Trinidad and Tobago has always been fortunate to have a free and vibrant media. Ours is a freedom constitutionally enshrined and, more importantly, served by journalists and editors and managers who, by and large, have understood and stood up for independent and impartial reportage of the facts. They have done so in the face of threats from the State, politicians, various interest groups, and influential individuals with their own agendas.
But now a new threat has emerged. An investigative reporter has discovered that a contract has been taken out on his life, because of a particular story he has been pursuing. Mark Bassant, a senior journalist with Caribbean Communications Network to which the Express Newspapers belongs, got credible information that a hit had been ordered on him. Moreover, he also discovered that some of the very police officers who had been his sources were passing on information to the criminals he was investigating.
In the murderous and corrupt landscape that now defines T&T, this could almost have been expected. With institutions from Parliament to police to judiciary failing to protect citizens from the criminal elements, the media have become far more than a watchdog for ordinary citizens. The media been continually exposing misfeasance, and in so doing demonstrating how far the corrupt tentacles of criminals have penetrated the halls of Parliament and the connecting corridors of business.
The assassination three weeks ago of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal showed that anyone could be “taken out” if they stepped on the wrong toes. And, since it’s the media’s bounden duty to step on all the wrong toes, journalists are especially at risk in the encroaching jungle that is Trinidad, if not as yet Tobago. Particularly for the highest echelon of journalist, the investigative reporters, a threat may be as good as a sanction, if the individuals targeted allow themselves to be cowed.
But this cannot be allowed to happen. CCN’s management has taken measures to protect Mr Bassant, but we await prompt and decisive action from the authorities. The Police Service, in particular, can pluck an opportunity from this nettle. Mr Bassant has told them who the likely suspects are, and also identified the police officers who may be colluding with them. Should the police investigators identify and hold the responsible individuals, they would get deserved accolades for preventing a crime and, perhaps even more importantly, nipping in the bud a trend which might stultify media freedom.
Along with the investigation into the murder of Ms Seetahal, we must argue that the threat to Mr Bassant should take top priority over all other matters as apart from being a death threat against a human being, it is a direct attack on press freedom.
Failure in these cases could well determine the future path of the nation.