Trinidad and Tobago opposition leader defends freedom of the press and expression

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Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar

By Caribbean News Global contributor

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The United National Congress (UNC), and opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has signaled, with great concern, the ongoing blatant and very dangerous attempts by the government to stifle traditional media in Trinidad and Tobago.

This, according to opposition leader Bissessar has surfaced “as journalists from the daily newspapers, television and radio stations undertake to report on various issues of national public importance concerning the coronavirus pandemic; noted that there is a strategy employed by Cabinet ministers to ensure that they avoid accounting to the public as to their overall handling of COVID-19 crisis.”

The fact remains, however, that, as the historic Fourth Estate, the traditional media plays a very important role in defending democracy. Reporters, photographers, cameramen/women, editors and all other media employees risk their health, safety, and lives daily to inform the public as to the crucial issues affecting Trinidad and Tobago at this troubling time.

So far, the media has highlighted:

  • The questionable and contradictory positions of the government regarding the controversial issue of repatriating stranded citizens abroad;
  • The very dangerous, unsanitary conditions of the quarantine facilities, including hospitals and private facilities, being used by government to treat COVID-19 patients;
  • The fact that citizens are now petrified to submit themselves for COVID-19 testing due to very valid fears of ending up in these hellish facilities;
  • The ongoing plight of the countless citizens who are suffering serious financial setbacks due to insufficient relief grants, and the overwhelming State bureaucracy in accessing them;
  • The fact that quarantine facilities have essentially turned into jail sentences for patients, including children, which is a violation of citizens’ Constitutional rights;
  • The use of taxpayers’ dollars to fund several questionable government initiatives.

“For this commendable national service, these valuable essential workers from media establishments are now being unfairly targeted in the following ways,” said opposition leader Bissessar.

“Senior Cabinet ministers attack and bully reporters and editors for simply writing stories, editorials, columns or asking questions that are not to their liking.

“Political operatives reported to be on the State’s payroll, subject media practitioners to unbridled, unwarranted, merciless and very damaging personal and professional attacks on an almost daily basis via social media.

“This is all a very blatant, dangerous attempt to intimidate and silence the media’s (and by extension, our country’s) Constitutional rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

“It also potentially puts media practitioners, and their families, under severe undue mental and emotional stress. This is all ultimately tantamount to illegal harassment of citizens in the execution and performance of their jobs,” she said.

The former prime minister and current opposition leader Bissessar said, “ Now, it has worryingly gone a step further since,” and “Cabinet ministers have now given these allegedly paid government political propagandists unfettered access to their daily media conferences,” added, “here, the ministers strategically stifle probing questions from journalists. They instead use their alleged propaganda agents to nakedly push the government’s questionable political agenda, under the guise of posing questions.”

Opposition leader Bissessar pointed out, “ All government news conferences, along with every other State event, are wholly funded by taxpayers’ dollars. And Cabinet ministers, therefore, have a duty to conduct them in a manner that represents the interests of all citizens. To instead, politicize these news conferences with the clear intention of destabilizing media, a Constitutionally enshrined right is therefore totally unacceptable. It is also contrary to the public and national interest, violates our Constitutional tenets and poses a very serious threat to our democracy,” she said.

Opposition leader Bissessar reiterate that government: “Immediately stop this dangerous practice of granting access to their political operatives who are paid by taxpayers’ dollars, to these public interest forums. If they fail to do so, they must alternatively now allow all social media bloggers to have similar equal access to these news conferences, in the spirit of fairness and equality to all citizens … it is our very democracy which is at stake,” she said.

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