Pro-government bloggers target female journalists in Trinidad and Tobago

By Mariana Muñoz

Several female journalists in Trinidad and Tobago have been the targets of social media attacks in the past few months as a result of their investigations into suspicious behavior in the public administration. These attacks come months ahead of the general elections slated to take place in September.

Journalists Asha Javeed, Denyse Renne, and Anika Gumbs from the Trinidad Express, a local newspaper, were affected by these cyber attacks. Sunday Express columnist Sunity Maharaj was also a target of the attacks.

The Trinidad Express claimed that the attacks came from a network of bloggers who operate anonymously and openly support the People’s Partnership Government. They are known to target individuals that they have determined to be against the government or who have portrayed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in a negative light, the newspaper said.

The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) noticed that in several countries, slurs of a sexual nature are used to intimidate female journalists and that those attacks have had a chilling effect on journalism in the Caribbean. ACM also stated that some of the social media attacks are legally actionable and encouraged media professionals to exercise their legal rights when necessary.

“Within the past five years, female journalists have become frequent targets because they have been at the forefront of the growth of investigative journalism,” Asha Javeed said in an e-mail interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. Javeed added that the targeting female journalists in her country is a relatively new phenomenon.

There has been an increase in the number of women journalists over the past years in Trinidad and Tobago. The women journalists often outnumber male journalists in news organizations.

“In the company that I work for, the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), there are four female investigative journalists and one male investigative journalist,” Javeed said. “Unsurprisingly, women have become the target after stories have been published exposing corruption.”

ACM reported the cyber attacks on March 24, after a video circulated on social networks attempted to defame Javeed. The video depicting Javeed and her family was created with photos taken from her stolen cell phone.

“It had nothing to do with the investigative series which I had published on two state companies,” Javeed said. “It was done to publicly degrade me and take attention away from the content of the stories.”

The chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), Claudio Paolillo, condemned the attacks and said that “intimidation and smear distracting and generating self-censorship among journalists is counterproductive to press freedom and the public's right to information.”

The IAPA President, Gustavo Mohme, urged authorities to “investigate these events not only to safeguard the reputation of the professionals but also for guarantee users and citizens that social networks are secure and open media communication.”

ACM called for support and said that international partners are being advised of the developing situation.

Javeed said that there has been no action taken to punish those responsible for these attacks.

“I have gone to the police and have filed several reports on these threats and three others on harassment,” she said. “I am still waiting on any justice.”

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.

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