Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed yesterday apologised for his attack on the media through personal e-mails to Express and TV6 journalists, saying he did not know he could not divide his personal and professional portfolios.
Last Saturday, Mohammed sent a private and confidential e-mail to an Express journalist taking issue over an article which he believed was taken out of context.
On Tuesday, Mohammed sent another private and confidential e-mail to TV6 head of news Dominic Kalipersad, not in his capacity as Government Minister, but as "an insignificant, Muslim coolie from San Juan", where he alleged that CCN TV6 and the Express (both part of One Caribbean Media) were biased in their reporting and were in cahoots with the Opposition PNM to destabalise the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led People's Partnership Government.
Mohammed came under fire from media officials who criticised the minister for his inability to understand his portfolio and media relations.
Mohammed was questioned on the issue yesterday at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair.
Asked whether his private e-mails and the criticisms levelled will further deteriorate relations between Government and media, Mohammed said: "I believe that media in Trinidad and Tobago has the full support and cooperation of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. We view freedom of the press and press freedom as a very important aspect of our development here in Trinidad and Tobago and your best friend in Government is the Minister of Communications."
Questioned further on the view that he cannot send personal e-mails to media members while holding the position of Communications Minister, he responded: "I realise that now, I learnt that lesson today and if I've caused any discomfort to anyone I humbly apologise.
"My statement that was sent out to Mr Kalipersad ... I apologise if I have hurt anyone or done anything to make anyone feel uncomfortable in any way, but rest assured press freedom is a very important part of the operations of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and I would like that we leave it at that and we would do what we can to ensure that we have a free press in Trinidad and Tobago," said Mohammed.
"We may not agree with what you print or what you publish but we will give our lives to ensure that you have the freedom to print and publish what you would like."
On the content of the e-mail and his allegations that the Express and TV6 were biased, Mohammed said: "I prefer not to make any comment on the content of the letter, provided to say that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago stands firmly behind the media of Trinidad and Tobago...press freedom is something we value a great deal in Trinidad and Tobago and we will do what we can do to ensure that we have a free press in Trinidad and Tobago."
Told that his statements and assurances on press freedom contradict what he expressed in his personal letters, he said: "I make no comment."
The media attempted to press Mohammed further on the matter, but Dennis McComie, director of communications at the Office of the Prime Minister, intervened and ended the news conference.
McComie got into a tiff with some media members as he criticised them for not being professional and not following protocol.