Another dangerous line has been crossed against press freedom with Tuesday’s attack on journalist Lasana Liburd.
Mr Liburd, owner-editor of the online news site Wired868, was at the press bench at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, engaged in the routine assignment of covering the Intercol Girls Final football match, when he was assaulted by a man sitting behind him. The attack left the journalist with a gash across the chin.
It was a brazen assault on one of the country’s best known sports journalists occurring, as it did, in full view of others at a public event carried live across the region. The fact that it was a school event with hundreds of pupils present merely amplified the brazenness of the act. The assailant, allegedly someone against whom Mr Liburd has filed a libel suit, was not deterred by the presence of the police which, as it turned out, made no difference since the assailant was able to walk away from the scene of his crime.
The danger in this latest attack on a journalist is that it undermines all the assumptions with which journalists approach their work. The press bench or table is assumed to be protected and safe even in volatile situations. While there have been incidents where journalists covering political meetings were turned on by members of the crowd who had been worked into an anti-media frenzy, this may well be the first time that a journalist at a press bench has been physically attacked to the point of blood being drawn.
Unlike other public figures, from national leaders to gang leaders, journalists do not walk with bodyguards, armed or otherwise. From time to time they are verbally accosted by individuals angry over one report or another. As unacceptable as that is, many journalists have come to accept it as a distasteful part of the territory. Often, members of the public who appreciate the critical role of the media in telling their stories, would rush to the defence of media personnel on assignment. However, given the tenor of these times, when people are killed for a bad drive or an imagined hurt, Tuesday’s assault cannot be allowed to pass into history. Left unchallenged it carries the danger of opening the floodgates against media personnel on whom the public depends to carry out the democratic mandate of keeping them informed.
We urge Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to investigate the lack of a prompt response by officers who were on the scene when the incident occurred. The assailant should have been held on the spot.
This incident comes on the heels of the physical assault of a Guardian photographer while on assignment at AV Drilling in south Trinidad. That matter is now rightly in court. Not so long ago, a crew from our sister station, TV6, was threatened with jail by police officers who attempted to block them from covering a completely newsworthy incident in Port of Spain involving the daughter of a businessman.
Put together, these incidents describe a dangerous trend for all media workers as well as the democracy of this nation which must not be underestimated. It must be stopped now.
SOURCE: T&T Express