Symon De Nobriga

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) yesterday “rejected outright” Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga’s decision to allow access to only State and Government media to the repatriation of Venezuelans last Saturday.

“If this is policy, we call on him to reverse it immediately,” MATT said in a statement.

“Journalists are witnesses on behalf of the public.... The free press cannot perform its constitutional role if it is to be made reliant on Government’s single-source information. The minister’s strategy limits the number of witnesses to one approved witness,” MATT stated.

The association said it had observed from March 2020 to now how Government’s communi­cation strategies, decisions and approaches had been limiting the work of independent journalists, namely journalists not employed by the State.

The association said the Ministry of Communications and the communication departments of several key ministries, including the Office of the Prime Minister, had been demonstrating “a dangerous level of arbitrariness and naivete in restricting journalists’ access to information, news conferences and decision-makers”.

Stating that in court submissions last year, the Ministry of Communications described its criteria for access to the Ministry of Health virtual news conferences as ad hoc, the association said it submitted in wri­ting “easy recommendations for improvements to the Communications Minister in April 2020”. It received no acknow­ledgement for its correspondence, it added.

‘Red flags’ at news conferences

The association said in its written correspon­dence to De Nobriga, it had “red-flagged the ineffectiveness of a single news conference to address wide-ranging issues of Government, arbitrary limits on questions and the unaccep­table number of queries reticently or vaguely answered”.

“We have since received multiple reports from new media journalists about the unresponsiveness of communications staff and difficulties accessing ministers and officials who carry key responsibilities in these pandemic times,” MATT said.

MATT said it wished to “counsel journalists and media houses to exercise all journalistic caution when using pre-packaged material and to be diligent in advising the public when they do so.

“We urge the Government to avoid using Covid-19 restrictions and protocols to deny access to independent journalists and instead open up the currently choked information flow,” it said.

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