Monday 30 March, 2020

Griffith slams MATT's statement on press freedom

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith is criticizing the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) for its defence of press freedom amidst bomb threats to secondary schools.

This comes as the association issued a statement regarding the seizure of a former Government Minister’s phone, in relation to an ongoing investigation into a bomb threat against five Roman Catholic schools on May 24th. Devant Maharaj posted a picture of the email that was sent to one of the schools. He was questioned in relation to the matter and refused to disclose his source. As such, his phone was seized by the TTPS.

MATT subsequently questioned the police service’s need to have the source revealed, in a release it sent on Monday. Commissioner Griffith responded accusing MATT of being more concerned with protecting sources over the lives of innocent children.

“...the MATT hierarchy seems more concerned with protecting sources rather than protecting thousands of persons; in this case children, teachers and parents whose safety could have been at risk when someone sent bomb threats to five secondary schools across Trinidad on May 24th, 2019.”

In his usual candour, the top cop called out MATT President Sheila Rampersad who he said must be “speaking for herself” as he was sure no “right-thinking journalist” would prioritize source protection given the possible threat of acts of terrorism.

“…these same journalists and reporters have children and they would wish that the TTPS does all in its power to target and bring perpetrators to justice and not hide possible suspects under a source protection policy.”

Meanwhile, Griffith said MATT should avoid criticizing the police which is tasked with protecting the lives of all. He said instead, the association should have been more responsible and work with the TTPS to discourage such action that may warrant an investigation under the Terrorism Act.

He also slammed the MATT President’s decision to issue a statement as opposed to attempting to have a dialogue.

“…if Ms Rampersad was serious, instead of making a public pronouncement, she would have sought to have a dialogue on the matter with him, as this has been customary by members of the past executive.”

According to Griffith, MATT’s job is to speak on behalf of journalists. As such, he is questioning why statements were made on behalf of a former Minister.

He issued the following points:

“Sheila Rampersad has taken up the fight on behalf of Devant Maharaj, who is neither a journalist nor a reporter. The CoP says no one can appoint themselves as a journalist just because they blog on social media.

- Commissioner Griffith is, therefore, questioning what is Ms Rampersad’s affiliation or interest for her to be speaking on behalf of Maharaj? •Given that Maharaj is not a journalist/reporter, on what grounds did the MATT President then send the release?

- Whose interest is she really seeking with the statement?”

However, in MATT’s statement, the association said it was concerned that the seizure of Maharaj’s phone could potentially point to the possible criminalization of citizens, including journalists, who share information in a public space concerning threats to public safety and exposes us to similar coercive police action.


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