Last week the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago joined journalists from around the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day. The United Nations identifies journalistic freedom as being essential to a successful participatory democracy. Observing this, the General Assembly has earmarked May 3rd as World Press Freedom Day; this event is celebrated internationally with individual nations reflecting on the state of journalism in their respective countries. Specifically, this event is an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of Press Freedom which are inalienable and universal in the view of the UN. It is also an occasion to assess the working conditions of journalists, and to defend the concept of an independent press. Finally, on this day media houses around the world pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Enshrined in Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 4 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago is the “Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms”, of which press freedom forms a part. These fundamental human rights and freedoms were based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the United Nations. Freedom of the Press in this context includes the right to publish newspapers, magazines and other printed matter without governmental restriction. It also exempts the press from laws restricting libel, obscenity, sedition and any other legislation that infringes upon free speech. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that the press have every opportunity to provide the public with information that may be damaging to persons or institutions within the public remit.
In 2013 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago took steps to strengthen press freedom by promising to amend the Libel and Defamation Act, Chap 11:16. The Prime Minister herself stated the government’s intentions in a speech given at an event for World Press Freedom Day 2013, “The amended legislation would be geared specifically toward the revocation of section 9 of the existing Act which states, if any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment of one year.” Last year, Reporters Without Borders positioned Trinidad and Tobago at the 43rd place in its Press Freedom Index with a score of 23.28. This score corresponds to a “satisfactory situation,” one step lower than “good situation” which is the highest achievable category. In that same year another journalism advocacy group called Freedom House classified Trinidad and Tobago as “free” in terms of press freedom which is the highest level attainable. The media is a vital institution that defends democracy; it should in turn be given every opportunity to perform its function free from the threat of legal persecution.
Internationally, this year’s World Press Freedom Day focuses on three inter-related themes:
- The media’s importance in development.
- The safety of journalists and the rule of law.
- The sustainability and integrity of journalism.
Locally, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago has chosen the theme:
- Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality & Media Safety in the Digital Age.
Below is an assortment of images depicting the front pages of local defunct newspapers. Included are The Trinidad/Port of Spain Gazette, Argos, The Catholic News, The Daily Mirror, and the Evening News. This is just a small sampling of the expansive collection of local print media housed at the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago.
Freedom House. “Trinidad and Tobago.” FreedomHouse.org. N.p., 2014. Web. 2 May 2015.
“PM’s Statement on the Occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2013.” Trinidad and Tobago Government News. Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, 3 May 2013. Web. 04 May 2015.
Trinidad and Tobago Constitution, Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 4 UN News Center.
“World Press Freedom Day 2015.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.