Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog committed to the freedom of information worldwide, yesterday released the world press freedom index for 2011-2012, in which this country was listed as 50th, just below the United States of America (47th) and just above Haiti (52nd).
The World Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders based upon the organisation’s assessment of their press freedom records.
Reporters Without Borders described the drop in this country’s rating as “a result of a scandal involving spying on journalists, as well as moves to boycott radio and television stations and procedural abuses”.
In November 2010, Fazeer Mohammed, former talk show host on State-owned Caribbean New Media Group’s (CNMG) First Up morning show, was taken off the programme after a challenging interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan over Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s handling of aid to Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Tomas in late October 2010.
In the same month, Persad-Bissessar revealed that the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) had been operating for the past 15 years without the general public’s knowledge and had been illegally tapping telephones and intercepting e-mails. Among those identified as targets were politicians, judges, trade unionists, entertainment personalities and journalists. Journalists named on the list of monitored persons included Dale Enoch of Radio I 95.5 FM, Sasha Mohammed formerly of TV6, Shelly Dass formerly of CNC3, Francis Joseph and Ken Ali, Camini Marajh of the Express and Inshan Ishmael of IBN TV.
Government subsequently moved to bring legislation—the Interception of Communications Bill—to deal with the issue of interception. The bill was passed with unanimous support in the Parliament as well as the Senate.
At the start of this year, a raid by a team of police officers on Express House on Independence Square, Port of Spain caught the attention of the International Press Institute (IPI), another international media watchdog.
IPI executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “A raid by police on a media house always raises profound issues of freedom of the press and the permissible scope of government action.”
TV6 is a subsidiary of Caribbean Communications Network Limited (CCN), which is also the parent company of the Express.
The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago condemned the police action in a statement.