PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley has accused media houses of “harassing people with lies”, saying yesterday media in Trinidad and Tobago were not independent but instead “have interests to protect”.
The PM kicked off yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference by presenting himself for questioning, remarking that last week saw a lot of media energy and activity directed at the Government, while it was also concluded by some that he was “in hiding”.
In a lengthy criticism of the media from the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, the Prime Minister accused the media perpetuating untruths about, among other issues, a high-level meeting in St Ann’s last month between five persons which included himself, National Security Minister Stuart Young, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Asdrubal Chavez, who was later appointed president of Venezuelan energy company, PDVSA.
The PM later singled out the Express for peddling a story that he had said he was unaware of the details of some persons at the meeting.
Saying he “never said that”, Rowley said the story was carried by the Guardian and later accused both media houses of seeking to protect their business interests, which he said were not being facilitated by Government.
“We don’t have an independent or we don’t have independent media houses in Trinidad and Tobago. What we have are media houses that have interests to protect,” Rowley said.
“If you think I don’t know what is going on, I know exactly what is going on and I will speak to it in full at future times.”
Rowley said he wanted the national community to exercise and take positions based on facts and “not fictions and untruths and not lies”.
He said there were some persons who last week, “did not see the conclusion they anticipated and took that to mean that my absence from the press conference meant that I was in hiding”.
Rowley said he could state without fear of contradiction that he was, in the history of T&T, the most accessible prime minister and had given a lot of time to the media.
But, he said, this country had “a difficulty in accepting the truth”.
Rowley said he was making himself available yesterday to answer as many questions as the media liked on the Government he leads, so that “we can get back to where Trinidad and Tobago can be said to have a prime minister who is not hiding from the media”.
“One media house is owned by a business conglomerate and the Government has taken decisions unfavourable to their interest. The other one has business with the State which the Government is not facilitating. Then, obviously the Government is making enemies because they have interests to protect and we have interests to protect, “ the Prime Minister has said.
The PM, who later stated that he stood by what he has said, has not only accused at least two local media houses of looking to protect their interests but also claimed that the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) was feeding tales to the media.
The PM’s address included a slide where he sought to point out the offending paragraph in an Express story on Wednesday headlined, “Government gets full marks on Covid.”
He noted that the full page story carried some interesting material from the interviewees (Dr Winford James and Dr Bishnu Ragoonath) but that while the rest of the piece was “reportage”, a last paragraph represented a “position”.
“The truth has one version,” Rowley said. “The last paragraph wasn’t reported speech, the last paragraph was a position. That was the last paragraph at the end of a week of harassment of the country.”
The paragraph, which was a reflection of statements by Ragoonath as to whether or not T&T’s politics was sophisticated enough for the era, stated that, “Worse, the PM has come out to say that he also did not know who was in the room at the time of the Venezuelan VP’s visit, while Young has said he did not know the details of the persons on the flight while the borders were closed and where permission to enter T&T could only have been given by him as Minister of National Security.”
The PM asked: “When did I ever say that?”
He continued: “That was one of the bullocks of the attack on the Government for telling lies and that sentence painted the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago as a liar. Because I never said that.”
Rowley said he been clear about the issue one more than one occasion, while the media were “agitating” the country on the matter.
‘Harassing people with lies’
Going back to the controversial meeting, Rowley said:
“I met with two Venezuelans, one was Delcy Rodriguez, the other was Asdrubal Chavez who was not the president of PDVSA and therefore, no one was introduced to me in that meeting as the president of PDVSA.” He added: “But look what’s written there..that was the Express yesterday...bolstering a story...whole week harassing people with lies.”
Rowley was reported as having stated at a May 8 press conference: “Present with her (Rodriguez), I am now discovering was Asdrubal Chavez, who I am now discovering worked as part of a Commission for PDSVA restructuring, sometime in his past. Nobody in that meeting was introduced to us as President of PDSVA.”
The PM said yesterday he was not expected to know every member of Rodriguez’s delegation and, “If, as I say, I was in a meeting with five people and you come out and telling the country, telling little children, that I didn’t know who was in the meeting.”
He said the other “pillar” was an ongoing story as to what had been said by minister Young, for which the Newsday apologised but that did not stop the Express and Guardian from continuing. Rowley continued in response to another question: “I have said the media houses that have so exercised in spreading all that was spread last week, including the paragraph I showed..there are people who have interests to protect.”
The PM said he was available to anyone who wished to challenge him on it. It was noted to him that Government owns shares in One Caribbean Media (OCM), parent company of the Express, to which the PM replied, “So?”
He went on to state that Government has not used the State’s interest in OCM to influence its business “so that is not relevant”. The shares were acquired as a result of Government seeking the population’s interest, during which it saved $15 billion, he said.
. Editor’s Note: The paragraph referred to by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in the Express story headlined “Govt gets full marks on Covid” on Wednesday was in fact a quote that should have been attributed to analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath.
The quotation marks were inadvertently omitted which we regret.