The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian condemns Thursday's unprecedented, undemocratic and over-zealous raids by officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau at the offices of Newsday and at the home of one of that newspaper's journalists. During the raid, which took place as a result of a search warrant, those police officers seized two cellphones, four flash drives, one hard drive and three of the journalist's personal computers. The police conducted the raid as a result of a request by the Integrity Commission, whose chairman is retired executive Ken Gordon, a man who spent much of his working life as a media manager and defender of press freedoms. The raid on the newspaper arose as a result of concerns by some members of the Integrity Commission that confidential information concerning a dispute between Mr Gordon and Gladys Gafoor, the deputy chair of the commission, had been leaked to the newspaper.
Mr Gordon had requested that Ms Gafoor, an attorney of long standing and a retired judge of the Industrial Court, and another commissioner, accountant Seunarine Jokhoo, should recuse themselves from deliberating on a matter involving former Attorney General John Jeremie, following a request by Mr Jeremie that questioned the neutrality of the two commissioners. It appears that Mr Jokhoo agreed to recuse himself but Ms Gafoor refused. Therefore, it can be concluded that the police, who acted legally and in accordance with the search warrant they had received, trampled on the right to freedom of the press, which is enshrined in the fundamental human rights section of T&T's Republican Constitution, based on a dispute between the chairman of the Integrity Commission and one of the commissioners and the fact that that dispute found its way to a national newspaper and was published. We submit that such a dispute and such a leak do not come anywhere near to justifying the raid and the potential damage that it does to the ability of the local media to do its job in a manner that is free and fair and free from fear. Many governments in democracies around the world have grappled with this issue of leaks but there have been very few instances in which police officers have entered into newsrooms and seized computers, cellphones and storage devices.
When in 1971 the New York Times began publishing what has come to be known as the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon administration did not send agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the newspaper's newsroom to seize the notebooks and documents of reporters and editors. And the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked by an anonymous source, revealed that the US Government had conducted a secret war in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and that four American administrations had lied about the extent of the US involvement. No police were dispatched to the Washington Post in 1972 when that newspaper began reporting on a matter that came to be known as the Watergate Scandal, which eventually led to the historic resignation of US President Richard Nixon. It is absurd in the extreme and an abuse on many levels, then, that T&T's anti-corruption police should have been sent to find out who leaked the fact of a dispute between Mr Gordon and Ms Gafoor. It is akin to using a nuclear weapon to kill a fly.
Given the extent of the disrespect meted out to the media, we recommend that the Government gives serious consideration to conducting an investigation into this entire affair, with particular emphasis on the role of the chairman of the Integrity Commission. We would also recommend that the Commissioner of Police order an immediate halt to the pointless leak inquiry and return the seized items to the newspaper and the journalist forthwith with an apology for the apparent breakdown in internal communications. Countries that allow the police to tamper with the rights and responsibilities of journalists-in a misguidedly heavy-handed search for sources of leaks-are countries that are heading down the slippery slope to dictatorship and anarchy. We hope that the Government does not allow the country to go down that road.