New communications minister calls for less funding of state-owned media in Trinidad & Tobago

  • By Guest
  • October 13, 2015

By Lorenzo Holt

Trinidad and Tobago’s new communications minister told a group of Caribbean journalists that too much government money was being used to finance state-owned media companies in his country.

We don’t need so many media and right now we cannot afford it,” Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie said, as reported by the Antigua Observer.

Speaking on Oct. 4 at the Eighth Biannual General Assembly of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), Cuffie discussed whether government money might have been better spent on infrastructure and public services. He cited a $50 million ‘Government Working for You’ media campaign and grants to state-owned media companies Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) and Government Information Services Ltd. (GSIL) as examples of questionable public spending, according to the Antigua Observer.

CNMG operates the state television station C TV and three radio stations and serves Trinidad and Tobago and nearby Caribbean countries. GISL is the communication arm for state-run organizations, and operates the TV4 network.

The State, through CNMG, GISL and Parliament, owns three television stations, four radio channels and in the last year alone spent more than $90 million to keep its media operations going,” Cuffie said, as reported by Newsday. “In a contracting economy and with depressed energy prices, this appears untenable.”

Cuffie previously made statements “hinting” at lessening state-run media companies’ dependencies on the government, according to TV 6 News. The media company reported that he mentioned finding a model similar to those used by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“As the newly appointed Minister of Communications, my first priority, in tandem with the mandate of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, is to restore confidence in existing state media and ensure that it is devoid of political agenda, propaganda and politicking as we move towards a new model,” Cuffie said during the ACM assembly, according to Newsday.

A former journalist, Cuffie acknowledged the mutual distrust between politicians and journalists, but stated that a free and open media was essential to democratic government and public trust.

On Sep. 7 the People’s National Movement (PNM) won the general elections over the People’s Partnership (PP), which won the previous election. Cuffie, also a PNM Parliament representative, was appointed to the Minister of Communications post on Sept. 8.  In one of his first acts as communications minister, Cuffie merged the boards of the CNMG and GISL

Independent senator Helen Drayton was appointed as the new chairman of the joint CNMG/GISL board and immediately authorized the termination of the CEO of CNMG, Ken Ali, and a radio talk-show host named Marcia Braveboy, according to the Guardian.tt.

Despite the recent personnel changes, Cuffie said in his speech that mass layoffs were not anticipated and that the government would take into consideration the opinions of stakeholders before making a final decision on the future of the state’s media, according to Newsday.

“We’ll wait to see what that means,” said Jabari Fraser, secretary of the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago (MATT). “What might happen is that there might be a change in the CEO and the people who were very clearly spewing very personal attacks, such as those political activists – they may lose their jobs. But there hasn’t been a tradition of the journalists themselves in the news rooms losing their jobs.”

Cuffie’s speech in front of the ACM Assembly was his first official function as Minister of Communications, according to Newsday, and he expressed pride that his former colleagues would invite him to speak. Previously, he worked as the CEO of the state-owned GIS, Mirror Group Publication, and president of MATT. He is currently CEO of Integrated Media Company Ltd.

“It is important for the government that we have an active media association going, a professional media association, and that journalists are respected and allowed to play their role in terms of good governance,” Cuffie said, as reported by the Antigua Observer.  “As media practitioners and disseminators of information we must do what is necessary to regain or enhance the confidence of those we are entrusted to inform.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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