WEDNESDAY’S ruling by Justice Frank Seepersad in favour of the Trinidad Express against the State was not just a victory for the media fraternity in this country but also across the Commonwealth and Caribbean.

In a statement from its Barbados headquarters yesterday, the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) said it welcomed the ruling by Justice Seepersad in which he declared the warrants used by police to search the media house in March last year were “plainly irregular”, unlawful and unconstitutional.

Justice Seepersad also ordered the State to pay compensatory damages to the media house for breach of its constitutional rights, as well as its legal costs in bringing the claim.

The quantum to be paid will be assessed by a Master of the High Court at a later date.

“The ruling supporting a journalist’s right to protect his/her sources is heartening,” said CBU president Gary Allen in the statement.

He said it was also of “tremendous value that the court has gone further and advocated legislative reform on obtaining search warrants for a media house because of the pivotal role media play in seeking to balance the investigation, gathering and reporting of information in the public’s interest”.

The search was carried out on March 11, 2020 by officers of the Financial Investigations Branch (FIB) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) as they sought to unearth information as to who exactly provided sensitive information to investigative journalist Denyse Renne on an investigation that was taking place against Assistant Commissioner of Police Irwin Hackshaw.

Four days after the investigative article was published, a contingent of FIB officers led by Supt Wendell Lucas swooped down on the media house and seized four USB drives from the office of the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Omatie Lyder.

Protection of sources

In his ruling, Justice Seepersad also found the seizure of the items to be unlawful and thus, ordered that they be returned.

The Express has been informed that the State intends to appeal the ruling.

The CBU said it commended the clarity of the understanding and ruling of Justice Seepersad in the matter and noted this understanding in the declaration that the “protection of journalistic sources is one of the cornerstones of freedom of the press. Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest”.

The CBU stated it was urging all media houses in the region to pay attention to the ruling, noting that it bolsters responsible journalism.

It commended One Caribbean Media, parent company of the Express and a member of the CBU for being resolute in seeking and securing justice for its journalist and the profession in the matter.

—Rickie Ramdass