PORT OF SPAIN — Political leader of the Movement for Social Justice, David Abdulah, said yesterday that he is aware of government ministers who threaten to withdraw advertisements from media houses in an attempt to punish them.
Abdulah was speaking at a press conference at the Communications Workers Union Hall on Henry Street in Port-of-Spain.
Abdulah said he heard “with his own ears” Government ministers speak at a June 2011 People’s Partnership caucus in Tobago about using the State advertising budget to “penalise media that they believe are being unfair to them”.
On Thursday, the MSJ released a statement in support of Guardian Media Ltd journalists who had resigned citing political interference in the daily operations of the paper. Abdulah did not name the ministers whom he heard make such statements and said he would do so at a later date.
Asked why he chose not to name the ministers, Abdulah said, “I don’t think its necessary for me to name names. It’s not about personalities, what I’m pointing to is ministers making statements as a matter of their political approach to deal with issues and the political culture and behaviours of the PP Government which are wrong and bad.”
He added: “We want to say categorically and without fear of contradiction that the approach of the PP government has been one of using the State advertising budget as a means of exerting power over the media.”
However, Abdulah did say that the ministers in question were “members of the cabal.” Questioned further, he said, “Ask Mr (Jack) Warner who the members of the cabal are.”
Abdulah said the MSJ made its statements based on reports from the Media Association of T&T and individual journalists. On Wednesday, former Guardian public affairs editor Dr. Sheila Rampersad and investigative reporters Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne walked off the job and tendered their resignations amidst reports of political interference in the Guardian newsroom.
MATT released a statement following the walkout saying the organisation was “monitoring with serious concern the developing crisis at the Guardian Newspapers that [is] reportedly stems from political pressure, to soften the newspaper’s editorial and investigative line”.
It has since released another statement on Saturday retracting the original comments on the issue. Abdulah said it was not uncommon for governments in T&T to attempt to influence the media as it was part of the local political culture. (Guardian)