Freedom of the press is a fundamental component of any democracy governed by the rule of law. A free and responsible press serves as the custodian of truth, accountability and justice. Access to factual and reliable information empowers people to make informed decisions and provides a platform for purposeful debate and the exchange of ideas.
Trinidad and Tobago sits at number 39 of the Press Freedom Index 2019, which, while not a major indictment on the state of press freedom, suggests that there is room for improvement. A free press is one indicator of a developed society and an important step toward fulfilling our commitment to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
On World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate the principles of press freedom and take stock of the regulatory frameworks which govern the ability of the media to operate without hindrance, fear or retribution. This year’s theme, Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation seeks to establish the role of the media in the democratic process in the era of the internet and fake news. The spread of disinformation, or fake news, creates a distorted picture of the facts, and can elicit a misguided, irrational and sometimes dangerous response.
It is imperative, therefore, that the media recognise their immense responsibility to adhere to the established standards and ethics of journalism since in the court of public opinion, reports in the media are often gospel. Appropriate checks and balances must be put in place to prevent the spread of false information, which can as serve fodder for those with mischievous intent as well as justification for those who inherently distrust the media.
World Press Freedom Day reminds us of the critical role played by the media in safeguarding the tenets of democracy and of their duty to ensure that their work supports the highest degree of professionalism. Our duty as citizens is to remain vigilant in order to prevent any infringement upon a free press; our intent is a selfish one as we are the main beneficiaries of press freedom.