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Gopee-Scoon knocks NGC media blitz: Political gimmickry

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The National Gas Company (NGC) came under fire in Parliament on Friday, as Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon accused the state enterprise of abusing funds to promote the People’s Partnership in its $20 million “ifhappiness” media campaign. Gopie-Scoon, citing the campaign as highly political media, contended that the campaign logo has incorporated Government’s trademark PP into its tag-line as a means to “fool” and “confuse” the public.

“It is wrong, it is bold, it is reckless,” Gopie-Scoon declared in her contribution to the debate on the Trademarks Bill (2015) in the House of Representatives. The campaign, which features a media blitz of television, full page newspaper advertisements and radio spots, came under scrutiny as questions have been raised about expenditure at the state company. 

In the media campaign, the “pp” in happiness is often highlighted in a different colour to the entire word and features a smile beneath the two letters, she noted. This, she said, is clearly aimed as highlighting the Government’s trademark PP through the use of state funds. “I do not know if the Government is really serious about upholding it. I am really, really concerned by the facade of that advertisement using the PP trademark for the purpose of political, fooling the public,” she said.

While the PNM MP agreed that ‘PP’ is not a registered trademark, she reminded deputy House Speaker Nela Khan and MPs that the two letters were “common law trademarks” Gopie-Scoon took the Government and NGC to task over the issue. “I think it is utterly absurd and wrong that the trade mark ‘PP’ should be used in these advertisements. 

“I think it is very political and I think that you are coming here now and you are promoting this (Trademark) legislation and you are making a mockery of the legislation when you have done something like that, because this is a blatantly wrong and corrupt exercise by the NGC,” Gopie-Scoon said, questioning what the theme “happiness” had to do with the NGC’s mandate or its mission. 

Possible infringement
Gopee-Scoon also pointed to the Coca-Cola Open Happiness advertising campaign as she expressed concern that the NGC may have infringed on the soft drink giant’s media campaign. “They (NGC) are attempting to use state funds to promote for party promotion purposes. But in fact they are stealing from Coca-Cola and I would not be too surprised if some kind of inquiry or so should come from Coca-Cola about the use of their Open Happiness trademark. I am concerned about that,” she said. 

The MP also pointed out that in 2010 Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then an Opposition MP, wrote to the Auditor General complaining about a similar issue. She offered, through a letter, legal opinion about the PNM’s 2010 advertising campaign and queried the use of state funds for political advertisements. One of Persad-Bissessar’s contentions in that letter, Gopie-Scoon said, was the fact that the advertisements were not labelled as paid political advertisements. 

“It is very hypocritical of them (government) to come here using the PP trademarks, it is not statutorised but it is a common law trademark and it is really hypocritical of the Government to come here and espouse this piece of legislation,” she added. She said the bill needs wider consultation from appropriate experts and should be sent to a Joint Select Committee for review. Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, who piloted the bill, said Gopie-Scoon started off well in her contribution, but got side tracked. The debate was later adjourned. 


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