Monday, February 19, 2018

‘Reporters can’t be hired guns’

Devant backs call for media houses to announce political affiliation


‘CONCERNED’: Devant Maharaj

Mark Fraser

Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj yesterday endorsed the view of Independent Senator Anthony Vieira that media houses and personnel should declare their political affiliations.

And Maharaj slammed Daren Lee Sing, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA)  and manager, Branding & Operations at One Caribbean Media (OCM)  Radio Group for “vilifying” Vieira. The Express and TV6 are part of the OCM group.

He was speaking on the private motion on campaign finance reform in the Senate.

Vieira had stated that media houses should disclose their political persuasion and journalists  their personal and commercial relationships because the public should know if a media house is “hijacked by special interests or people with deep pockets” . He said it was wrong for reporters to be used “as hired guns”.

“I endorse the statement made by Senator Vieira. But what was the response? He was vilified by the least of the apostles. Daren Lee Sing...this is a man whose father got a radio station overnight because of political connections and he going to criticise Senator Vieira. Daren Lee Sing and the Trinidad and Tobago Broadcasters and Publishers Association should apologise to Senator Vieira. To slam an independent senator when your hands are less than clean?” Maharaj said to desk-thumping support.

The Minister quoted from a DPP report, dated October 7, 2002, in which former Telecommunications Minister Hedwidge Bereaux instructed former Permanent Secretary Emmanuel George to prepare a note stating that Louis Lee Sing should be given a radio broadcast licence. Maharaj said Lee Sing was a known financier and supporter of the PNM. He said the i95.5fm was a de facto PNM radio station “morning, noon and night. They interrupt the talk with music. They campaign for the PNM 24/7”. He added that this was the station’s right, but “as Senator Vieira says, they (the station) should just come out and say ‘we are PNM’ “.

Maharaj also poured cold water over claims by PNM (and farmer) Senator Avinash Singh that NAMDEVCO stopped engaging his family after his PNM affiliation became known. Maharaj said when he heard Singh state that the State company used to buy hundreds of thousands of pounds of sweet potato from him, but stopped, he (Maharaj) became “deeply concerned”. “I immediately called in NAMDEVCO,” Maharaj said, adding that he asked for evidence from the State corporation about the possible victimisation of Singh.

 Maharaj said NAMDEVCO informed him that between 2009 and 2014, it purchased 26,536 pounds of sweet potato from Singh. “This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of pounds,” the Minister noted. He said NAMDEVCO also told him that the majority customer for the sweet potato was the prisons. Maharaj said he asked Justice Minister (Emmanuel George) yesterday to look into why the purchase of sweet potato by the prison has stopped. But, he said, he suspected that the prison was growing their own sweet potatoes now.  

Maharaj also rebutted the PNM’s charge that Government used state resources to campaign and that an example of this was the distribution of cheques to farmers in Aranjuez and St Joseph during the St Joseph by election. Maharaj stated that Singh, as a farmer, knew that the process of getting compensation was very robust and took months. He said the PNM was judging this administration by the standards they (the PNM) had employed.

Maharaj said some political financiers believed that the state was bounty to be captured, which others felt that if the party they financed won, they should be able to exert influence. He said some financiers wanted to be able to have access to a minister while others were ideologically driven and donated money “for donation sake”.

Maharaj referred to information that CLICO gave the PNM $20 million just before the company went belly up and depositors were about to lose their money. “If the PNM had any decency, it would pay back that $20 million,” he said. “But the PNM wants to cultivate and germinate many more Andre Monteils,” the minister said.

Maharaj said the PNM had never called for campaign finance reform, a claim which was later refuted by Singh (when he quoted a newspaper article in which PNM Leader Keith Rowley stated that the party supported campaign finance reform).