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As the world observed World Press Freedom Day yesterday with the theme: “Information as a Public Good,”, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) was hoping Government would heed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call, urging all governments to do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media.

In the meantime, however, it is still waiting on a response from the Government on its proposal to remedy the contentious T&T Cyber Crime Bill, in which MATT and other media associations felt clause eight was a direct hit on media practitioners, given its content.

First tabled in 2014, the bill was updated in 2017 in which clause eight seeks to create the offence of “illegally acquiring computer data. This offence would carry a fine of one hundred thousand dollars and two years’ imprisonment on summary conviction or a fine of five hundred thousand dollars and three years imprisonment on conviction on indictment. This clause also seeks to create the offence of receiving or gaining access to computer data knowing that it is obtained illegally, and would carry the same penalty as that of the offence of illegally acquiring computer data.”

The bill covers various cyber offences, including revenge porn, child pornography, blackmailing, hate speech, and protection of national secrets.

Giving an update, MATT President Dr Sheila Rampersad told Guardian Media the association made representations to the Government via a Joint Select Committee (JSC) that was specifically held to focus on the Cyber Crime Bill.

Previously, MATT would have also made two appearances, Rampersad said, assisted on its second appearance in 2018 by attorney-at-law Dr Emir Crowne.

At that JSC, a proposal by MATT was made to remedy the problems in the bill and the criminalisation of journalists and other public interest actors in society.

She disclosed, “Basically what we proposed was a public interest exemption that would remedy I would say about 80 per cent of the problems that we have with the bill and the concerns we have with the bill. The rest of it could be remedied with the insertion of a word or two in a couple of clauses.”

However, since the proposal was made, Rampersad said, MATT was still waiting for a response from the Government.

Speaking on Government’s data protection legislation, Rampersad said MATT was invited earlier this year along with other parties to a consultation at the Office of the Attorney General regarding a Data Protection Act.

She explained currently there was a Data Protection Act that was passed through means unproclaimed and that was possible largely due to it being a “problematic piece of legislation.”

Rampersad disclosed, “It seems the Government is trying to approach data protection legislation again, and differently this time and MATT has been engaged. It is our hope and expectation some of the many problems in the current unproclaimed Data Protection Act would be remedied in whatever version of legislation might be coming to repeal and replace, the current Data Protection Act.”