Media workers sometimes have to take risks when doing their job. They venture into ravaging hurricanes; cover conflict in war-torn regions; and tell stories that the powerful would rather not be told. But no media worker expects to encounter danger while simply standing on a public pavement, on a public road, in a public space.
One report of acts of intimidation and assault is bad enough, but three such reports in the space of one week demand action. The law enforcement authorities, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago and the Police Complaints Authority must conduct expeditious probes into the reports of three media workers from various media houses, including Newsday, being subject to assault, having damage done to their property, and, in one case, being threatened with death.
That these incidents appear to have taken place in broad daylight and with some degree of involvement by persons said to be tied to law enforcement is troubling. They threaten to undermine Trinidad and Tobago’s standing in the world when it comes to press freedom.
Our global ranking in the World Press Freedom Index rose to 34 in 2017, but this masked an actual drop in our global score. Should authorities be unable to come to grips with the disturbing rash of incidents this week, we could well be in store for a severe loss of confidence. The Government, Opposition and Independent parliamentarians must all roundly condemn any act of violence or intimidation directed at the media. Our leaders have a responsibility to set the example for all others to follow.
The facts in relation to these incidents remain nebulous. We accuse no particular company or entity of wrong-doing until the facts are properly established. But assault, threat of death and destruction of property are in no way justifiable. Worse, are the reports suggesting abuse of police power in the hours after the incidents. It is essential that the Police Service, in particular, address this matter given the damage to its reputation which it has sustained due to two recent matters: the day of “Total Policing” and high-profile political claims of prosecutorial victimisation.
This issue is, however, not only one involving the media – which enjoys the Constitutional right to freedom of the press. The reports also raise the prospect of an affront to the freedoms all citizens enjoy, including the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person and the enjoyment of property, as well as freedom of movement.
In a modern democracy, if questions involving the public interest are raised, all have a right to engage in a discourse on these matters and to get the facts.
The principle of fairness dictates that all sides have a chance to tell their story. While the source of the attacks will be a matter for the agencies to establish we warn that no individual should be driven to respond to legitimate inquiry by the use of violence and intimidation. It is no good shooting the messenger and leaving the real issues unresolved. The truth will out.
None of this is to say the media is not itself accountable and does not have to abide by rules as well. But attacks on the media are separate and apart from the standard of journalism.
In fact, these attacks heighten the need for the media to have the freedom it has in the first place.
Let all be warned that the media will not be cowed from pursuing matters that are in the public interest. In fact, actions of intimidation only serve to increase attention on the issues which were being examined in the first place.