Bharath: Talks fruitful on Cybercrime Bill

Published in the Trinidad Express: May 20, 2015, 9:52 pm AST

cyber talks: National Security Minister Carlton Alfonso, left, greets Communications, Trade and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath on his arrival to head the Government team meeting with the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) and T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) on the Cybercrime Bill, at the Ministry of Communications, Nicholas Towers, Port of Spain yesterday. Looking on is Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj. -Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY

Trade and Communications Minister Vasant Bharath said yesterday that Government intends to meet again to discuss the implications of the Cybercrime Bill, amid the media's concern over certain clauses which they say are a threat to press freedom in its current state.

The Media Association of Trinidad And Tobago (MATT), headed by president Francesca Hawkins, and the Trinidad And Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA), led by Daren Lee Sing, met with Bharath, National Security Minister Carl Alfonso, Attorney General Garvin Nicholas and Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj. The meeting took place at Nicholas Towers, Port of Spain, with not only the local media concerned about the Bill but also the International Press Institute, the Geneva-based body which has urged "the T&T Government to take into account the concerns raised by media stakeholders over the proposed bill".

In a release last week, MATT stated that it viewed the bill as a "direct threat to press freedom" and called for its immediate withdrawal to facilitate more consultation with the stakeholders. Bharath, who described yesterday's meeting as "fruitful", said the bill's intent was never about stifling press freedom.

He said during Government's caucus meeting on Monday, they decided to listen to the views and concerns of the media.

"We could possibly incorporate these views in the legislation as it has never been nor will it ever be the intention to stifle media or freedom of expression.

"We had a full and frank meeting about the Bill and the Government's position is that we will not continue to the conclusion of the debate in the Lower House," he added. "We understand very clearly a lot rests on not just having democracy in Trinidad And Tobago but it be seen to be practised in Trinidad And Tobago and we hope that we would come to a resolution that all parties would be satisfied with."

Debate stalled on Cybercrime Bill

Published on the Trinidad Express: Thursday, May 21, 2015
Communications Minister Vasant Bharath, right, responds to questions raised by media stakeholders during yesterday’s meeting on the Cybercrime Bill 2015 at the Ministry of Communication in Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain. Also in photo are GML’s managing director Lisa Agard, left, TTPBA’s Fazilette MacIntyre and National Security Minister Carl Alfonso. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Government intends to stall debate on the controversial Cybercrime Bill in the face of objections from media practitioners that certain provisions threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Communication Minister Vasant Bharath gave the assurance yesterday after meeting with executive members of the Media Association of T&T (Matt), T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) and Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM). Attorney General Garvin Nicholas, National Security Minister Carl Alfonso, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj and Bharath formed the government’s team.

The meeting took place at the minister’s office in Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain. “Government’s decision is to not continue to a conclusion of the debate that is currently before the House and these suggestions will be further discussed between the ministry, the Attorney General and Ministry of National Security with the views coming out that we hope will be consensual and acceptable,” Bharath said.

Last year when the bill was presented in Parliament, the TTPBA raised objections to the bill. However, when the bill was brought to Parliament again this year, the problematic sections nine and 13 that were objected to were retained in the document. Sections nine and 13 are intended to combat illegal data access but critics warn they could pressure journalists and whistleblowers into silence. Breaches of the provisions carry jail terms of up to five years.

Bharath said it was never the Government’s intention to introduce legislation that would threaten the freedom of speech of any citizen, including members of the media. He said when the bill was first laid in Parliament in 2014 members of the media presented written complaints with suggestions, but those suggestions were not passed on.

“Some of those were written and sent in a form of a letter to the then minister of National Security (Gary Griffith) and when Parliament prorogued, there was a lapse. In the interim there was a new Minister of National Security and it appears those comments were not passed up and as a direct result those comments were not passed on,” Bharath said. 

Matt president Francesca Hawkins said the executive welcomed the decision from the Government not to wrap up the bill until there was a broader dialogue on the matter. She said that she could not comment further on the matter until a formal response from the Government was made regarding their discussions.

Daren Lee Sing, president of TTPBA, said his organisation was also happy to see consultation finally happening as requested since last year. Lisa Agard, managing director of Guardian Media Ltd, said once sections nine and 13 were removed from the bill then the other two threatening sections, sections 22 and 23, would not be as problematic. 

The Government intends to discuss the proposed amendments to the Cybercrime Bill on Monday.