Freedom of the Press
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Trinidad and Tobago
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution and is generally respected in practice. However, there were a number of cases in 2012 in which government officials intimidated critical journalists and media outlets.
Defamation and libel remain criminal offenses. In May 2012, Jack Warner, the national security minister and former vice president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), soccer’s world governing body, sued Trinidadian journalist Lasana Liburd for libel after he wrote online articles linking Warner to missing emergency aid that FIFA had donated for earthquake relief in Haiti. Warner was seeking damages and an injunction to forbid Liburd from publishing further defamatory statements against him. In June, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the government’s intention to decriminalize defamation, but no such reform was enacted by year’s end. In April, Ian Alleyne, director of the TV6 program Crime Watch, was charged under the Sexual Offences Act for an October 2011 episode that showed a recording of the sexual assault of a teenage girl with the intention of identifying the perpetrator. Alleyne, who could face up to five years in prison, was awaiting trial at year’s end. Executives at the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), the parent company of TV6, were also charged.
While freedom of information legislation is in place, the government has been criticized for gradually narrowing the categories of public information that are available under the law. Warner announced in October 2012 that the media would be denied access to the government’s crime statistics so that news outlets and the opposition could not sensationalize the data, which, he argued, could lead to more crime. In December, the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association announced that it had reached an agreement with the attorney general to amend the 2011 Data Protection Act, a privacy law that partially came into force in 2012, to create an exemption for investigative journalism.
While there were no reports of physical attacks on the press in 2012, there were a number of cases in which the government intimidated journalists and interfered in the work of media outlets. In February, police raided the offices of the daily Newsday and the home of journalist Andre Bagoo after he refused to reveal his sources for a story on a dispute between members of the government’s Integrity Commission. Police confiscated Bagoo’s computers, documents, and mobile telephones. In late December 2011, the police had raided the newsroom of TV6 in connection with the probe into the controversial October Crime Watch episode.
Among other incidents, in response to an article published in September 2012 by Trinidad Guardian reporter Anika Gumbs-Sandiford on the efforts of Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie to disband the board of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA), the CDA obtained the journalist’s confidential phone records to uncover her sources. The government and its supporters allegedly led a smear campaign against two journalists in October, after their investigative reports criticized legislative measures taken by Warner to protect two donors to the ruling United National Congress party from charges of money laundering. The Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago specifically cited public statements and anonymous e-mail messages that contained personal attacks on Denyse Renne of the Trinidad Guardian and Asha Javeed of Trinidad Express. Also in October, Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed sent an e-mail to TV6 that accused the station, and Trinidad Express, of bias against the ruling party and criticized what he viewed as their efforts to embarrass government officials.
There are three daily newspapers—Trinidad Express, Newsday, and the Trinidad Guardian—and three political weeklies, all of which are privately owned. Four television stations are in operation, including the state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG), though TV6 dominates ratings. There are about a dozen radio stations, including three operated by CNMG. The government and state-owned businesses disproportionately place their advertising with state-owned media and private outlets that favor the government. In 2012, there were reports that at least two critical media outlets had faced attempted advertising boycotts by the government. In October, Mohammed announced a new rule that will require all privately owned radio and television broadcasters to air up to one hour per day of government messaging with no financial compensation, a move that was condemned by press freedom advocates.
There were no government restrictions on the internet, which was accessed by nearly 60 percent of the population in 2012.