Monday, April 8, 2013

IPI tells Rambachan media not above the law

Vienna, April 4, 2013

Dear Dr. Rambachan, 
Thank you for your letter dated March 30, 2013 regarding our concern about recent comments from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar attacking “rogue elements” in country’s media.” 

Please be assured that IPI takes your opinions seriously.

Let me first begin by saying that there is no doubt that Trinidad & Tobago enjoys greater press freedom than most island nations in the region, and we dare say, in many other parts of the world. Indeed, Trinidad and Tobago guarantees freedom of thought, expression and of the press, as well as the right to express political views.

We believe elected officials should be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny by the media than ordinary citizens. This view is supported by numerous international bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). While we encourage fair and balanced reporting, international standards hold that the private media are under no obligation to promote a particular political viewpoint.

While all citizens, including elected officials, have the right to freely express their thoughts, when governments publicly scold the media, or when top officials personally attack individual journalists or media houses - whether verbally or electronically, a message is sent to the public that harassment of the media is acceptable. 

In the worst case, this perception could lead to violence against journalists, as it has already in many parts of the world. This risk is heightened when particular sectors of the press are expressly depicted as political enemies, or worse, enemies of the state.

What is more, media houses or journalists that are constantly subjected to public attack may eventually decide to self-censor in order to avoid high-profile rebukes in the future. In declining to publish certain information or opinions, media self-censorship would seriously harm the Trinidadian people’s ability to participate in the democratic process.

Dr. Rambachan, let us be clear: the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) along with member organizations, including the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, do not take the view that the media is above the law. 

Promoting media responsibility is a core activity shared by us and our media partners, and we are quick to engage with media houses that we believe have not lived up to international best practises of professional journalism. But we also are quick to call out governments whose actions have stirred fear and self-censorship among the press. 

Please also allow us to make one clarification regarding your letter. IPI does not have a local chapter in Trinidad and Tobago and Kiran Maharaj is not president of IPI in Trinidad or any other location. IPI, like ACM, has a number of individual members throughout the Caribbean, and a member of its executive board is from the region. In terms of the relationship between IPI and ACM, two years ago we signed a strategic partnership agreement that will further our cause in the Caribbean.

IPI and ACM work together with various media in Trinidad and across the Caribbean to promote independent, ethical reporting in the region. And as you are aware, we are working diligently with governments through the Caribbean to repeal criminal defamation, including in Trinidad and Tobago where we have gotten great support from the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.

Thank you again for sharing your view. We trust that this letter will be the start of a fruitful dialogue between IPI, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the Trinidadian government. I hope that we have been able to address some of your concerns, and IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie looks forward to conversing with you during her visit to Trinidad later this month.

(The letter is signed by Alison Bethel Mckenzie, IPI Executive Director and Wesley Gibbings, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers)

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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