Trinidad and Tobago has fallen 20 places-from 30th to 50th-on the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, a US-based non-governmental organisation. According to an article published by the NGO on February 13, T&T has been "scarred by a case of government spying on journalists."
The article described the December 2011 search of Express House relating to the airing of rape footage on the Crime Watch programme and the January police raid of the Newsday newspaper office and consequent seizure of journalist Andre Bagoo's personal property as "infringement(s) of professional secrecy."
The World Press Freedom Index is published in January and measures the degree of journalist and media freedom in more than 170 countries. T&T has dropped from 30th with 8.5 points in 2010 to 50th with 15 points in 2011. In comparison, Jamaica has moved up on the index from 20th in 2010 with 7.67 points to 16th in 2011 with 3 points.
President of the Publishers & Broadcasters Association (TTPBA), Kiran Maharaj, said both the Crime Watch and Newsday incidents were "unfortunate" but not in the TTPBA's remit to condemn. "In both cases, the individual media houses need to look at their internal codes of practice and decide on the matter," she said. Her comments come in light of World Press Freedom Day which is recognised annually on May 3.
Maharaj said journalists need to adhere to a personal code of ethics and ensure that it is aligned with that of their employers. She said that T&T is lacking media law and media lawyers. Although journalists are able to operate freely under the current regulations, the proposed Broadcast Code and Data Protection Act can become barriers if not appropriately drafted, she said.
"We need to pay attention more to proper training of individuals in the field," she added. World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 as a day to assess media freedom and injustices around the globe.