The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) is deeply concerned about the reintroduction of the Cybercrime Bill (2016).
In our last correspondence with the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs dated February 17, MATT noted several areas of concern with the proposed bill and called for further consultation. There was correspondence dated February 19, 2017, indicating receipt of MATT’s letter to the Attorney General but there has been no further dialogue to address the concerns stated in the correspondence dated February 17, 2017.
MATT is in no way satisfied with the level of consultation taken place thus far on the Bill.
According to MATT’s records the executive of the association met with the current Attorney General to discuss the Cybercrime Bill on two occasions namely June 16, 2016 and December 16, 2016. The meeting on December 16, 2016 focused specifically on Clause 8 of the Cybercrime Bill as well as some new inserts and deletions.
We therefore find it worrisome that at yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi signalled his intention to bring the Bill before a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament today.
MATT remains deeply troubled that the Cybercrime Bill has retained its potential to criminalise professional journalists working in the public interest.
While MATT follows the argument that the redrafted Clause 8 of the Cybercrime Bill introduces layers of proof – intentionally, without lawful excuse, justification – to be satisfied by a complainant in order to prove that an offence has been committed, we consider these to be low bars to scale and note also that these layers are to be satisfied in the Court.
In other words, these “protections” take effect after legal action has been taken and the matters brought before a Court.
As stated in our previous letter to the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs:“MATT anticipates injury to journalism, media houses and independent journalists arising from this clause.”
We also see the potential for self-censorship by journalists and media houses in order to avoid expensive, protracted and worrisome legal procedures and in order to protect their sources.
As currently drafted, Clause 8 would have potent and perhaps fatal effects on independent practitioners in particular who could find themselves mired in legal action that could result in their professional demise. This is a strategy already used against the press; we see provisions as drafted in this Bill encouraging that practice against the press.
As a further example, we are very concerned that Clause 12 lists “national security” as a broad area of proposed legislative protection. The news media in Trinidad and Tobago debated and resolved this decades ago. “National security” is too wide a reference as it is often invoked to suppress information.
MATT is adamant that the Bill must include exemptions for journalists and whistleblowers. Without such exemptions, the Bill threatens to violate constitutional rights to press freedom and freedom of expression.
The Association continues to be available to your Office to work towards a thoughtful, creative solution to what we identify as a troubling intrusion on the freedom of journalists to serve the public’s right to know.”
Three months later, MATT continues to be available to the Office of the Attorney General, and now the Joint Select Committee, to discuss our concerns over the legislation, and to ensure the continued protection of our journalists.