Friday, May 3, 2013

Government celebrates World Press Freedom day with a commitment to protect media freedom

Trinidad and Tobago joins democracies across the globe to commemorate International Press Freedom Day today (Friday May 03, 2013) with glorious pomp and ceremony. 

It was first proclaimed as a day worthy of recognition by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993. Twenty years after, its significance has grown globally, seemingly in tandem with the media’s universal growth and expansion.

The commemoration of this event has assumed widespread significance in Trinidad and Tobago in recent time. Last year in recognition of the occasion, my government was host to the 2012 International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress. That seminar, under the theme “Media in a Challenging World: A 360 Perspective” was attended by approximately 200 delegates from across the globe.

It was during the course of the 2012 conference that the issue of the continued existence of legislation on criminal libel in Trinidad and Tobago was raised as a cause for concern. 

There was the widespread view, supported by evidence that laws on criminal libel were historically used by many governments as a tool against journalists. Although this was not the case in Trinidad and Tobago, it prompted me as Prime Minister to call for collaboration between the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago and a host of stakeholders in the media fraternity. That discourse delivered a unanimous mandate and a call for the amendment of the Libel and Defamation Act, Chap 11:16.

Exactly one year after, and on the eve of the 2013 celebration of World Press Freedom Day, I am elated that my Government has been able to move swiftly to amend the legislation which has remained on our Statute books for 167 years. 

The amended legislation would be geared specifically toward the revocation of section 9 of the existing Act which states, “If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment of one year”.

In my announcement of the pending legislative amendment I stated that “this law has been on our books for too long. We believe that in any civilised society, committed to freedom of the press, it does not so belong. This historical removal is further evidence of my government’s commitment to an independent, free and fair press in our great nation”.

I am hopeful that with the amendment to the legislation there would be the desire by journalists to do their part: a greater sense of professionalism and responsibility by journalists to first verify the facts before publishing a story. 

At the same time it must not be construed as a surrender of any right by the State or the removal of any right of the citizenry. As I stated on 1st May, 2013, “Citizens can be comforted by the fact that section 8 of the Libel and Defamation Act will remain part of our laws and hence in the event that someone publishes defamatory libel knowing same to be false, it will still be a criminal offence”.

Our actions have further been endorsed by IPI Executive Director Ms. Alison Bethel McKenzie who has proclaimed, “this is a really big step for Trinidad and Tobago and I hope that the media does not take it lightly”.

The proposed legislative reform has the potential to usher in a new era in journalism in our land, one that may possibly be used as a test piece for the rest of the region and perhaps even “more developed societies”.

For me this proclamation brings optimism and confidence that the press and other arms of the media would move to meet the new heightened challenge and rise to the occasion of lifting the profession in Trinidad and Tobago.


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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