FIRST TO RAISE THE ISSUE: Former Express editor-in-chief Sunity Maharaj speaks during yesterday's panel discussion on "If there is a real threat to press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago", organised by the Human Rights Clinic of the Hugh Wooding Law School, at Central Bank Auditorium in Port of Spain. –Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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Point Fortin highway takes centre stage

Freedom of the press forum

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

THE issue of the construction of the Point Fortin highway yesterday took centre stage at a panel discussion on whether there is a threat to freedom of the press in this country.

The Human Rights Clinic of the Hugh Wooding Law School hosted a panel discussion at Central Bank auditorium in Port of Spain on the question of whether there is a "real threat to freedom of the press in Trinidad and Tobago".

Former editor-in-chief of the Express Sunity Maharaj, a member of the panel, was the first to raise the issue of the highway's construction.

"Ask yourself how much does each of you know about the issues involving the Point Fortin highway, and how much information and facts are you in possession of even if you have an opinion?" Maharaj said.

The issue was raised again when members of the audience were allowed the opportunity to pose questions to the panel.

Suzanne Sheppard, president of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), Andy Johnson, chief executive officer of Government Information Services Ltd (GISL), and Senior Counsel Martin Daly, a Sunday Express columnist, joined Maharaj on the panel.

Aldwin Beddoe, who described himself as being a representative of the constituency called the "rum shop", said there was not sufficient information being provided on the highway's construction.

"Information is the oxygen of democracy. The construction of the highway in my mind is a very national issue and only seems to be treated as a small localised issue," Beddoe said.

"I think something like that (the construction of the highway), I use that as an example of how issues that concern smaller people, rum shop people, country people and so in Trinidad, does not get the air play that it should get."

Beddoe called on the media to properly analyse the issue.

Sheppard, an editor at the Guardian newspaper, defended the media's handling of the Point Fortin highway issue and said it was "a work in progress".

Sheppard said media houses have visited the area and interviewed residents who may be affected by the highway construction.

"But remember we only have that many pages and that many hours to do it so we do not always get the whole story in one bite because there is more than one opportunity to pursue a story," she said.

Daly said he would delve into the issue of the the Highway Re-route Movement and its leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh–who is currently on a hunger strike in protest over the highway construction–in his column.

"As far as the highway is concerned I have begun a column for this Sunday which will deal with Dr Kublalsingh as I see him, but I am actaully quite appalled by the way people have been allowed...it comes back to this thing of anonymity, there was nothing anonymous about the person who said he was a liar," Daly said.

"I am not sure a Government Minister should be calling anybody a liar, I am sure there is a more subtle way of disagreeing with somebody's account of something and people are being allowed to say that he (Kublalsingh) is faking, anonymously being allowed to say this."

Daly said the media should have had a journalist stay with Kublalsingh for a 24-hour period and dispel all doubts about his hunger strike.

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