(Eyewitness News) NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Orange cones lined the path to the entrance of the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday morning, limiting media personnel from interviewing ministers of the government ahead of their weekly Cabinet meeting.
In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said while it officially welcomed the weekly Cabinet meeting to the Cecil Wallace Whitfield Building, the responsibility of ensuring security of the building and those who work within falls to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
It said: “Some members of the media showed up today at the building in the hopes of interviewing ministers on their way into Cabinet. Several expressed concern on social media about the orange cones outside the building which limited access to the building; these orange cones are in place every day as part of the RBDF’s security practices.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper did address the media outside the OPM.
Sometime later, Director of Communications Latrae Rahming and Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Clint Watson invited reporters into the building for a meeting on the condition they did not use their cell phones and technical personnel, namely videographers remain outside.
During that meeting, Watson briefed media personnel on the security practices.
In the OPM’s statement, it said the press secretary invited reporters to send in requests in advance so that ministers can be made available and invited the reporters to use the press briefing room for their interviews.
“Media access is an important priority for this administration,”
“Using the press briefing room instead of the parking lot and entrance to the building is a way to allow access to ministers without disrupting a very busy workplace.
“From our very first month in office, the Prime Ministers’ Press Office has worked to help new agencies secure responses from and interviews with ministers.
“Reporters are also free to reach out directly to Cabinet ministers.
“In addition, reporters are provided with the opportunity to ask questions about government policy during the weekly press briefing.
“Tuesday Cabinet briefing and interviews will now provide further access.”
There has been a long-held tradition of interviewing ministers in public places, including government and non-government events as well as ahead of weekly Cabinet meetings, when the Churchill Building was used, and more recently the Tradewinds Building, downtown.
Last October, Watson outlined guidelines for how the media could access ministers of the government in what he said would pave the way for “greater access”.
But there were outcries from some media organizations that the provisions did the opposite.
According to the guidelines, no interviews should take place while the prime minister or a Cabinet minister is attending an event unless pre-approved by the office of the press secretary or minister.
This guideline has also not been implemented to date, with the prime minister and other Cabinet ministers engaging in side interviews at numerous public events.
The guidelines also said that “random Cabinet Office interviews” will be discontinued and replaced with a structured Cabinet press briefing room at the OPM.
The practice of interviewing ministers ahead of Cabinet meetings has yet to be formally blocked or discontinued, though this morning could be indicative of what is to come.
While OPM briefings have taken place weekly, the media has been requested to provide questions in advance, though ministers have often taken off-the-cuff questions at these briefings.
Also, only accredited journalists and staff are permitted into Cabinet and OPM briefings.
In this regard, Watson said: “We recommend that seasoned team members be sent for these assignments as we seek to establish new media protocols for our national leaders”.