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MATT queries PNM policy regarding post-Cabinet meetings

Changes in the format of the post-Cabinet press briefing announced by the Honourable Maxie Cuffie, Minister of Communications, have understandably raised questions by journalists.

Photo: Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie.
Photo: Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie.

Over several administrations, the post-Cabinet press conference has been used as a forum where ministers of government made themselves available, on rotation, to answer the media’s questions on a range of issues related to the sectors under their purview.

In the new format, the Minister of Communications alone reports primarily on decisions taken at Cabinet meetings. Journalists are uncertain whether this is an interim arrangement and whether alternative arrangements have been made for regular press briefings with ministers of Government.

The press briefing is an important mechanism for Government transparency and accountability, two principles that this Government has promised to expand. The format offers the public an opportunity to assess ministers’ depth of knowledge on specific issues and to gauge the responsiveness of public officials to a range of questions.

Further, the open press conference format offers journalists equitable access to ministers of Government and provides an important additional opportunity for journalists to seek answers in cases where earlier requests have been ignored.

It is the work of journalists to seek answers from ministers and other public officials in the public interest.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Courtesy Jyoti Communication)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Courtesy Jyoti Communication)

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago calls for further clarification on the Government’s policy governing communication with the media.

About MATT Executive

MATT Executive
The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago is the authorised representative body for local journalists in all formats.

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121 comments

  1. Lasana
    Did you hear Minister Cuffie this morning on CNC3? HE outlined the policy on after Cabinet meetings. He also stated that Ministers are available to the media and have been making themselves available. So why continue with this issue. I am seeing a concerted effort to derail the government. Of course that is not going to happen. A long 5 years indeed!

  2. he cannot even speak properly,does be reading and it seems like he does be trying to break up the words to figure out how to say them

  3. Not a good way to start at all. Was Ignatius Sancho serious?

    • Instead on focusing on whether an MP called out another for having an odious orifice or about whether another made allusions about an MPs sexual orientation, the Media framed the parliamentary debate away from this to what ought to be the issue: the Last administrations expenditure and commitment to the rest of us. It is what a budget debate ought to be about. Why trust the media if it is about this frivolity?

    • If it was not for the media exposing things from Section 34 to Reshmi to LifeSport, the People’s Partnership might have still been in charge and Al-Rawi would never have gotten his hands on those documents.
      Even our imperfect media, in other words, has played its role.
      But people have short memories. So let the media watch Parliamentary Channel seems like a sensible response.
      And such short memories is why governments change every five years.

  4. Lol. I worked with Maxie Cuffie at three different publications Ignatius. I know him a lot better than you do. And, as an editor, he would never accept what his Govt is now asking the media to accept.
    Unless, of course, there is an alternative to those post-Cabinet meetings. And that is the whole point of the release here.

  5. This is why Maxie Cuffie, when he was running “The Mirror”, was able to turn it into the weekly that it is, from the example of Yellow Journalism that it was under Ken Ali, with the story of this decade about Section 34 before anyone else in July and NO OTHER Media house was able to get the story. A lot of you need other people to tell you your job instead of “maccoing” on the Internet.

  6. I can see we are heading down a road here… Lemme buckle up yes!

  7. Mr. Sancho whomever he is – demonstrates clearly does not understand the news media.

  8. Kendall Tull and Fayola Bostic, do have a look at the suggestion here by Mr Ignatius Sancho:

  9. What does Ian Alleyne have to do with the suggestion that we in fact should not even harass ministers with questions?
    Ian Alleyne might think it was a good suggestion. But he is not a journalist.
    My job as a journalist is to give readers truth and context on the field that I cover, so they can better understand what is going on.
    For the record Ignatius, you don’t get either by hearing Devant and Colm go back and forth for days about the water taxi (as just one example).
    I don’t mean to mock or slight the point you are trying to make. It just caught my surprise. But then this is my field and I don’t think someone people understand what our job is and what we are supposed to be doing.
    I can live with people pointing out where the media is not operating properly. But if reporters should simply watch Parliament channel and tell readers what they can see for themselves, then why have a media industry at all?
    With all due respect, I think you should consider exactly what function you would like the media to play in your life. And then consider what your answer would be if the party you did NOT support was in power.

  10. The update on this from Maxie seems that if Ministers show up, he’s limiting questions to things which may have come up in Cabinet.
    So it will be very controlled. And we had that same stupidness during the UNC/PP also. Not acceptable either.

  11. So I guess when they meet the Joint Select committees and the Permanent Secretaries make their contributions,… when the Public Accounts committee and the R.I.C make their contributions and so on, you guys just, laugh, switch off for the latest episode of ” Empire” or Ian Alleyne. Right? Imagine this is the kind of comment made by otherwise learned people. If this is so, heaven help the R.O.T.T. .

  12. The media should watch the Parliament Channel and take notes eh Ignatius Sancho? Hahaha. That would be a great satirical blog.
    I can do a make believe skit in which Maxie Cuffie proposes just that to MATT.
    I’m starting to feel like this is going to be a long five years by the way. Lol.

  13. The Ministers are policy makers. Considering the opprobrium members of the Media put themselves into, I think that this time many of them should take this guava season as a time of reflection.

  14. ..The shoe is really on the other foot now, ain’t it?..

  15. …Are you serious? Really? Since when ministers can’t face the media? LOL…

  16. Why does the Media need ‘ access’ to Policy makers( The Ministers) when they have the parliament channel and the open access to the joint select committees when they air? If they need to find out the answer to these questions, all they need to actually do is to do a precis of the goings on in Parliament, especially when the Permanent Secretaries are asked the very questions the claim to want to know.

  17. Press conferences are done all over the world too Zen. Don’t be so harsh. Lol.

  18. No no..what I saw wasn’t individual interviews. I just saw Olivierre taking questions at Parliament..she wasn’t the only one. Maybe I’m not in the loop, but I’ve not seen anything to indicate individuals are being frozen out. From what I could see, those journalists put themselves as the right place at the right time and they spoke to the Ministers. That’s how it’s done around the world. What’s makes some media in Trinidad and Tobago different?

  19. Again, it is about access to all media personnel rather than who you choose to talk to. It is a matter of courtesy to do so as often as possible.
    But hey, it isn’t legal binding. We heard a lot about what is legally binding in recent time.

  20. I’ve seen press interviews with Olivierre, Al Rawi, Hinds, Garcia, Young, Rowley, Imbert, Rambharat, Singh, Dillon, Cudjoe and Smith. Now that’s what I’VE seen…I may have missed others. So what’s the ‘alarm’ about access? Where is this coming from?? Is it that the people who conducted those interviews were not MATT members?? (This is where we get to call BS.)

  21. I fail to see the issue. The objective is communication, no? I think the process has been streamlined.

  22. Ok…. I’m not too bright so I stand to be corrected. A post-Cabinet briefing is just that; it is a forum that allows for the public dissemination of the salient issues discussed and decisions taken at the said Cabinet meeting just concluded. I agree that the media should have access to Government Ministers to obtain information and/ or feedback, seek clarity and allow for transparency and appropriate disclosure on what is happening in their Ministries and how ( in terms of ethical processes etc). However, despite what obtained during previous administrations, it is not absolutely necessary to have this important activity take place during the post-Cabinet briefing. Indeed it is so important that to subsume it under the briefing is actually a disservice to the value behind this element of media/ Govt communication. I actually see an opportunity for the current administration to treat this with the importance it deserves and therefore find a means whereby a separate forum can be hosted specifically for this purpose. It would be a win-win outcome for all.

  23. …I vote for Manning. I vote for Kamla. I vote for Rowley. Is people like me put all of them in power and moved them. And we will move whoever we have to move again. We like bullshit…

  24. …It always starts small. It creeps, then runs, then it’s a run away horse…

  25. Is 5 years to go whats the hurry.

  26. So because thelast administration did it that way the new one should continue…….everyone have there own style…….change is inevitable…….move on

  27. Isn’t he the Communication Minister? So what is the problem?

  28. The end of any trace of transparency is what it is. A return to scripted reports.

  29. Is twice Maxie address the media if it was months then I will understand their concern. Why they never ask TIM where the 100 schools he build?

  30. Why should any other Minister/Ministry address and/or treat with questions from anyone regarding post cabinet anything? the key word here is COMMUNICATION. Let the Minister do his job. Fall in line or wine to the side is my motto.

  31. For five years – or for however long it was – the PP sent minsters to talk to the media in those formal post-Cabinet conferences. How did that help? Did the media discover/uncover any of the malfeasance we have all discovered since the Budget speech and during the subsequent debate?
    Man, the best place to hide anything is out in the open so let the ministers try to hide and let the media do their job, which is to bring them and their performance under public scrutiny. That is why reporters are paid; they can HOPE but they can’t EXPECT anybody, including the ministers. to help them do their jobs.

  32. MATT should boycott all these meetings…..

  33. The last system was not the best. The best method would be that journalists requested the Minister they wanted to speak to. But it was better than nothing.
    Unless the Gov’t sets up another opportunity for reporters to get weekly access to ministers, then this is way closer to nothing.
    Journalists cannot rely on the occasional press conferences from ministers and the temptation would be too great for ministers to speak only to selected and possibly friendly reporters.
    I’ve seen how many journalists are forced to use responses from ministers by text messages. I find that so inappropriate and almost disrespectful.

    • Sometimes when time’s against you and you need a response – texting has to do for that moment.

    • But I’m sure the journalists have tried to call the Minister and not received a response, which is when you resort to text message

    • I understand all of that Paula Lindo and Gregory Lal-Beharie. But you can’t gauge someone’s real-time response to a question via text. And you are not even sure who is responding to you.
      And they can ignore the question much easier via text. Or the chance to press a point is watered down.
      I can go on and on.
      You do it when you have no choice but it is not ideal. Many times, people ask me to email or text questions and I refuse outright. It is a last resort.

    • I was agreeing with you Lasana that it was disrespectul that the journalists had to resort to text message, because the Minister should be answering their phone, especially, as often happens, when they tell the journalist to call at a particular time

  34. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is the post-cabinet press conference is designed to apprise the population on issues that came out of the CABINET meeting. I believe that why it it held immediately after Cabinet meets. Yes, there have been multiple cabinet ministers after these meetings but I have only heard them responding to discussions and issues raised at THAT Cabinet meeting.
    It makes perfect sense to me, based on what I know post-cabinet press conferences entailed, to have the Minister of Communications be solely responsible for that press conference. It’s actually common sense.
    This move DOES NOT limit the press from speaking to specific ministers on matters in their respective ministries. I do not see how that changes. Also, under the PP and past administrations, did the press get to determine which Minister gave the ‘briefing’? Was is Anand Ramlogan who gave the post cabinet briefing while he was involved in scandal, did Kamla show up at ANY post cabinet meeting when controversial issues were in the air? What on earth are they talking about??

    • The Minister in demand did not always present him or herself during the last administration. But it was better than nothing.
      And that’s why journalists are unhappy to have less access rather than more.
      Richard Zen O’Brien, media professionals can tell you how difficult it is to contact government ministers. And when it boils down to the minister giving you a bligh to take your call or reply to your text (I never liked interviews by text btw and I discourage it), what will happen is ministers will cultivate friendly journalists to speak through.
      It is very necessary to have a space where all journalists have an equal shot at asking a minister a question outside of whenever that particular minister decides to hold a press conference.

    • That’s two issues, Lasana, we are talking about a post cabinet debrief, and access to ministers. We cannot lump one in with the other.

    • They are one and the same. It was the only time journalists had access to ministers. If you change that then you have to immediately create another opportunity for journalists to be able to pose questions to ministers.

    • Anyone who followed it before knows that questions were never limited to what happened in Cabinet on that day. And that is standard all over.
      When Obama holds a press conference, he cannot limit questions to only the topic he wants to discuss.

    • No they are not. The post cabinet meeting is to apprise the population on decisions taken by the govt. If you want to speak to a specific ministers related to an issue in their ministry, that’s not the place. Also, how do you get that Minister? Would MATT demand that Minister show up to the briefing?

    • The US govt has a daily debrief that’s done by the Press Secretary. Obama and other cabinet officials only show if something is very critical. And that spokesperson handles every position issue from the govt. And journalists still get to speak to cabinet Secretaries when they need to.

    • It is not the place of any minister to object to questions of national relevance because they don’t feel like discussing it at that point in time.
      There might be many reasons why the press corp cannot converge on ministers weekly in the US. There is no need for me to get on that because there are scores of other things the US does that we should emulate and we don’t.
      Maxie was a newspaper editor and he knows fully well that no self-respecting news house would happily concede the opportunity to ask questions of ministers.
      It is simple: The media had X amount of access to ministers under the previous regime. Will the PNM replicate that? Will the media have more access? Or will the media have less access?
      Thus far, the media has had less access. Therefore, I think it good that MATT asked the PNM to clarify rather than launch an immediate attack.

    • I am in 100% agreement with MATT about media access to ministers. I feel strongly about that, and this is not a PP thing..no previous administration had a good record with press access. However, the post cabinet press conf is a different entity. In that ave we are looking to hear what’s the GOV’T’S position on issue A, B or C. That’s different from speaking to an individual Minister. (Actually I dont have a problem with people requesting those meetings be addressed by the PM himself, but that’s not gonna happen.) It doesn’t mean huge issues related to a particular Minister or Ministry cannot be addressed, but we will be getting the govt’s position on this matter and what decisions are going to be taken as an administration.
      Again, what would guarantee that specific Minister would be on rotation when the media may want to speak to them?
      The person who should be objecting the most here is Cuffie…he has to know EVERYTHING… He cannot deflect and the press is pressure him for answers.

    • Some of views Richard Zen O’Brien. But why such a hurry? More than that the conferences are about positions taken by the government. Isnt the Minister of Communication the spokednan for the government? Isnt he not pronouncing on collective decision making? Methinks MATT doth protest too much and in this case too early

    • And Lasana, it would avoid having to call journalists on their cellphones and inviting them to your home.

    • Like I said, the previous system was far from ideal Richard Zen O’Brien. But it was better than nothing.
      The media needs to be able to ask questions of ministers. The post-Cabinet helped to some extent.
      If the PNM wants to do away with that then the onus is on them to say how the effect will be replicated or even bettered. And that is all I see MATT asking here.
      And Clyde Paul, if the Government is appointing boards, then it can answer questions about those appointments.
      When do you think is a good time to ask about the Energy standing committee or any other board? Two months in? Five months?
      What about if the media was not allowed to ask the People’s Partnership about Reshmi’s appointment as soon as it happened?
      How do you think that would have worked out?
      Maybe the PP is kicking itself now and wondering why they didn’t just say: “Too soon to answer questions” when reporters asked about Reshmi.

      • MATT can ask all it wants but it cannot twist Govt’s arm. The primary function of the Ministry of Communications, as Richard points out throughout this thread, is to provide government information to the public. The public can, I think, demand that information be shared but I don’t know, Lasana, if the public or the media is in a position to or within its right to demand what form that process of sharing information takes.
        MATT is, I suspect, being presumptuous here if they are implying that Govt is doing something wrong by sending Maxie alone to the formal interface. Dos that preclude any of the other traditionally effective options that the media have been in the habit of using? Does Govt have a responsibility, an obligation, to make the media’s work easy? I think not…

    • I pretty sure you can’t answer this question, Lasana (20 points to you if can), of the ministers who sat in rotation during post cabinet press can you or anyone recall one instance where that Minister was asked a specific question about something controversial about their ministry or anything at all related to their ministry? Again, I don’t expect anyone to remember because its not something we thought about before. As I said before, Kamla, Anand, Anil and other ministers who were in the middle of contentious issues were never at those briefings. The focus was ALWAYS govt response and govt policy and decisions the cabinet took. Now MATT is not complaining about the ‘content’, but rather the ‘personalities’ that would be available. Given what we know about what happens at these pressers, whats different about Cuffie doing the same thing? One person is going to be doing the same thing multiple people did. That’s all and honestly, that’s supposed to be Maxie Cuffie’s ‘job’, to be spokesperson for the govt/cabinet and report on cabinet meetings. I don’t know why previous ministers were not used for that purpose, but its a breadth of fresh air the Minister/Ministry is being used appropriately.
      By making this the issue MATT is losing focus on what really matters, media access to individual govt officials. They need to pivot away from that argument. Thats not winnable, that’s the Minister’s job.

    • Savitri, that’s what MATT should focus on first..a code of conduct for their members. 🙂

    • MATT’s job is ensuring ability of journalists to do theirs. So it is an appropriate question. You’re incorrect if you think PP ministers never faced the press on contentious issues in the post-Cabinet.
      I remember Anil Roberts doing it at least once.
      But that isn’t the point. The point is will the PNM give the media, more, equal or less access to ministers?
      So far, it seems like less and MATT is attempting to have the PNM answer that squarely.
      Maxie cannot answer questions for ministers and anyone in the media knows this. Maxie himself knows this as a former media man.
      The reason is simple. The follow up question.
      Maxie can pass information on but he can no more respond to direct questions than a communications minister being asked about Reshmi’s appointment.
      The people who say Cuffie is the communications minister so he can handle all questions, just do not understand how this thing works.

    • Lasana Liburd
      Why are you guys in so much of a hurry? Give the people a chance to obtain substantial in formation. From day one to now it was the budget as priority. When the budget exercise is over I am sure the Ministers will be made to present themelves

    • When the budget exercise is over I am sure they would as a matter of representation make themselves available to the media

    • My point was Anil facing tough questions on HIS ministry or him at the presser…i do not recall him being there for lifesport or after ‘room 201’..he did speak to the press, but it was not at a post cabinet presser. But within all is the question, what do you guys see as the duties of the Communications Minister? Who should announce what happens in Cabinet? Who should announce a change or new gov’t policy? If that’s a job to rotate why do we need a Ministry of Communications? Is MATT going to say we don’t need it anymore?
      My advice to media personnel: you want access? Get a story… Generate your sources, do the investigations, get the story out. THAT’S the job of the media. Lasana, you know that, you didn’t have access to Jack, but we got the story…Sancho didn’t give you the info on the transactions at Central FC, but you got it out. How does ‘access’ substitute for good investigative work? Denyse Renne got responses AFTER she did ‘her work’. They should focus on getting the hard work done…access gives them nothing. That’s the truth and good journalists should know that.

    • Spot on Richard Zen O’Brien

    • Press conferences have their place too. Maxie can share information from the Cabinet. But journalists also need access to ministers. It doesn’t have to be in the post-Cabinet but say when.
      I hear what you say about investigate work but I will give you an example.
      While I am writing on Tim Kee or Anil or whoever. Jack too. There comes a point when I want to provoke a direct response.
      I essentially stormed press conferences by Warner, Tim Kee and Anil in the past to force answers. All three shortened or shut down their press conferences altogether. But it was still better than nothing and it is just something a journalist has to do from time to time.
      Best case scenario is that journalists get to request a particular minister or two and he or she is brought out once a week.
      I think it will help the PNM as well if they have nothing to hide.
      Investigative work will not stop because of the current setup. But it might be that things that could have been cleared up with a one on one are not.
      And then people will stay journalists are stalking ministers or on a witch hunt.

    • A minister openly giving information is usually part of a ‘PR campaign’ (like Anna Ramdass). If officials shut down or give short answers you get stories like Liburd’s and Renee’s. I prefer the latter.

      • Aye speaking of Anna Ramdass…that girl to me has lost all good credibility as a journo…she should be the PP’s Communications person(well she is in a sense) but it should be made formally! MATT should look into that! Compromised journalists (sorry reporters..because we don’t have much journalists here) Apart from her Reshmi story (which was ONLY as a result of alleged jealousy with the inner knowledge that her then “friend” acquired a job with false qualifications and was “eating ah big food!”) what other PP exposés has she done of considerable note(if any)? It’s so obvious with her and Andre Bagoo that journos should be reprimanded for one sided reporting and work! We MUST demand better and expose them all!!

  35. Well, the ministers can always say what questions they are unable to answer at any given time. Cabinet is only once a week, so that is just taking between half hour to an hour out of their busy schedules.
    Trinidad and Tobago reporters are almost never fierce. So it really just about extending a courtesy to them and, by extension, the public.

    • Too soon Lasana. Apart from that they have to respond speedily to their

    • Speedily to their constituents concerns.The night before her presentation Minister Olivierre was at 10pm in her constituency office with 9.more people wsiting to see her.I am sure the after Cabinet conferences will begin shortly. Just a matter of time. After sll 5 years to go

    • Guess how many constituents read the press though? Infinitely more than nine.
      Every government loves to use the media to speak to the people when they are in opposition.
      Suddenly, many see no value to the media once they are in the office.
      None of this is surprising to any journalist who has been around for some time.
      The PNM has an opportunity to decide how it will treat with the media. I hope they choose wisely.

  36. No Keith..im responding to MATT’s concern. I think it is premature. The Ministers have been busy peparing for the
    budget debate.Why not wait and see. To me its like preparing an ambush. And ok not MATT, journalists should have a field day investigating the “facts” coming out of the budget debate

    Spo

  37. MATT got too accustom to politicians running to the media with PR.

  38. Clyde, I think you misunderstand what MATT is. MATT is not a news house. It is a representative body for journalists.
    So, MATT is not going to investigate stories or give opinions on breaking news.
    Its job is to speak up when something affects the day to day functioning of the media.
    I don’t get your reason why ministers shouldn’t answer questions either.
    What if the PP had refused to speak to the media on the grounds that they were too busy doing important ministerial stuff? Would you have been happy with that response?
    I think we should be consistent in what we expect from the government no matter who is in charge.

  39. Keith Look Loy.the PP never revealed what you are witnessing today. In fact they very well used the medua to peddke their lies. Some they paid. Remember the cheques issue? Who took abd who didnt. Is that what you want. Tarry awhile my friend and you will witness open government to your hearts desire.

  40. So what is preventing MATT from doing investigations into the revelations of the ministers? I am out of the country at the moment and i am seeing the slant taken by these journalists. Cuffie never said that there would be no opportunities to engage ministers. So far tgere has been open government. Perhaps too open for some.

  41. …Nonsense. In a democracy the media must have access to Ministers. Even the PP accepted this. What? Is Cuffie the resident expert on all government ministries? Accessibility. Transparency. Accountability. These are the watch words…

  42. What is MATT’s position on the exorbitant legal fees paid to members of the legal fraternity under the former administration?

  43. Because they want to remove the speck while ignoring the beam

  44. Suddenly MATT has found its voice and to say what.To have an opportunity to question Ministers. Have patience. Thise opportunities must come. After all the Ministers have been attending to their budget presentations and unearthing information buried for 5 years. Matters that the media failed to address. Media personnel in the last 5 years failed to serve the publjc interest. How come now after 1 month in government you have so many questions to ask this new group. And then so many issues have been raised that require further investigations to give more information to the public. Is it that MATT is short of investigative journalists? Is it that some parts of the media is still beholden to the unc? Or is it that the dislike for the PNM is so deep that some people cant wait to discredit.
    Already journalists are in distraction mode by ignoring the enormous amounts of corruption isdues and focussing on inane issues. If you know what i mean
    MATT please get with the programme and be investigative rather than the bearer of unworthy news.

  45. I am glad that an experienced press person has been assigned to handle the ” inane bloodhounds ” that pass for journalists in this country. Now before anyone gets on their highest horse, there are many very good, even excellent journalists who know how to elicit the answers they need. Kudos to them. But I have witnessed press conferences where the interviewees are badgered simply because the “journalist” wants a particular answer, where more than one “journalist” asks the identical question. Listening to them annoys me, so I can understand if this new policy has been adopted. And, what is wrong with new policy. All of a sudden MATT has a voice. This need for sensationalism that pervades the media is wearing to the point where I seldom bother with the news anymore. I’ll find out eventually on social media if it’s important enough. So to MATT, let your members do some real journalistic work. Let them learn to write a good article that does not rely on three paragraphs of quotations or half a comment blown totally out of proportion. And while they are at it, throw in some grammar classes. Liburd, maybe you can conduct some training sessions.

  46. Keith Rowley is the chairman of the Energy Committee that selected Malcolm Jones and Ken Julien. He certainly isn’t intimidated by the media.
    That makes me wonder if they just couldn’t be bothered. Part of the sacrifice of leadership is fielding questions on your plans.
    So I really hope they change their stance.

  47. They won’t learn from this methodology at all Fayola for one. Secondly, they are there to be accountable for handling affairs of state. They should ALWAYS be available to answer questions.

  48. Most of the ministers are too green to be trusted with the media

  49. This is not a good start at all.

  50. After people lit a fire under them.

  51. MATT suddenly finds its voice… when it least MATTers.