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PM calls on Gibbs to explain raid on newspaper

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs must give an "immediate explanation" as to why the offices of Newsday and the home of its political reporter Andre Bagoo were raided, says Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

In a release to the press yesterday, Persad-Bissessar made it clear that her Government had no prior knowledge of the action taken by the police, and stressed that she stands for a free and independent media.

On Thursday, officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) raided Newsday's office and seized Bagoo's hard drive. They searched his Belmont home and seized three personal computers.

The action taken against Bagoo relates to a story he wrote last December, which revealed that there was a bitter row between newly appointed Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon and its deputy chairman, Gladys Gafoor.

The feud between Gafoor and Gordon centred around a request from Gordon for Gafoor to recuse herself from a complaint against former attorney general John Jeremie, which she refused.

Gordon requested the intervention of the police to investigate the leak of information at the Commission.

Acting on this, the police raided Newsday and Bagoo's home, insisting that he must disclose the source of his information.

The Prime Minister yesterday defended the media, saying that a reporter reserves the right to protect his source.

"The sanctity of the relationship between the reporter and his/her source is one which must be respected. It is similar to the relationship which exists at confession between a priest and his confessor. It is privileged and sacred. Police intervention can only be justified in extreme situations," stated Persad-Bissessar.

"The Government believes in and respects the reporter's right to protect the source of his/her information unless it would not be in the public interest to do so. We are not aware of the precise nature of the offence that is the subject matter of this particular police investigation and hence make no further pronouncement on the facts of this case," she added.

Persad-Bissessar said the execution of a search warrant on a media house by police officers is an "extreme act".

She said it must be proportionate to the nature of the offence under investigation and the circumstances of alleged crime.

"The Government reaffirms its deep commitment to the protection and preservation of the independence and freedom of the media. The rights and freedoms of every journalist and media house will be strenuously defended.

"We believe in the open access of information to journalists rather than obstruction of the process," said Persad-Bissessar.

The Integrity Commission also issued a release yesterday, reaffirming its own commitment to free media and distanced itself from the police action.

"A free and independent media is one of the cornerstones of our Constitution and our democracy. The Integrity Commission is fully committed to this fundamental concept and asserts that it must not be compromised in any way," stated the Commission.

However, the Commission stressed the importance of confidentiality, given the fact that the Integrity Commission is an independent institution created under the Constitution.

"The Commission regrets that this confidentiality has been compromised by an ongoing and worsening pattern of leaks to the media over an extended period; conduct which is both destructive and illegal," stated the Commission.

"It has therefore been forced to request a police investigation to unearth the facts surrounding the systematic leakage and plug the leaks. The Commission is not in a position to direct the manner of this investigation," stated the Commission.

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