He said, “The State, through CNMG, GISL and Parliament, owns three television stations, four radio stations and three cable channels and, in the last year alone, spent more than $90 million to keep its media operations going.
“In a contracting economy and, with depressed energy prices, this appears untenable. We need to decide whether this is a good use of government resources, while each day people are crying for better roads, houses and drainage.” He then challenged anyone to assert that, after more than $90 million spent, $50 million of which was spent on a “Government Working for You” campaign, if they feel either better informed, entertained or even better prepared by State media to face the challenges that are confronting us today. “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,” said Cuffie.
However Cuffie stated that part of his job is to bring awareness to government, of the importance of the media, as a key element of the governance process, and that the government recognises the importance of communications to good governance.
Speaking on the conference theme, “The Future of State Media in the Caribbean” Cuffie said a final decision on the matter of State media, would be taken only after consultation with stakeholders.
“I can assure you, that the Government will take notice of the positions that are articulated today, as it formulates its final position on the role of State media,” said Cuffie.
He added: “As a new government, we tend to the view that State media is an oxymoron, and that the Government should have no role in owning media of any kind.
That is why we have moved to install independent directors at the State-owned media companies, as we chart a new direction for these organisations. At the same time, we respect those who see a role for the State in media ownership and no doubt, the views expressed today will assist in refining our final positions on the issue.” On a lighter note Cuffie expressed his pride in the fact that the invitation to speak at the Assembly came from his “former media colleagues”, at the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.
He explained, “I use the words former media colleagues advisedly, since I recognise, that there is mutual distrust among journalists and politicians, and that our system of government is all the more healthy for it. And, the fact that I have now practiced in both arenas, has only served to make me distrusted on both sides.” ACM delegates chuckled.
But on a more serious note Cuffie said that Government’s policy has pledged to restore honesty, openness, accountability and integrity to the governance process, and that they expect a free and independent media will be required to hold them to those standards.