01 October 2015
Trinidad and Tobago: Press freedom violations, actual or potential, have hardly attained high profile in the country. Hard and timely information about public affairs have remained neither more nor less difficult to obtain. Special-interest organisations and individuals, embarking on fact-finding missions about state activities, have litigated seeking court-ordered enforcement of freedom of information laws. The country has been consumed by political and economic preoccupations. Dominant among these have been the anticipation of the campaign toward and the eventual outcome of national elections that took place peacefully on September 7. The media have not noticeably followed the path of filing freedom of information requests and, as necessary, following up with litigation. Investigative journalism has come into its own and gained public recognition as a stand-out area of professional practice and editorial focus. Media operations have dedicated resources toward meeting a public demand for inside stories and exposes. Such reporting has proceeded largely on the basis of receiving and giving prominent space to information and documentation leaked by unnamed whistle-blowing sources. State and other entities thereby targeted have responded with paid advertisements purporting to clarify, deny or refute published or broadcast reports. In cases where individual officials and others saw the opportunity, tentative or actual steps have been taken toward litigation on grounds of defamation. Jamaica: The country is among the top ten out of 180 that enjoy the privilege of commendable press freedom, nevertheless, the country faces obstacles and challenges. Although there is the Access to Information Act of 2004, the exemptions under the Act make it a challenge to get all the information requested. Weighing the public’s right to information and the disclosure of sensitive information that could compromise national security, agencies often hide behind the exemption clauses, denying the information, without proper cause. Even when the approval is given, getting the information requested can prove very frustrating and laborious. With no appreciation for timeliness of delivery, it can take weeks, sometimes months to get the information. The Official Secrets Act is yet to be abolished. The 1911 Act prohibits public servants from revealing certain information, which would affect areas such as national security, and many hide behind it as an excuse for not revealing information that is in the interest of the public. Too often, the information is denied on that grounds, when it is plainly obvious that there is an ulterior motive for the denial that has nothing to do with compromising national security. The Press Association of Jamaica had to meet with the Commissioner of Police, Dr. Carl Williams, because the media was not getting crime statistics on a timely basis. In the past, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), through its Constabulary Communication Network, used to disseminate weekly crime reports. However, policy changes in the JCF resulted in those reports now being sent out monthly, and even then it is inconsistent. The Police Commissioner remains adamant, however, that that policy will not be reversed, on the grounds that the monthly figures were more accurate, compared to the weekly often preliminary statistics. The Commissioner was also asked to address the media/security forces relation, as too often the security forces view the media as the enemy and the media often see the security forces as being too secretive and strict in providing information and reasonable access to certain court proceedings and crime scenes. Journalists are sometimes subjected to rude, crass and abusive behaviour by some public figures, especially political representatives and their supporters, in doing their job. Infamous among them is Jamaica Labour Party senior member Everald Warmington, who has an undisputed track record for boorish behaviour to journalists and photographers, even to the point of physical abuse. There is also the difficulty in getting information from the general public because of Jamaica’s ‘informa fi dead culture',fear/threat of job loss, victimization, or some other fear of what revealing that information could lead to. And the intimidation or threat to the source, unfortunately, comes from both people of power in very high places as well as criminal elements. St. Vincent: There has not been any significant media development from the last meeting/report. Barbados: The issue which caught the public’s attention and had the media on edge was a case brought by the police against The Nation Publishing Company in which its Publisher, Vivian-Anne Gittens, Editor-in-Chief, Roy Morris, and News Editor, Sanka Price, were criminally charged and taken before the law courts over a photograph involving students involved in obscene behaviour at their school. After several hearings the matter was eventually dismissed by the presiding magistrate on July 7, 2015. The Nation newspaper also has a possible court action hovering over it in relation to another matter. The Speaker of the country’s House of Assembly has made a complaint to the police in relation to a news story from parliament in which the Opposition leader made certain comments outside of the chamber. The Publisher, Mrs. Gittens, Associate Managing, Editor Eric Smith, and the writer of the article, Associate Editor, Barry Alleyne, were all interview by the police. There has been no further development to-date on this matter.