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Opposition queries payment to broadcaster

Susan Jackson, Opposition MP (Photograph supplied)

A contract between the Government’s communications team and a media organisation run by a former Progressive Labour Party MP raised questions from the Opposition yesterday.

Susan Jackson, of the One Bermuda Alliance, called for clarification over the agreement with Inter-Island Communications, owned by Glenn Blakeney, who was a PLP MP for more than a decade.

Details on the Official Gazette — published under Public Access to Information requirements — showed that the company would be paid $35 for each radio advert, $150 per radio interview, as well as for press or ministerial statements, and $175 for radio advert production.

The figures also revealed the price for remote broadcasts was set at $2,000 each and a minute of video production cost $3,500 — more than $58 a second.

A government spokeswoman said about $24,000 had been spent on radio adverts and interviews with “personalities” and that other media organisations were also paid to promote campaigns and initiatives.

Ms Jackson asked: “This contract is from December 5, 2018 to December 4, 2019 and has been made public under the Official Gazette notices because it is valued at $50,000 or more. Was it tendered?

“Were the terms of the contract made public? Who authorised this?

“This is extremely concerning and the Government must make a public statement clarifying why this money is being spent this way.”

A government spokeswoman said the communications department had signalled during recent Budget talks “that it will continue to enhance how it engages and communicates with the public”.

She added: “The department is particularly keen to work with local media outlets to create unique and consistent avenues to share government news and information with the public.”

The spokeswoman explained that the agreement with Inter-Island Communications was to help the Government get its messages out to members of the public.

She said: “The Inter-Island advertisement placement included radio spots, on-air interviews with government officials, and audio recordings for a variety of government campaigns such as holiday garbage collection and recycling, the 2019 Budget, the 2022 education plan, foster care awareness, workforce development career guidance, Post Office closure, water service interruptions, boards and committees and more.

“Advertising support for the aforementioned campaigns also ran across other various local media outlets.”

The spokeswoman added after Ms Jackson spoke out yesterday: “The contract in place with Inter-Island Communications is a fee for services contract.

“This means the Government of Bermuda pays only for the services it uses.

“Despite the options offered by Inter-Island under its contract, only the following services have been used and paid for: radio ads which were produced by CITV and interviews with on-air personalities.”

The spokeswoman said the Bermuda Broadcasting Company was paid $48,000 for radio and television advertising services from December last year to February. Print adverts in The Royal Gazette cost the department $5,300 and $2,100 was spent on online advertising with Bernews.

Money allocated for advertising was also spent on several social-media platforms and on online promotions on smaller Bermudian media outlets. The Department of Communications issued a Request for Information earlier this month to media organisations for suggestions how they could help Government reach the public.

The spokeswoman said: “The RFI is a great opportunity for local media companies to create products which will showcase their agency and potentially increase their targeted audiences.”

Mr Blakeney said last night that the Inter-Island Communications contract with the Government formalised set rates for services.

He explained: “The contract is on a fee for services basis and enables the opportunity for the Government to reach and interactively discuss any initiative or important matter directly with the public in real time.

“Fee for service simply means that we cannot invoice Government for any payment, if an IIC service is not actually used.

“IIC is here for clients that wish to reach consumers or the public at large and the radio stations remain relevant because they provide programming that is respected and genuinely appreciated by a diverse and huge local demographic.”

Mr Blakeney added: “All airtime is valuable and interview rates apply. The Government and registered charities receive special rates.”