By Zach Dyer
The International Press Institute (IPI) decried government harassment of investigative reporters in Trinidad and Tobago and accused the islands' communications ministry of abusing a dormant broadcasting rule, reported the organization on Thursday, Oct. 4, and Friday, Oct. 5.
Journalists Denyse Renne of the Trinidad Guardian and Asha Javeed of the Trinidad Express were the targets of a government-led smear campaign to instill “fear and self-censorship” after they reported on a legal scandal involving the Caribbean country's National Security Minister Jack Warner, reported IPI.
Warner was accused of pushing through a legal reform that protected two prominent donors to the United National Congress (UNC) ruling party from prosecution for money laundering, according to IPI.
The Vienna-based organization reported that the journalists were the subject of widely circulated anonymous e-mails making allegations against their private lives. Warner gave a telephone interview where he accused the media of being “deceitful” and said reporters with "an axe to grind" against the UNC should first be beyond reproach themselves, reported the Trinidad Express newspaper.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan joined the fray, accusing the media of bias against the UNC, according to IPI.
“Personal attacks in response to news reports are not a valid or acceptable means of discrediting the information unearthed by journalists who are simply doing their job,” the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago posted on its Facebook page.
On the heels of the administration’s prickly accusations against the press, Trinidad and Tobago’s Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed announced a plan requiring private radio and television broadcasters to transmit official government messages without compensation, reported IPI.
The proposal would require private broadcasters to air government messages up to five minutes once an hour between 6 am to 6 pm. “The people must know what the Government is doing with its resources so that they can make informed decisions, ” Minister Jamal Mohammed said in a statement, according to IPI. Mohammed said, if “‘moral persuasion’ was unsuccessful the government would consider legislation,” according to IPI’s website.
The proposed rule is based on a 2005 broadcast concession allowing the government to “reasonably declare any matter or event to be of public interest and require the concessionaire to broadcast [it],” according to IPI.
To date, the islands' government has never enforced the rule.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.