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TT ranks higher than US in press freedoms

By MIRANDA LA ROSE Tuesday, May 5 2015

Trinidad and Tobago has been ranked higher in press freedoms than the United States which has dropped from 20 to 49 - four steps ahead of Haiti - in the 2015 ‘Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

Ranking higher than the US were Burkina Faso, Namibia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, Samao and the Eastern Caribbean, said former executive director of the International Press Institute, Allison Bethel-McKenzie.

Bethel-McKenzie yesterday delivered the key note address to students and media operatives at a World Press Freedom symposium hosted by the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain. World Press Freedom Day is observed globally on May 3.

Theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is, “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age.”

The US formerly seen as a bastion of press freedom, she said, has, in recent years seen frequent attacks on US journalists by the public and law enforcement officers during demonstrations and at other high profile events, as well as attacks on journalists who refuse to reveal their sources. The US drop on the press freedom index, she said, was also due to among other reasons, the US Government’s failure to pass a federal shield law protecting journalists in the US.

During the recent protest in Baltimore after 26-year old Freddie Gray died while in police custody, she noted that according to the Poynter Institute which reported that more than five journalists were injured, and more had their equipment destroyed, or stolen.

The Barack Obama administration, she said, has also prosecuted those who have leaked classified information to the press, secretly subpoenaed the phone records of the Associated Press phone lines, listened into the phone and email records of James Rosen of Fox News, and allegedly spied on Al Jazeera’s correspondents.

Bethel-McKenzie revealed that she is a member of the board of directors of Al Jazeera, America. Noting that to date 30 journalists world wide had been killed in the line of duty, she said that in the Caribbean, “Governments and journalists continue to lead the ranking as the best place to work, if you are a female.”

This was not the case of women in other countries. Over the last several decades, she noted that women were no longer relegated to soft news writing about fashion and foods, but were now into sports and political reporting.

Congratulating the local media fraternity for continuing to push a free and independent media, she noted that TT Government has taken a positive step by repealing the criminal offence law, which held that any publication of defamatory material, even if inadvertently published, could have drawn a year’s prison term.

Paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty, she said that too many governments have failed to respect the profession.

In the Caribbean, she noted that only three countries, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have access to freedom of information laws, and, all others — except Grenada and Jamaica — have criminal defamation on their law books. In Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, she noted that reporters face jail time from treason to defamation.

In the Caribbean 12 journalists have been killed since 2005, half of them in Haiti, and four in the Dominican Republic.

Globally, countless journalists, she said, have been jailed, harassed and threatened. The most dangerous countries for journalists, she listed as Syria, Iraq and Egypt with Turkey and Egypt being the leading countries for jailing journalists.

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