Trinidad and Tobago

Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who has been feuding with the media since taking office two years ago, softened his rhetoric at the end of the 1997, after journalists banded together to defeat his plan to impose new legal restrictions on the press.

In May, the government published a report entitled "Toward a Free and Responsible Media," which proposed the adoption of statutes requiring journalists to report with "due accuracy and impartiality." The so-called "green paper" also called for the creation of a code of ethics mandating that journalists promote national unity, and economic and social progress. The plan was shelved in response to public outcry.

Panday's war with the media is largely a reflection of Trinidad and Tobago's complex racial politics. The population is equally divided between those of African and 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 largely black-owned media as racist. In 1996, 17 editors left the Trinidad Guardian to found a new paper, The Independent, after Panday accused the Guardian of race-baiting. At one point, Panday called Kenneth Gordon, owner of the daily Trinidad Express, a "pseudo-racist," noting, "I do not believe that freedom of the press includes the untrammeled right to publish lies, half-truths and innuendo about anyone."

But Panday began to back down after Roy Boyke, a senior official who has worked for governments throughout the region, advised the prime minister to declare a "unilateral moratorium," and lessen hostilities.

"The press is not racial," insisted new Guardian editor Carl Jacobs at year's end. "We want to build readership. We have a vested interest in being even-handed."