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Senator wants apology from publishers
Government Senator Devant Maharaj has called on T&T Publishers and Broadcasters’ Association (TTPBA) president Darren Lee Sing and the association to apologise to Independent Senator Anthony Vieira for criticising Vieira’s statement that media houses should disclose any political affiliation. “Darren Lee Sing... this is a man whose father get a radio station overnight because of political connection and he want to criticise Senator Vieira?” Maharaj said in yesterday’s Senate debate.
Maharaj was contributing to debate on an Independent motion on campaign financing reform. He noted Vieira’s comment in recent debate on the same motion when Vieira made a call for media houses to disclose their political affiliation since the media should not be an “echo chamber for politicians.”
Maharaj also noted Vieira’s sentiment that reporters should declare their personal and commercial relationships and that when the media were “hijacked” by special interests — people with deep pockets who may have a personal axe to grind — such conflict of interests should be known. Maharaj further noted Vieira felt it was wrong for reporters to be used as “hired guns.” Maharaj added: ”I endorse this statement by Senator Vieira. I think it’s correct. iIt should remain.
“But what was the response Senator Vieira got? He was vilified by the least of the apostles, Darren Lee Sing, T&T Publisher and Broadcasters’ Association, said the media had no political... this is a man whose father get a radio station overnight, you know, because of political connections and he want to criticise Senator Vieira? “Darren Lee Sing and the TPBA should apologise to the Independent senator for even contemplating that statement,” Maharaj said. “Yes! Yes!” PP Senators shouted.
“To slam an Independent senator when your hands are less than clean.” Maharaj added. He gave details from a Director of Public Prosecutions report that on October 7, 2002, before election that year, then PNM minister Hedwidge Bereaux told then permanent secretary Emmanuel George (now a government minister) that the Prime Minister wanted a note brought to Cabinet recommending that Louis Lee Sing should be granted a radio broadcast licence.
He said the division was that applications were to be treated on a first-come-first-served basis. A draft Cabinet note on the grant of a special licence was prepared by George, Mala Ganase and Elizabeth Camps highlighting a number of concerns since the possible process would be outside the usual procedure, he said.
Maharaj added: “What happened here is a known financier and supporter of the PNM, as he existed in other incarnations in other radio stations... campaigning, on virtually a de-facto PNM station. They campaigned 24/7 and for the PNM.” Maharaj said at the time George “Umbala” Joseph also campaigned on that station. He said campaign financing reform should consider all these issues.
Maharaj said the role of partisan media, “undisclosed as they are,“ continued up to this year and noted that on I95 the THA had advertised that people could apply to them for residential land. He said if any agency did that in Trinidad, “you would have Tobagonians wanting our heads as they would rightly say we were practising inequality and was biased in treatment of one sector of the national community.
“But in the THA election buildup you had the THA advertising, as they do only on I95, to buttress the PNM mouthpiece. A complaint was made to the Equal Opportunity Commission on that land issue.”
The TTPBA’s Darren Lee Sing said the TTPBA had already given its position on the Vieira comments, via a press release. The matter was a month old and he believed they had put it to rest. He said he didn’t know why the need had “arisen Tuesday to bring it back up, since we have decisively put it at abeyance.” He said he did not know the TTPBA had anything to do with the issue Senator Maharaj was raising and did not know his professional life or TTPBA’s role should be tarnished by those comments.