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Newly-elected San Fernando mayor Kazim Hosein is defending his treating some 50 members of the media to a dinner at Soong’s Great Wall Restaurant, Circular Road on Wednesday, saying it was merely an opportunity to get to know media practitioners. Hosein was criticised on social media, as some—including other journalists—said the issue reflected the media’s propensity to take bribes or accept gifts.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Hosein insisted it was nothing of the sort. He said he invited between 22 and 25 journalists from various media houses, but close to 50 turned up for the buffet dinner. “My intention is isn’t what they are saying,” Hosein said. He said the dinner was not paid for from the funds of the San Fernando City Corporation but out of his own pocket. “The entire thing was funded by me because this is what I wanted to do.
“I don’t know that there was anybody who was PNM there. On the day I was sworn in, I was sworn in as mayor of San Fernando and not as mayor of the PNM,” Hosein said. Describing the media as one of the main stakeholders in San Fernando, Hosein said the dinner was an opportunity to improve relations.
“There is nothing like politics involved,” Hosein maintained. He said his father Rakeeb Hosein, who was mayor of San Fernando from 1983-1987, also hosted a similar event for the media when he came into office. Sunity Maharaj, director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, editor of the T&T Review and former Express editor in chief, said Hosein’s dinner showed media practitioners should be guided by the editorial policy of their particular media house.
Saying there was a “grey line” between “normal hospitality” and wanting to bribe people, Maharaj said there was a question of what was appropriate and inappropriate. “If you want to have a drink or so...but you don’t know if it is being offered as an inducement to butter us up and to get us on our good side and establish a line of contact that makes us unusually friendly to a particular public official,” she said. “Media houses have to find that fine line between normal courtesies and briberies.”
Touching on the prime minister’s annual distribution of Christmas hampers to the media after a luncheon at the Diplomatic Centre, Maharaj said this was an investment in the media. Saying it was important to set standards, she said: “The standards have run away with us. There used to be a period where it was normal and kind of reasonable, but now it is going into a territory of open bribery of the media.” One way to remove temptation from journalists, Maharaj added, was to offer better salaries and working conditions.
Urging more discussion on the accepting of gifts by the media, she said this was an important issue to be ventilated and discussed. Vice-president of the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association Kiran Maharaj yesterday said the organisation could not comment as it had not yet discussed the issue.