'COST-CUTTING': Fazeer Mohammed

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FIRED

On the heels of argument about Kamla, CNMG cuts journalist Fazeer Mohammed

By Aabida Allaham

Talk show host and cricket commentator Fazeer Mohammed is questioning the timing of his dismissal from State-owned media network Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG).

The dismissal follows an argument on the morning show First Up last Thursday with a Cabinet Minister about Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar being in a leadership position.

Mohammed said he was called by the company's human resource manager Christine John on Saturday and told that his services were no longer required.

In a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, Mohammed, who worked for CNMG since June 1, 2007, said he was told by the company representative that "it was a cost-cutting measure".

However, Mohammed questioned the timing of the dismissal considering that one day before he was viewed as someone who had a problem with the Prime Minister by Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan during the televised morning radio programme.

"He prompted the line of questioning and I felt it was my right to explain myself," Mohammed said.

In fact, according to a transcript of that interview, Mohammed is recorded as asking Rambachan in his capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister if he felt that the Prime Minister's statement about Trinidad and Tobago not being an ATM card for the region or no aid unless it redounded in benefits to this country was said in a diplomatic way.

At that point Rambachan replied: "You can argue that from now until eternity...but I want to ask you a question, last time I was here, you seem to have some specific problem with Mrs Bissessar's leadership, is that so?"

Mohammed: "No, I have no problem with Kamla Persad-Bissessar's leadership".

Rambachan: "Philosophically, do you subscribe to women in leadership positions?"

Mohammed: "Well, religiously, no".

Rambachan: "Well, religiously no, so if you have Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as the Prime Minister of the country, would you subscribe to a woman being a Prime Minister of this country?"

Mohammed: "I have no problem with that".

Rambachan: "Well you said religiously you have a problem".

Mohammed: "Religiously no, but there is a difference between religion and country. I don't know if you are trying to paint me in a corner as far as my religious philosophy but the point is".

Rambachan: "Going back to the ATM".

Mohammed: "Dr Rambachan you are trying to evade the point. You are trying to draw in religious views".

Rambachan: "She never said that".

Mohammed: "Wait, let me finish, you are trying to draw in my religious philosophy on women in leadership with the leadership of the country which is very different and I am trying to deal with the fundamental issue of the comments in relation to the situation in those islands and that's why I draw the comments of being diplomatic. I have no problem with the issue of your questioning, but I don't see the connection, if it is my religious philosophy says a woman should not be in religious leadership that it automatically presumes that I am against a woman in leadership of any country".

An on-line report of Mohammed's statement prompted a firestorm of criticism with many commentators targeting the talk show host religious beliefs. Other bloggers praised his persistence and fearless journalistic skills.

Speaking yesterday, Mohammed said he doesn't know if that line of question and answer was what prompted his sudden dismissal, but he said he was never aware of any cost cutting exercise taking place at the company.

"When I asked if there was any other way I could be incorporated, I was told to wait until interim chief executive officer, Ken Ali returns (to the country) on Thursday and to call back on Friday," he said.

When the Express contacted Ali, who was en route to the United States with the Prime Minister yesterday, he maintained that Mohammed was dismissed because the company is cutting cost.

He said it had nothing to do with the interview involving Rambachan or the insinuation that Mohammed disliked the Prime Minster because she was a woman or Mohammed's religious views which says that women should not hold "religious leadership positions".

"I have a mandate to make CNMG more cost efficient and that is what I am doing," Ali said.

A former editor at the Guardian, Ali said he was "cutting" consultants, freelancers and anything else that was not sustainable since the company has been operating at a loss for the last couple of years.

When asked who else had been sent home due to the exercise, Ali could not say.

"We are reviewing costs, we are reviewing the operations...and this only started a few days ago after I formally joined the company on October 31," he said.

Ali also pointed out that in the process of cutting cost, they were seeking to bring in professionals who could change the image of CNMG thereby increasing advertising and revenue.

"That's why I brought in Andy Johnson to the show because he has a track record. He brought his previous show (TV6 Morning Edition) to the number one show and I believe that he can do it with (First Up)," he said.

When contacted, Johnson, the chief executive officer of Government Information Services Ltd, said he "was asked" to host the show until a replacement was found.

"I got a call from someone, and they asked me to host the show until a replacement was found and I said I'd do it," he said.

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