Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Trinidad and Tobago
As of December 31, 1998

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Tensions between Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and the media reached new heights after Julian Rogers, a popular television journalist from Barbados, was denied a work visa and forced to leave the country in May. Hundreds of demonstrators chanted "Panday must go" and "Rogers must stay" as Rogers boarded a plane out of Trinidad. At a November 8 political rally, Panday urged his supporters to "treat [the media] as political opponents who are out to destroy us." Several of Panday's followers took the pronouncement literally and roughed up reporters covering the event.

Panday's three-year war with the media is largely a reflection of the country's complex racial politics. The population is equally divided between those of African and those of Indian descent, but blacks have long held the lion's share of political power. Panday, the first prime minister of Indian descent, has described the press as racist. In 1997, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) defeated a proposed press law backed by Panday that would have required journalists to report with "due accuracy and impartiality."

There were widespread protests in April, after the government refused to renew a visa for Rogers, who had worked in Trinidad and Tobago for five years. His early morning talk show, "Morning Edition," often featured guests who were critical of Panday and the ruling United National Congress (UNC). At one point, Panday accused Rogers of deliberately screening callers to exclude UNC supporters. MATT described the expulsion of Rogers as a violation of an international agreement which permits Caribbean journalists to work in any country in the region without applying for a visa. In rejecting Rogers' work extension, the government argued that Rogers had been granted annual visas to work in Trinidad and Tobago legally since 1993 on the condition that he train a local journalist to "assume his duties."

| Attacks on the Press in 1998 |