PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Friday August 31, 2012 – Concerns have been expressed by the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) about attempts by a senior government minister to acquire ownership of two of the country’s media establishments.
According to a report in the twin-island state’s Express newspaper, National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner is in negotiations to acquire controlling shares in the daily NEWSDAY newspaper as well as outright ownership of the weekly tabloid The Mirror.
The minister has confirmed that he has held discussions with the Chookolingo Group on acquiring the publications.
In a statement, MATT said that “there are numerous precedents for members and officials of political parties and governments owning substantial stakes in media houses, which did not arouse public outcry at the time.”
It noted, however, that for “a minister to acquire such an interest while in office seems to be a new development”.
“There don’t appear to be any legal or ethical restrictions on serving ministers or MPs acquiring new business interests,” MATT said.
“Perhaps this is something that Parliament should examine to see whether it represents ipso facto a conflict of interest and if so, on what grounds—especially in the case of acquiring a media house, which owing to its potential for influencing public opinion and the special place of the freedom of the press in the Constitution, could arguably be classed as a special category of business.”
MATT pointed out that it should also be noted that in small societies “such as this one, much of the news is based on the government’s activities”.
“That being the case, for wealthy and politically powerful political figures to own media houses could mean there is a danger not only that the news will be censored, but also that journalists will practise self-censorship, since they will find it hard to criticise those employers, and that directly affects the media’s role as a watchdog of democracy.”