Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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Freedom of Speech
(Aired 16 September 2005)

    I take my right to freedom of speech very seriously. I will not allow anyone to take it away from me; we have the Caribbean Court of Justice [the CCJ] now, so whenever anyone in this country seeks to remove my right to free speech I will take them to the CCJ. On that you have my word and I will not be taking them alone I have the assurances of the other broadcasters including channels 6, 7, 9, 13 etc that they are behind me on this issue, so the PPP may as well take heed.

   We will not countenance any Broadcast Legislation which seeks to restrict our freedom of speech and which seeks to enshrine special treatment in the regulations for the government owned media as compared to the private owned media, on this there will be no compromise.

   So anyone who became a public figure in this country for the sole purpose of filling their pockets must allow themselves to be scrutinised closely by the media and by me.

   No more of this nonsense of fair and balanced reporting being enshrined in our broadcast license, since I believe that it is unconstitutional. I don't have to be fair and balanced in anything VCT broadcasts, for the simple reason that it is not our function to do so, we must give the public the facts and our interpretation of them and if the government does not like it, then they can use their newspaper, their TV station and their monopoly in radio to give their side of the story and the public will decide who is lying and who is telling the truth.

   I have told you before that in 1982 the opposition in Trinidad the UNC, Mr. Panday's Party, took the PNM government to court since the government at that time was operating Trinidad and Tobago Television [TTT] as a monopoly and in addition they were operating it as if it were the property of the PNM party and not a state owned media, owned by all the people, so the Indo Trinidadians, Mr. Panday's supporters, were not getting time to address their constituents, very much the same thing that is happening in Guyana today with the PNC being denied access to the state owned media, so the opposition in this country even though they hold 31 seats in the parliament versus the PPP's 34 seats get no time on the state owned media notwithstanding that there is ample evidence that their supporters are paying a major portion of the taxes that is used to run these state owned media houses. At the end of the trial in Trinidad it was decided that no one and I mean no minister, no Permanent Secretary, no political activist of the PNM could use the state owned media to put the government's or its party's position to the public unless the opposition was given equal time in keeping with their seats in the Parliament to respond. So if the PPP have 34 seats in the Parliament and they get 34 minutes to put government /PPP propaganda on the air then the opposition which holds 31 seats in our parliament must get 31 minutes to respond.  Remember this meant Ministers, including the Prime Minister, every government functionary every PNM party official all were considered PNM propaganda, there were no exceptions; the opposition in this country should not be operating as if they have no constituents they have nearly 48% of the voter's support why do they have to be begging the government for time on a media where their supporters are making significant contributions with their taxes.

   Mr. Hoyte and now Mr. Corbin's call for equal time on the state owned media became the law in Trinidad 23 years ago, and there is no question that if we had a functioning judicial system in this country that they would be entitled to the same treatment based on this Trinidad precedent case.

  Now let me tell you about the matter that went to the Trinidad court over 23 years ago between Mr. Surujrattan Rambachand and the Trinidad and Tobago Television Company and the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.

   Rambachand one of Mr. Panday's Members of Parliament claimed that the provisions of section 4 of the T&T constitution have been, are being or is likely to be contravened in relation to him for redress in accordance of section 14 of the same constitution.

   The Judge [notwithstanding that the PNM was in government] was an Indo Trinidadian named Lennox Deyalsingh and his ultimate judgement tells us that notwithstanding T&T's similarities to us racially, they still have a functioning judicial system, it is probably why they still function as a viable nation compared to us.  

    During this trial the question of freedom of speech came up with particular reference to public functionaries in Government.

    In the judge's summation which is recorded under case number 4789 of 1982 he said on page 54 of his summation and I quote him "dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public. For it is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsible to the will of the people and peaceful change is affected". You listening Surujballi and Lambada?     Judge  Deyalsingh tells us that "The government in a free society, must have no control over the press and especially in the modern world over the electronic press. Any control leads to censorship in one form or the other, openly or subtly... but in whatever form or in whatever way, it remains censorship nevertheless. As Douglas J. in Columbia Broadcasting [supra] said ‘the government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in Government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the Government from deceiving the public...' 

    "The government must not no matter how much, and no matter in what manner it is criticized, succumb to the temptation to criticize the press. The press has a fundamental right to criticize the government; the government has no corresponding right to criticize the press. It can only defend its policies and its performance and depend on the good sense of the people to discern the true from the scurrilous. People in public life must be prepared to leave to public opinion attacks or comments which are derogatory or scandalous to them; even the courts do. Justice is not a cloistered virtue said lord Atkin in Ambard V a. G. of Trinidad and Tobago so too public life is not a cloistered virtue and she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and even the scandalous comments of the press"

    There you have it ladies and gentlemen over and over again we see it in a free society the press must be free to criticise any public functionary as distinct from private individuals where the laws of libel and defamation are far stricter.

   The PPP have now announced much to the chagrin of the International community that they are communists and some members of the public, from the letters I see in the newspaper, don't think that there is a problem! that you can be ideologically a communist and function in a free democracy with the concepts of which justice Deyalsingh has so eloquently laid out for us here, I do not think that it is possible, you cannot take a medical Doctor and put him to design the Berbice river bridge he will just not be able to do it and the reverse is also true no Engineer can function as a doctor, since they have completely different disciplines, so too will a Marxist be completely lost in the modern free trade world where his ideology is irrelevant in a democracy and free markets. And that is why our government is so incompetent they just cannot function in the modern world.

   This is why the PPP cannot produce an Amerindian act or a Broadcast Bill which does not seek to put all the power in the executive, they just can't help it, since that is the communist way of doing things, to control and not to regulate.