The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) says it will not drop its guard when it comes to threats against press freedom and the safety of journalists.
And the Association intends to honour those “stalwart journalists” and “old soldiers” whom it says “have held the powerful to account” during the course of their careers and, by doing so, helped defend and maintain a strong democracy in this country.
In an official statement issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which is being observed tomorrow, Tuesday 3 May 2022, MATT President Ira Mathur points to recent revelations concerning the use of spyware by the Government and allegations that journalists were among those being spied upon.
She notes: “…without checks and balances, surveillance can be a sharp instrument that rips through citizens' democratic rights to privacy and threatens the rights, freedom and safety of journalists.”
The MATT president also points to certain pieces of legislation which must be amended if the practice of journalism is to be honoured and protected, most notably the Cybercrime Bill 2017, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Data Protection Act 2011, the Broadcast Code and now the Sexual Offences (Amendment 3) bill 2021
The following is the full text of the MATT statement…
STATEMENT FROM THE MEDIA ASSOCIATION OF T&T (MATT)
ON THE OCCASION OF WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY MAY 03, 2022
In 1993, two years after African journalists produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence, the UN General Assembly World proclaimed May 03 as Press Freedom Day.
Thanks to our colleagues in the African continent, May 3rd acts as a reminder to governments globally to respect press freedom as a core democratic principle: a day for people of nations to support media which are targets for restraint or abolition of press freedom; a day to remember journalists who continually risk their lives and health and those who have died in the pursuit of a story.
According to the UN cultural agency UNESCO, which works to protect media workers, in 2020 alone, 62 journalists were killed just for doing their jobs (quite apart from pandemic and Ukraine war zone deaths).
Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 media workers lost their lives the same way. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished.
Last month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley strenuously denied various accusations by public figures that the State is spying on journalists, judges, and parliamentarians.
MATT welcomed this news as we are aware that without checks and balances, surveillance can be a sharp instrument that rips through citizens' democratic rights to privacy and threatens the rights, freedom and safety of journalists.
Spyware, misused, would be corrosive to the Fourth Estate and, as a result, to democracy.
When MATT was founded in 1987, 35 years ago, its bedrock was to act as a defender of press freedom and the Fourth Estate as enshrined in T&T's constitution.
All past executives have always understood that the democracy of Trinidad and Tobago depends on strong media.
In 2021, T&T's World Press Freedom Index as compiled by Reporters Without Borders) shot up five places to 31st out of 180 countries amid a pandemic.
We are aware that legislation, including the Cybercrime Bill 2017, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Data Protection Act 2011, the Broadcast Code and now the Sexual Offences (Amendment 3) Bill 2021, could have a chilling effect on press freedom and free expression online if adopted without amendments that honour the practice of journalism.
MATT remains vigilant regarding acts and omissions that could jeopardise the free and fair practice of journalism and the safety of journalists on behalf of the Fourth Estate.
A study conducted last year by the International Federation of Journalists on global journalism in the COVID-19 era polled 1,300 frontline journalists in 77 countries and found the following:
● Nearly every freelance journalist has lost revenue or work opportunities
● More than half of all journalists are suffering from stress and anxiety
● More than a quarter lack essential equipment to work safely from home, while one in four lack any protective equipment to work in the field.
● Dozens of journalists have been arrested, faced lawsuits, or assaulted.
● More than a third of journalists have shifted their focus to covering Covid-19 related stories.
Today, May 03, we mourn all the journalists who have lost their lives on the front line and remember journalists, our “old soldiers”, who have been allowed to simply fade away.
In this context, the MATT will honour stalwart journalists and media workers past and present, those who are no longer with us and those who are with us over the coming weeks and months.
We will release profiles of journalists this entire month on our website and across our social multimedia as an act of gratitude for their service in building and reflecting the identity of a young multicultural nation, for being the voice of the voiceless, and most importantly, for carefully guarding our role as The Fourth Estate.
They have held the powerful to account, and by doing so, fearlessly defended the right of all citizens who rely on democratic, transparent, and fair institutions.
Today, the current MATT executive redoubles its pledge to be eternally vigilant by thanking our stalwarts.
In the words of Andy Johnson, a veteran journalist and founding member of MATT:
“There can be no democracy without the functioning free press.”
“In the absence of democracy, people have no right to freedom. The result is tyranny and autocracy, which are anathema to life anywhere in this age.”
A statement by Ira Mathur, President of MATT, on behalf of the association’s executive: Kandace Jackson, VP; Mark Lyndersay, Treasurer; Nicole Romany, Secretary; Clayton Clarke, Assistant Secretary; Robert Taylor and James Saunders, Floor Members.