Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called on government to ensure freedom of the press.

Stop stifling freedom of the media!

That’s Opposition leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar’s call to the Rowley administration after she noted what she deemed as ongoing blatant and very dangerous attempts by the Government to stifle T&T’s traditional media.

She also slammed moves to allow alleged government propagandists unfettered time at daily briefings where traditional media queries are stifled. Persad-Bissessar issued a statement on the matter yesterday. Since the COVID-19 crisis Government has held daily Health Ministry briefings to update on the virus. Briefings are usually about an hour, with opening and closing statements by the Health Minister and other statements by ministers and health officials in between.

In the time left, reporters are usually allowed about two queries when they get their turn.

Persad-Bissessar noted journalists from daily newspapers, television and radio stations have undertaken to report on various issues of national public importance concerning the virus. So far, she said the media has highlighted:

• Government’s questionable and contradictory positions regarding repatriation of stranded citizens abroad,

• The very dangerous, unsanitary conditions of quarantine facilities, including hospitals and private facilities, being used by Government for COVID-19 patients,

• Citizens’ fear of having COVID testing due to very valid fears of ending up in these hellish facilities.

• Ongoing plight of countless citizens suffering serious financial setbacks due to insufficient relief grants, and overwhelming state bureaucracy in accessing them.

• The fact that quarantine facilities have essentially turned into jail sentences for patients, including children—a violation of citizens’ Constitutional rights.

• Use of taxpayers’ dollars to fund questionable Government initiatives.

But she said, “For this commendable national service, these valuable essential workers from media establishments are now being unfairly targeted.”

The opposition leader noted what she described as senior ministers attack and bully reporters and editors for simply writing stories/editorials/columns or asking questions that are not to their liking.

“Also, political operatives reported to be on the state payroll, subject media practitioners to unbridled, unwarranted, merciless and very damaging personal and professional attacks on an almost daily basis via social media. This is a very blatant, dangerous attempt to intimidate and silence the media’s (and by extension, T&T’s) Constitutional rights to freedom of the press and of expression,”

Persad-Bisessar added, “It also potentially puts media practitioners, and their families, under severe undue mental and emotional stress. This is all ultimately tantamount to illegal harassment of citizens in the execution and performance of jobs.”

“Now, it’s worryingly gone a step further: ministers have now given these allegedly paid Government political propagandists unfettered access to their daily media conferences. Here, ministers strategically stifle probing questions from journalists. They instead use their alleged propaganda agents to nakedly push Government’s questionable political agenda, under the guise of posing questions.

Persad-Bissessar pointed out that Government news conferences, along with every other state events, are wholly funded by taxpayers’ dollars.

“Ministers, therefore, have a duty to conduct them in a manner that represents the interests of all citizens. To instead politicize these news conferences with the clear intention of destabilizing the media’s Constitutionally enshrined rights is therefore totally unacceptable. It’s contrary to public and national interest, it violates Constitutional tenets and poses a very serious threat to our democracy.”

She called on Government to immediately stop the dangerous practice of granting access to their alleged political operatives to the public interest forums. She added, “At the end of the day, our democracy is at stake.”