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