THE TRINIDAD and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) has criticised Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed for his "dictatorial manner" about the airing of Government programming and says it will be seeking a legal opinion on the matter.
TTPBA, in a press release yesterday, expressed "grave concerns" that Mohammed sent letters to TV broadcasters giving a time for programmes to be aired and this was the second occasion he "attempted to dictate a broadcast schedule to the media".
The TTPBA noted that it was "disappointed and surprised" by this move in light of a meeting held with Mohammed last October.
The association had called for the meeting after the minister made a public statement that all radio stations would be airing Government programmes five minutes per hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At that meeting, the TTPBA explained that, based on their concession, this was not feasible and made suggestions on how the arrangement could be better implemented.
"As our concession states, the times of programmes are to be deliberated upon with broadcasters to ensure that there is no obstruction to our commercial operations. The dictatorial manner in which the ministry has written to broadcasters has left an unfavourable opinion of the minister's intention," the association added.
TTPBA said the situation was exacerbated when the ministry published on January 16 a list of the stations and programme times, "again without consultation", after indicating that the schedule would not work for its members in the current form.
The association also criticised the use of members' logos without seeking permission from TTPBA members, "another serious matter that is in contravention of our advertising standards".
"The lack of collaborative effort by the Ministry of Communications is disappointing and, in our view, undemocratic and we are fearful that this is the modus operandi of the Government since we have been told that the Ministry of Communications acts as the spokesperson for the Government," the association stated.
TTPBA noted that at a meeting on February 1 with Mohammed and Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal, the latter "made it clear that it was not Government's intention to dictate times to broadcasters nor threaten freedom of the press".
The association recalled at the meeting members expressed concern about the content of some programmes, such as "MP's Scorecard" and "Minister Diaries" as "TTPBA are of the opinion that it can in fact be a form of political advertising given experiences of the past".
The TTPBA noted that the concession states that they have to broadcast "material ... as a matter of public interest", which is not reflected by "MP's Scorecard", and it does not state that they are required to broadcast Government programming.
"In light of this, and before airing 'MP's Scorecard' and other such programmes, the TTPBA has decided to seek a legal opinion on what is 'public interest', since the concession obligation in question allows for programmes dealing with 'matters of public interest'," the association stated.
TTPBA reported that it will forward the legal opinion to the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago for discussion.
The association noted that its television members have been asked to submit times when the Government programmes can be aired, which they had agreed to do by February 21.
The TTPBA stated that their membership "is not averse to complying with our current concession obligations", but "we firmly believe that the Government should approach this matter in a consultative manner".
Calls to Mohammed's cellular and home phone went to voicemail.