Sunday, October 28, 2012

Worth repeating: PM's commitment to media freedom

Statement by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day – 3 May, 2012
Today, May 3, 2012 we join the world to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is a day that provides all of us an opportunity to evaluate press freedom around the world, to commit ourselves to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and also to pay tribute to journalists who lost their livelihood and /or lives trying to make our world a better place.

Our commitment is grounded in the proclamation of World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993, which adopted the principles of press freedom outlined in the Declaration of Windhoek at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO's General Conference in 1991.

While we at home take this freedom for granted, World Press freedom Day reminds us that in some countries around the world, publications are censored and shut down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, arbitrarily detained and even murdered.

We in Trinidad & Tobago are fortunate to have press freedom enshrined in our constitution as a fundamental right. We remain committed to the principles of media freedom in the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek and through the earlier UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 19:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

World Press Freedom Day is a reminder to governments everywhere of the need to respect press freedom, to support free media and to remember the journalists who died while doing their jobs. Sixty-two of them lost their lives worldwide last year while trying to do their work.

Today when we speak of Press Freedom, we include the collective multi-platform media community that has transformed entire societies by enlightening the decision making process with information which empowers citizens to take control of their destinies.

Today’s media are no longer the conventional dailies or the regular broadcasts on radio and television; the Internet is home to a plurality of media that is accessible everywhere at the touch of a key. Our technology today has erased borders and boundaries and made our world a close, connected community.

A single image on a cell phone at the other end of the world can reach us at the speed of light and influence how we think and guide what we do. That is the new power of technology that empowers and facilitates a new world of communication and media that is available at relatively small costs to journalists and citizen journalists.

No responsible government would even contemplate media control, not only because it is almost impossible to do so in the new inter-connected world, but also because it is not in the interest of those in positions of authority to silence dissent. Governments need to listen to what people are saying.

A free and responsible media is an asset to any government, especially in emerging nations such as ours. The media individually and collectively give voice to the voiceless and raise issues on behalf of citizens on which the state can act.

The state in return can monitor what the people are saying, understand their concerns and then create policy to correct problems.

My administration has always supported media freedom and, I have pledged that our People’s Partnership government never renege on that commitment.

I made a solemn pledge to the media, which our government will honour at all times: "We will defend media freedom with all our strength and legislative capacity because we know that without a free media our democracy would be deformed."

Further, "We insist that no government has the right to take away or infringe in any way on the right of the media to operate freely. Our constitution enshrines the right to a free press and the freedom of expression and we must accept no less."

This is the context in which we in Trinidad & Tobago must see and understand the role of the press and the communications media.

Media freedom will continue to play a crucial role in transforming our society. Had it not been for a free media we would not today be reshaping our country’s political, economic and social structures. The media as a fourth and fifth estate of government is the vital link between citizens and the primary definers of society without which there would be no progress.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom day I wish to reiterate my government’s commitment to protect press freedom and further to pay tribute to all those in the press who in accordance with article 19 of the UN declaration continue “to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai