Government Information Service Ltd (GISL) has breached the parliamentary rules which forbid the broadcast of Parliament for any “advertising, promotion or other form of publicity”.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has written to House Speaker Wade Mark, accusing GISL of using parliamentary broadcast for campaign purposes.
Rowley was referring to a GISL programme carried on Sunday evening immediately after the People’s National Movement convention. The convention, which placed the spotlight on the PNM’s presentation of candidates and manifesto for the local government election and the address of Rowley, was aired live. Right after this, the GISL programme featured excerpts of the budget presentation of Sport Minister Anil Roberts, which were severely critical of Rowley and the PNM.
Rowley said the broadcast was a flagrant violation of parliamentary rules governing the televising and live broadcasting of sittings of the both Houses and an abuse of authority by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Government, through the abuse by the GISL, has now taken to using clips and full sections of parliamentary debates in their political responses and satire for campaign purposes. This is done by instructing the public media to carry GISL instructions which consist of parliamentary material without the cover of privilege,” he stated, in his letter to Mark.
Rowley said he was the chairman of the Select Parliament committee which set up all the broadcasting rules. He quoted the conditions laid down by Parliament for the use of recordings or film footage of Parliament. They are as follows:
i. Reports of proceedings should be such as to provide a balanced presentation of different views;
ii. Parliamentary reports should give a balanced, fair and accurate account of proceedings with the aim of informing viewers about the work of both Houses;
iii. No extract of parliamentary proceedings may be used in any form of advertising, promotion or other form of publicity;
iv. No extract of parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme, in a programme of political satire or for ridicule.
Rowley said these rules were agreed to by the House when live broadcast of the proceedings was allowed. He said one of the reasons for the rules was to prevent any political side or any member of the House who had the financial capacity to reproduce part of the proceedings to promote the agenda of one party.
Rowley said the abuse by the Government, through GISL, was a very serious matter which could have far reaching consequences for the innocent and the public interest.
“I object to this unsavoury development and herein call on you as Speaker to protect the rights of Parliament from the abusive encroachment of the indecent Executive,” the Opposition Leader stated. It is understood that one of the major risks of such broadcast is that they do not have parliamentary privilege and any person, be it a member of the Parliament and a member of the public, whose character is tarnished, can invite the intervention of the courts.
Contacted for comment yesterday on GISL’s breach of parliamentary rules, GISL head Andy Johnson said: “Once concerns were raised with us, we took steps to cease the broadcast of those things as much as possible.” He suggested the Express refer all other enquires to the minister of Communications.
Minister of Communications Gerald Hadeed said if Rowley wrote the letter to the Speaker, he (Hadeed) believed the Express should be speaking to the Speaker of the House for his comment, “not to me”.
He said he could not comment on Rowley’s letter because he had not seen it. Asked whether he was aware of any concerns with respect to the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings, Hadeed said: “I have not seen the complaint. You said it was a letter sent to the Speaker. I believe it has to be the Speaker’s remit if he has a complaint to call me to the meeting and, on the basis of that, then I would be in a position to say something.”
He added that he was certain that if the Opposition Leader writes the Speaker, the Speaker would not sit on that complaint and would call him (Hadeed) to a meeting “in 24 to 48 hours and I would certainly go and see him”.
Mark declined to comment, saying he had not yet received Rowley’s letter.