MATT: Freedom of press under threat during COVID-19 pandemic

As the counties around the globe prepare to commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2020, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) says journalists have faced a number of significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, MATT said the health crisis is exacerbating longstanding tensions between the institution of the free press and governments here and around the world.

It said significant challenges for news journalists covering the pandemic derive from the single-source information channel provided by Government.

“MATT has recommended flows of information from a wide range of ministries and state bodies. We repeat that call today,” it said.

It said T&T news journalism in the context of COVID-19 focus on a swathe of issues, including: COVID-19 medical updates, testing, citizens quarantined in various facilities, conditions at those facilities, experiences of COVID-positive patients, discharge procedures, compliance with isolation protocols, the fate of those stranded outside national borders, foreign affairs tensions, legal challenges, procurement procedures, financial borrowing, joblessness, hunger and the multiple anxieties of families.

The media body said despite the challenges T&T media have persisted courageously on the frontline while absorbing organised troll attacks, derision, physical assaults and public denigration.

“Our journalists are handicapped by risks of COVID-19 infection; stay-at-home protocols keep citizen journalists indoors and insulate populations, while simultaneously suspending most of the normal channels of participatory governance and accountability.”

MATT added the challenges being faced by a free press in T&T highlight the responsibility of the governments to walk their talk of commitment to the institution of a free press.

It also acknowledged that journalists themselves must answer the public’s call for better quality reporting and analysis.

“Intense editorial guidance, access to senior members of the profession and exchanges among journalists are useful strategies,” it said.

MATT said journalists must also ensure they communicate accurate, reliable information to the public.

“The moment demands no less. The institution of a free press must answer.”

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