United National Congress » Message from the Opposition Leader on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2024

As Trinidad and Tobago joins the rest of the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, today, May 3, 2024, on behalf of the Opposition UNC, I reaffirm our long-standing commitment to protect the constitutionally enshrined guarantee and sacred principle of press freedom.

T&T has long had a robust independent media, which has flourished significantly in all areas over the past two decades.

With a population of approximately 1.4 million, our country could very well rank among the top in the world per capita when it comes to the development and expansion of the press and media.

This is a great achievement, especially since the private sector has driven this remarkable media development.

World Press Freedom Day reminds us to celebrate our achievements in this area. It also reminds governments of the need to respect press freedom and support a free media at all times.

Unfortunately, today our country is facing a threat to all independent institutions by the government, and the media is not removed from this very worrying development.
Too often over the past eight years, our national headlines have focused on government attacks on the media.

Particularly since 2020, there has been a frightening pattern of attacks on the media by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley himself, which borders disturbingly on personal attacks on individual journalists, but also on a general attack on media owners.

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In July 2022, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago was forced to warn Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley about his attack on journalists for simply reporting stories of the day.

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This is part of the government’s disturbing trend of attacking every independent institution in Trinidad and Tobago, including the judiciary, the Integrity Commission, the Law Association, the Police Service Commission and most recently the Office of the Auditor General.

In a democracy like T&T, where freedom of the press is a constitutional guarantee, such behavior is abhorrent and constitutes abuse of office.

No media practitioner should have to face the fear of being attacked by the highest office in the land for simply doing their job.

It is striking that the UNC, under my leadership, has always encouraged freedom of the press in every possible way.

In 2013, during my term as Prime Minister, I ensured that my government amended the Libel and Defamation Act to prevent journalists from being criminally charged and prosecuted under section 9 of the Act for malicious publication of defamatory libel.

That also included safeguards for citizens, who will still have legal cover, through Article 8 of the law, to protect themselves from malicious defamation when information known to be false is printed.

So far, the T&T media has stood its ground and refused to capitulate to these government threats. Today, I urge all citizens to also rise up against the government to preserve our cherished democracy.

These threats can be magnified if we all stand apart, as fearful individuals unsure of our right to freedom.

Remember the abiding caution of former US President Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”…

Let us stand together now, more than ever before, for the sake of our nation and our future progress, and remember the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 19:

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

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