|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."