Row in T&T over Govt’s $15,000 ‘per diem’ to Jour­nal­ists

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

row is brew­ing in Trinidad and Tobago where jour­nal­ist there re­port­edly ac­cepted a per diem from gov­ern­ment for an over­seas trip.

Ac­cord­ing to a story in the Trinidad Ex­press News­pa­per on De­cem­ber 28, “On the heels of the con­tro­ver­sial $1,000 Massy Stores vouch­ers of­fered to se­lected jour­nal­ists, comes word that the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fered cheques rang­ing be­tween $13,000 to $15,000 to re­porters and cam­era­men who ac­com­pa­nied Prime Min­is­ter Kamla Per­sad-Bisses­sar on a trip to China dur­ing the pe­riod Fe­bru­ary 23-28 this year.”

Ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per the money was of­fered as a per diem dur­ing the me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ cov­er­age of the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial visit.

The trip to China, ac­cord­ing to the Ex­press, cost the Gov­ern­ment of Trinidad and Tobago TT$62,000 in air­fares for jour­nal­ists. Those on the trip in­cluded Juhel Browne for Caribbean Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Net­work (Ex­press and TV6), Khamal Ge­orges-Guardian Me­dia Ltd (Guardian and CNC3), Jesse Ramdeo—Win TV, Karen Cozier-Phillip from Caribbean New Me­dia Group (CNMG), Mukesh Har­ri­paul-IETV and Sasha Har­ri­nanan—Newsday.

The six me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives were called days be­fore the trip, ad­vis­ing them to col­lect the cheques, the Ex­press noted adding that in one in­stance the man­age­ment of a me­dia house was un­aware that its staff mem­ber had ac­cepted the money.

It was only when the Sun­day Ex­press con­tacted the me­dia house last week and spoke with its Head of News that the company found out the of­fer was even made.

The staff mem­ber was re­port­edly called into a meet­ing where he ad­mit­ted to be­ing called and ac­cept­ing the money.

In another case, sources say, me­dia man­age­ment knew about the money and did not give their re­porter a per diem or gave them a smaller amount.

Two jour­nal­ists—Browne and Ge­orges—re­fused the per diem, while another ac­cepted.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ex­press, to date, Gov­ern­ment is yet to make pub­lic it paid the per diems of four me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers or con­firm who au­tho­rised the $1,000 Massy Food Stores vouch­ers for some jour­nal­ists.

Pres­i­dent of the Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion of T&T (MATT) Cur­tis Wil­liams com­mented by say­ing: “Ob­vi­ously it is a bad prece­dent ei­ther way for jour­nal­ists to ac­cept a per diem on an over­seas trips from the Gov­ern­ment.”

He said a per diem should be paid by the com­pa­nies who em­ploy me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers.

“News­pa­per, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio sta­tions, they should be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing the per diem and if in fact, they, the com­pa­nies, said they were pre­pared to take the per diem from the Gov­ern­ment, rather than pay from their own pock­ets, then that is a dis­grace on the very com­pa­nies for whom th­ese jour­nal­ists are work­ing.”

He con­tin­ued: “Se­condly, if it is the jour­nal­ists ac­cepted the per diem with­out no­ti­fy­ing their company, then I ex­pect their com­pa­nies to take the req­ui­site ac­tion in relation to this mat­ter and those jour­nal­ists.”

Say­ing it was “bad prece­dence for a Gov­ern­ment or Gov­ern­ment agen­cies to seek to pay per diem to jour­nal­ists who are cov­er­ing le­git­i­mate as­sign­ments out­side of the coun­try”, Wil­liams added: “What hap­pens, for ex­am­ple, if there’s a story that is ad­verse to Gov­ern­ment? Does the jour­nal­ist feel pres­sure not to carry the story be­cause their day-to-day ex­penses are be­ing paid for by the State?”

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