowley, too, used a Standing Order in a bid to shut up Gopeesingh, saying he was imputing improper motives.

 

“I am seeking your protection,” he appealed to Khan. Khan stood her ground in defence of Gopeesingh and ended up in a small row with Rowley. “Are you overriding the Standing Order?” he asked, breaching protocol by remaining on his feet while the Deputy Speaker was standing. “Member, please have your seat,” Khan said sternly. The Opposition had been carefully timing Gopeesingh and when they judged he had gone a few seconds beyond his speaking time, they protested loudly.

 

“Sit down, please,” Gopee-Scoon ordered. Rowley rose to put the Hansard record straight. He said Gopeesingh had painted the Government’s relationship with the media as lovable, warm and fuzzy and the PNM’s as detrimental and evil. He charged that a former UNC administration drove former TV6 Morning Edition host, the Barbadian journalist Julian Rogers, not just out of the newsroom but out of the country.

 

“The Government also hauled people before the Privileges Committee several times for representing the people with exposes, including the controversial e-mails. It did not matter whether they were guilty or not, the Government was abusing the power of the Privileges Committee,” Rowley said. He recalled the UNC had issued a public directive to boycott the Guardian after former editor-in-chief Jones P. Madeira wrote an article headlined “Chutney Rising.”

 

Then he got personal with Gopeesingh, saying he and Gopeesingh had some good days at the Mona Campus in Jamaica, played cricket together and ate meals together. He said he even visited Gopeesingh’s house and when the PNM wanted him to run for the Fyzabad seat, it was he (Rowley) who had made the recommendation. “What happened to him? I didn’t know he had some loose screws,” Rowley said.

 

Rowley said it was the UNC the media were afraid of, and whenever the PNM was in power, anybody could say or do anything.