Recognising the challenges and dangers that journalists face globally, President George Maxwell Richards yesterday suggested that some form of international immunity be given to protect journalists in the line of duty.
Richards was the featured speaker at the opening ceremony of the Institutional Press Institute (IPI) World Congress 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain.
Richards compared the role and responsibilities of journalists to those of diplomats, saying, "The risks for media personnel are ever increasing as they are for diplomats in a changing world environment which does not guarantee safety. The dangers for foreign media as for local are very real in areas of conflict.''
Journalism, said the President, is not a walk in the park.
"Perhaps the time has come for some form of internationally recognised immunity to be agreed such as that afforded to agencies such as the Red Cross,'' said the President.
He questioned whether journalists ever thought of themselves as diplomats.
"Some may shun the description because there is a popular myth, and it is only a myth, that a diplomat is one who is paid to lie for one's country and journalists after all must give the facts as they are with no covers,'' said Richards.
Richards noted the critical challenges journalists endure, adding that world opinion has been galvanised as a result of media reporting turning the course of history.
Richards also took note of one of the upcoming IPI sessions, entitled "Moving from the Newsroom to the State House: The Journalist as Political Mouthpiece''.
This session, he said, "will resonate intensely with us in Trinidad and Tobago as whilst it is not new to us, the incidence of movement from the newsroom to the official enclave has increased within recent times''.
The media, said Richards, having played a significant role in the liberation of people would hardly be willing to appear to be enslaving itself in any form as he stressed that the guiding principle of responsibility must be critical in the endeavour of journalists.
Dawn Thomas, Group Chief executive officer (CEO) of One Caribbean Media (OCM), who also spoke at the opening ceremony, said the IPI Congress affords the opportunity to highlight the dangers present to free media in the Caribbean.
"In Port of Spain, this major centre of Caribbean media activity, we were shocked to learn that neither law nor convention constrains police from searching not one, but two newsrooms and also the bedroom of one reporter,'' said Thomas.
"We were still working out the dread implications of those events when the police descended yet again upon a media house, this time, to arrest a television host who could hardly be described as any hard-to-find fugitive from justice.''
Thomas was referring to the police raid of the TV6 newsroom in December 2011 as they searched for a tape which was shown on Ian Alleyne's Crime Watch programme. In April this year Alleyne was arrested by police for allegedly breaching telecommunications laws with respect to the airing of the tape of a rape of a minor.
In February this year, police also raided the office of Newsday newspaper and the home of senior reporter Andre Bagoo in connection with investigations into a report from the Integrity Commission.
Said Thomas, "Prudence counsels us against overlooking the likely intimidatory effect of such flexing of muscle by State agencies. Moreover, the requirement of eternal vigilance obliges us to connect such physical invasions to other actions, and also words that together amount to menaces against the principle and the practice of media freedom.''
Thomas also pointed out that there was an increase of highly critical outpourings against media performance.
"One consequence could be to discourage investigative reporting, which is now frequently targeted, in our region, by pre-action protocol letters that in themselves represent onerous financial burdens to media houses,'' she said.