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Talk show host on public broadcaster taken off his programme

(IPI/IFEX) - 27 November 2010 - A talk show host on Trinidad and Tobago's public broadcaster, Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG), was taken off his programme earlier this month after a challenging interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan over Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's handling of aid to Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Tomas in late October.

On 7 November, two days after the morning television talk show, host Fazeer Mohammed was informed, via a telephone call to his home by CNMG management, that he was going to be removed from the programme as part of the company's restructuring and cost-cutting measures.

During the interview on the 5 November morning show, in which Mohammed questioned the foreign affairs minister in relation to statements by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar about providing aid to Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Tomas, Rambachan then questioned Mohammed's views on women in leadership positions.

Following widespread protests about Mohammed's removal, Persad-Bissessar dismissed allegations of political interference in the programming of the public broadcaster and of discrimination against the Muslim talk show host by some religious activists and leaders, noting that the journalist's appointment had not been terminated. "He (Mohammed) was informed that there would be further discussions with respect to placing him where they felt his competencies would be best," Persad-Bissessar was reported as saying.

Talking to IPI after the prime minister's statement, Trinidadian journalist Wesley Gibbings, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, said: "There are several very curious aspects of the station's claim that Mr Mohammed was the subject of a broader plan to restructure the station and its operations. There are, among other things, questions of timing and the complete absence of any articulated plan."

"These critical omissions have generated among many observers the strong suspicion that Mr Mohammed was penalised for his unrelenting pursuit of sound answers to probing questions - something for which he is well known," said Gibbings.

Mohammed, who had co-hosted the talk show since June 2007, eventually submitted his resignation.

The person announced and promoted by the station as Mohammed's permanent replacement was the head of the Government Information Service, Mr Andy Johnson. Mr Johnson, who said he was only temporarily assigned, gave up the position after just one week. His appointment to replace Mohammed had been heavily criticised by the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

"The function of a public broadcaster is to serve the interests of the public, and not those of the government," said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. "The timing of Mohammed's removal raises concerns about political influence over the decision of CNMG's management, which would affect the credibility of the network."

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