Shut up or go to jail: Clause 8 of the Cybercrime (2017) Bill and it’s implications for our freedoms.

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I read an article on the Poynter website once about four types of journalists written by Matt Thompson. If I were to apply that article to myself, I’d be a mixture of the Storyteller archetype and the Analyst.  Storyteller, because I’m fascinated by human life and cultural interaction and I have a deep desire to tell the individual stories of the people I meet daily. Analyst, because I love facts and especially how numbers have a way of telling stories.  When I wrote about the Government’s expense on the medical bills for Parliamentarian Maxie Cuffie, I used facts and figures which I had corroborated. The same when I presented the expenditure by the President’s House. I checked documents and I verified. To attach my name to something which cannot be proven is something I would never purposefully do and the only way to insulate myself from producing or contributing to fake news is to verify my information using official documents. I don’t ask people to trust me blindly, I ask them to trust the numbers and the documents and the public servants who risk a lot to demonstrate their patriotism by exposing issues in the public interest.

So it’s anomalous of me to now ask the people who read what I write, whether it’s a Facebook post, a tweet, an observation on Instagram, a Whatsapp message or a news story, to use your imagination. But I do want you to use your imagination.

I want you to imagine Vanessa, a public servant, being victimised and having documented proof which she wants to take to her union, but if she takes it there, she will get fined or go to jail and the union officer who accepts it, will also get fined or go to jail.

You can imagine Brent, an employee at a State-owned company who discovers that tax-payers have been paying for a commodity which they never received and feels it is urgent and necessary to warn the public, but if he does use the documents from that state company he’ll either have to pay a lot of money or go to jail for years.

Imagine a high-ranking ministry official settling a lawsuit with tax-payers money, which sees claims of sexual harassment and secreting the lawsuit away under the cover of a non-disclosure agreement and the people who know, can’t speak.

Imagine elected officials using the money you pay in taxes, to give contracts to their relatives or cabals inflating costs of construction to give kickbacks to ministry officials and the clerk who sees these documents, and for the love of her country wants this exposed, can’t do so without facing criminal charges.

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Photo courtesy: The Tide

Now let’s place these imaginary situations in the context of the Cybercrime legislation currently before a Joint Select Committee in Parliament.

On summary conviction these people, who we have just imagined, can face a fine of $100,000 or two years imprisonment or on conviction on indictment, $500,000 or three years imprisonment for shedding a light on corruption, exposing misconduct or standing up against wrongdoing.

The purpose of the Cybercrime Bill 2017, according to the explanatory note on the document, is to “provide for the creation of offences related to cybercrime and for other related matters in Trinidad and Tobago.”  But while doing that, the bill infringes on the human rights enshrined by the Constitution, and the Bill acknowledges this, saying it would be inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution and required to be passed by a special majority by legislators.

The rights in Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution belong to every citizen of this country “without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex.”

The fines faced by our imaginary characters are based on Clause 8 of the Cybercrime (2017) legislation).

 

Under all the legalese, it criminalises hacking, distribution and sharing of private material (think revenge porn), computer-related forgery and computer-related fraud as well as identity theft and cyber-bullying.

 

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As a citizen of this country, I see the positive significance of many of the clauses in this Bill. As someone concerned with transparency, accountability, and access to information intended to protect the public interest, I also see some of the potential harm.

Clause 8 of the Bill “seeks to create the offence of illegally acquiring computer data”  and an offence  of “receiving or gaining access to computer data knowing that it is obtained illegally.”

These offences would carry a fine of $100,000 and two years’ imprisonment on summary conviction or a fine of $500,000 and three years’ imprisonment on conviction on indictment.

Applied to a real-world setting, it means the person who removed the documents regarding Sports Minister Darryl Smith’s reported jaunt to Tobago could be jailed if this legislation, as would the person who received and published the information.

It means the millions of dollars in waste and corruption at state-owned NGC may not have made it to public light and the practice may very well have continued unabated.

It also means the Fake Oil scandal may have never been made public or both the person who chose to share this information and every single person who received it could have faced criminal charges.

Would someone have been jailed for sharing a photo of presidential wine? Or using documents to question the housing allowance of the head of state?

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The commonality in these situations are the same; public funds and matters of public interest.

Clause 8 certainly should reflect the need for public interest considerations and considerations for journalism.

Without this, we face a situation where the frequent mismanagement of public resources will remain a secret as legislation will force potential whistleblowers and even journalists to shut up or face jail time or a fine they have no way of paying.

We live in a country where corruption and crime are the most visible problems.

In fact, the head of the current administration Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, when asked to reflect on his first two years in office, said: “If I leave this job today and I have to write a script as to what was my major challenge as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago during my tenure I will write simply the extent of corruption in Trinidad and Tobago.”

It is this perception and reality of corruption which makes it impossible to detach this legislation from the context of protecting the citizens of this country who share and reveal the truth to the public through journalism done in the public interest.

It infringes on our constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press by limiting what can be shared or received between citizens, so that if someone has access to a document which they feel, if published can prevent harm to the public, they must remain silent for fear of persecution.

I know too many people, some of whom are my sources, who provide information specifically because it is in the best interest of the country. I can’t twiddle my finger while this #ShutUplegislation is peddled. The Media Association, of which I am a past vice president and a current member has asked for a public interest exemption and a journalism exemption. What justification can any government have for denying something that benefits the public?

Section 2, Clause 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, confers on the Parliament, the power to make laws.

It specifically states:

 Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good
government of Trinidad and Tobago, so, however, that the provisions of this Constitution or (in so far as it forms part of the law ofTrinidad and Tobago) theTrinidad and Tobago Independence
Act 1962 of the United Kingdom may not be altered except in accordance with the provisions of section 54.

Do I personally think Cybercrime legislation is a law for peace, order and good government at this point in our history? I think a strong Cybercrime bill which doesn’t seek to penalise citizens who come forward with information in the public interest would achieve those goals.

As it stands, it is my opinion, that this Cybercrime Bill 2017 criminalises freedom of expression, freedom of the press and perhaps even patriotic impulses.

This isn’t legislation that protects our freedoms, it is legislation which tells us, a country, to”shut up” in a time when more than ever we need to keep speaking, keep exposing corrupt practices and fight for our country.

I’ve heard the argument that this will only affect journalists but I ask that you don’t believe that. As a journalist, working for an established media house I’ve never interviewed myself, never shared my personal opinions or leaked a file to myself. I’ve been a bridge between my fellow citizens to the elected government, due to access I receive because of my function. Telling me to shut up, is delivering that same message to you.

I plan on tweeting, sending Facebook messages, calling my MP and generally using my voice to demonstrate my displeasure. What do you plan to do?

I hope, after reading this, you share your thoughts.

#pressfreedom

#shutuplegislation

#letterk

 

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No data, bad data. Everything is wrong.

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I’ve read in multiple places that the Caribbean is a barren wasteland when it comes to reliable data and statistics.

Proper data and statistics don’t just make us better citizens, it has the potential to transform our country to greater levels of efficiency.

The use of data-enabled technologies improves healthcare and treatment discovery to better managing critical infrastructures such as transport and energy.

There are more experienced and smarter people than I to stress the essential role of data in modern governance. I’m not here for that.

What I want to talk about is the relationship between data and the media, in the T&T landscape.

I’ve had interviews with multiple Government ministers, who frankly admitted that in many cases there is no contextual data and if there is data, it is entirely unreliable.

What’s a journalist to do then, in a society which thrives on secret-keeping, and where politicians feel they can easily present “alternative facts?”

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Why I write. (Q & A)

In 2011, around the time I became a journalist at the Trinidad Guardian, the longest standing national newspaper in my country, I remembered being told that journalism would be a waste of my talent.

My best friend at the time repeatedly preached that it was selling out on my dream and that news would suck my creativity into a black hole, leaving my writing robotic and unoriginal.

Journalism definitely changed my writing. It improved it. The greatest blessing has been using my natural storytelling ability to relate matters of importance to a public, which is constantly fed lies.

I love writing. I love story-telling. I love journalism. Even when journalism doesn’t love me.

Around the time I started at the Guardian, I remember seeing a Q&A with journalists on the Learning Network, a website I was familiar with.

As I sit back and reflect on six years of journalism, I decided to ask myself those same questions. It’s to remind myself why I do this, despite the many challenges and partly because sometimes in answering certain questions, I surprise myself.

Q: How did you become a reporter?

A: I had always wanted to be a journalist and equally discouraged from doing so. My family was of the opinion that I was too smart to pursue journalism and I succumbed to peer pressure and started a marketing degree at Montgomery College Maryland. Sometime during my degree, I had an epiphany in the form of a total breakdown and I packed my clothes and moved back to Trinidad. I started freelance writing and doing office jobs to figure my life out. Then one day, I saw an ad in the Guardian for a reporter and I knew in my heart it was for me. I applied. Then I called multiple times per week, for two months to check on my application. I think the Ag Editor-in-Chief at the time, Anthony Wilson probably interviewed me just so I would stop calling.

Q.What are the things you’re most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

Occasionally, I get emails in my inbox about my writing, specifically about my ability to pull readers into the story. Once, a man emailed me and told me my story brought tears to his eyes and called me a hero. I responded that I wasn’t but it was touching. That specific email referred to a story I did on the Enterprise community, using first-person narration. It was a community ravaged by gun violence with young people as the main casualties. The entire story was based on an interview with one of those young people who lived daily affected by the violence that surrounded her. There was a risk of people not understanding what we were trying to do, and some people didn’t. The vast majority of people got it and a number of people emailed me to say it inspired their activism for the community. There is a great honour in gaining the trust of someone so that they give you their story. I think all stories are precious, beautiful, fragile things, to be treated with absolute care.

Q. How would you describe your writing process?

I want to use the word rampageous, but that’s not totally accurate. It really depends on what I’m writing. I have different style techniques that I apply which affect the process. For a hard news story, I list facts and basically edit for grammar and spelling. I don’t mess with it too much or make it too conversational. My aim is to be clear and straight-forward so my process matches the structure. Inverted pyramid. For the news features, which to be honest is my favourite type of story, I am more focused on context and research so I’m thorough, though a bit haphazard. I gather all the information, slap it on a screen, read it through and then go for the most compelling angles. When I’m done, sometimes I draw a mock-up of what I would like the page to look like, including the headlines and photos. Once I deliver the story, I spend a few hours beating myself up about how much better it could have been.

Q. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve ever written about or researched for a writing project?

It’s all interesting, isn’t it? That’s what makes journalism so great. Learning new things is perhaps the only thing I love doing as much as writing. I’m fascinated by all of it. AT the same time, I’m very open-minded so I don’t really use the word strange to describe things I’ve written. I think the strangest things about journalism all happens behind the scenes. I hope I can write about it one day.

Q. How do outside forces influence or shape your writing?

Whenever I have a story idea, I tend to have conversations about it, with people who I know have vastly different perspectives. It helps me to see things, that because of my ideals and personality and nature, I may miss. I accept that I don’t know everything and so I really love seeking the opinions of people around me. I think it enhances my final product.

Q.Why do you write?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was younger I would make up stories and share with my friends. I wrote a full book when I was twelve.  I loved seeing how reading what I wrote transformed them, how they would laugh and smile and sometimes cry and then the discussions we would have afterward.

As a journalist, my reason for writing didn’t change, it was enhanced. Today, I write because it’s what I was meant to do. I write because I know the cliche that knowledge is power is as accurate today as it was when it was first written. I love knowing that the care and attention I pay to accuracy and context means someone, somewhere knows a little more today than they did yesterday. I think I owe something to my country and journalism is the way I choose to contribute.

Thank you for reading.

K. S. Clyne

“Truth is not diminished by the number of people who believe it.”

Why I run. (A post about anxiety)

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My friend asked me how to overcome being afraid of fear.

My answer is pictured above, and it was one I had to think about.

I assume he asked me specifically because he knows about my anxiety and how it affects me, which is more often than I like, but really not that often.

Still, it is something I struggle with.

It’s a weakness I wish I could eliminate more easily.

I’ve learned not to ignore it, hoping it’ll go away. That never works.

What works for me is confronting it. Talking myself down from the ledge or baking cookies or cupcakes, which I then deliver to friends, or putting on my exercise clothes and getting my body to expend energy.

I have enough Instagram posts about running that people think it is something I actually enjoy.

To be fair, there are some days when running, jogging or walking feels empowering and wonderful. But for every one of those days there are 100 others where I actually hate it.

I don’t usually hate physical activity. I love working out at the gym. But the running is so much more taxing on my body, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I often forget to breathe and things go downhill from there.

Still, I do it anyway. I put one sneakered foot in front of the other, up-hill, down-hill, around corners, breathing hard and sweating, simply because I have no other choice.

Running helps calm my anxiety. I know there is a scientific reason why and I could explain it here but, you have Google and it would be much more helpful if you do it yourself. I will say however, that for me, running and walking and jogging has proven to be a great help.

My brain appreciates it as much as my body and when you work in an environment that can trigger your anxiety, you have no options but to find ways to deal with it.

 

Thanks for reading.

K.S Clyne

 

 

 

Lazy journalism and Social Media

I’ll start by saying I love social media and how it has revolutionised modern communication.

I love its reach and I love observing how fiction can become fact through popularity. I think that last part is insane but really very interesting.

There are many things I don’t like about it, one of them is how easy it facilitates lazy journalism, the type of journalism I loathe, where one spends all day looking for a story that goes viral to write about.

At a basic level, writing about what’s popular isn’t wrong, particularly if you are careful to expand the story from what has already been published.

The title “Social media reacts to…” without any additional context or propelling the story forward so those same social media commenters can learn something, in my opinion, is content creation and not journalism. It’s Buzzfeed as opposed to NY Times. In journalism, it’s lazy.

It’s particularly distressing for me, because of the understanding that stories like that generate from inside a newsroom, without the writer ever going outside to observe.

MPs have been criticised for decades for winning elections and then never engaging with constituents.

Journalists are now engaging less and less with the actual people who they want to read their work, separating themselves from citizens on a physical level to engage in the digital world.

Again, there is nothing, in my opinion, wrong with canvassing reactions or comments online, but where is the balance we strive so hard to maintain?

Where is the truth? How do you prove that someone sitting behind a screen, able to type whatever they fancy is a credible source?

Richard Sambrook who used to be at the BBC once described social media sites as “the new towns, or cities, or neighbourhood bars where the public gather and discuss things.”

That’s true enough, but how does that allow journalists the luxury of opting out of fact-checking.

The opting out of fact-checking is just as bad as creating fake news.

A few months ago, a media house tweeted about a gruesome murder in St James, and that police had blocked streets on the Western main road and areas surrounding the murder, which had involved a police officer and a woman.

Minutes later the tweet was deleted, with nary an apology to be found.

Why was this tweet deleted?

Because it turned out the photo which was being shared, which had initiated the post wasn’t just an old photo but was from an entirely different country.

Police had not blocked any streets and they were not combing through the neighbourhood for suspects.

This isn’t the only example to be found in recent times but it was one of the most protrusive.

You really can’t believe everything you see on the internet, and with diminishing trust in news media, it’s even more important for mistakes like these to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compassion with objectivity.

I learned very early that I needed to remove my emotions when it came to writing for a newspaper. It was a difficult lesson. Before journalism, writing needed to be emotional to be sensible. As a journalist allowing your emotions into a story is an impossible task. Emotion can contaminate objectivity.

It’s impossible to turn your feelings off on things you are passionate about, and despite my awkwardness and my anxiety, I am passionate about people.

Interviews never provoke my anxiety, the search for knowledge keeps me centered and balanced.

I’ve done two interviews recently, however, where passion trumped objectivity and both interviews left me anxious. I’ll use this post to write about it.

The first was two months ago. I had gotten a message on one of the newspaper’s social media pages about a young girl who had gone missing. The sender implored me to contact her relatives so that the Guardian TT could publish a story which would aid in finding her. It was really quite routine stuff.

I called and spoke to the girl’s father, who quite calmly told me the story of her disappearance. Her name was generic and simple, the pronunciation was the only clue I needed.

His name was much more difficult so I asked him to spell it.

His response was: “Well girl, I don’t really know how to spell and thing nah.”

I’m known for my ability to roll with the punches and have a speedy response to any situation, that skill is a requirement for me to stay in control of situations and myself, a necessity to deal with my anxiety.

But when that father, a 57-year-old man from a rural community responded, I was silent for a moment that was uncomfortable to both of us. I gathered my thoughts, told him it was fine and that I would figure it out, and ended the call shortly after.

I sat and stared at my office phone and the burning need to fix his inability to spell his name crashed into the crippling realisation that there was very little I could do and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. It’s weird when that happens.

It’s more common than you might think, the number of people in T&T who would not be able to recognise their own name if you wrote it down on a piece of paper.

It is one of the things that truly hurt me. Knowing that people are being held back in life because of a lack of knowledge.

If I was a pageant contestant, I wouldn’t ask for world peace, I’d ask for an erudite world, where access to knowledge was unfettered for all.

That’s not the world I live in, however. I live in a world where a modern man cannot spell his name.

That type of story, “girl missing from home” is what we categorize as a crime story. I hate crime stories mostly because of the emotional burden of writing them.

I wrote this one, kept it short and to the point, and then followed up with that man every single day, for a week until his daughter returned. That’s something I wouldn’t usually do. The conversations were awkward.

-“Has she returned?”

-“No.”

– ” Did the police visit your home yet?”

-“No. We went to another police station but they say they will come home by we yesterday and they didn’t come.”

-“I’ll call them.”

“Did the police come?”

– “Them come yesterday but they ain’t really do nothing and we don’t know what else we supposed to do.”

And those are the words that bother me the most “we don’t know.”

There are loads of things I don’t know, but I usually have an idea of where to find out and I am empowered enough to follow that idea.

I maintained my objectivity in writing but I let my compassion lead me during the interviews.

He eventually told me that his daughter didn’t like school and didn’t want to learn so they let her stay home in form one and she never returned. They didn’t know what she should do then so she just stayed home and helped with housework.

That is the cycle she resides in, but I reside in it with her because it constantly bothers me that I can’t help her want to learn or worse, that I don’t know how.

 

Thank you for reading,

K.S Clyne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My conundrum

I love words.

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I fell in love with them before I loved people.

The first thing I ever felt fervor for was speech, hearing the gibberish that was music and words, but that was infatuation.

My first true love was the creation of a word out of movement and force on paper. One of my greatest memories is tapping the keys of an old Royal typewriter and watching the ink dry, listening to the consistency of the keys as they responded noisily to my fingers, and watching as words were creating as if by magic on the white sheet.

I knew I was going to be a writer before I could be certain of anything else. People spend decades searching for a voice, mine comes with a rhythm, bouncy and jaunty like my Trinidadian accent, at times rough and unrefined but always brash and as confident.

I didn’t know I would be a journalist until later. I recall hearing it mentioned by an older cousin. He often commented on my obsession with doggedly asking questions, repeating myself until my interviewee answered. I was a tenacious bulldog. Grrr! I spent a lot of time watching CNN, then watching Francesca Hawkins and Carla Foderingham, and wanting to find the news that they would read.

I was not yet five years old at the time. My confidence then was unshakable, my fear nonexistent.

On some days, in recent memory, my fear has been overwhelming and my desire to enter social situations underwhelming.

My anxiety, which I had control of for many years has resurfaced.

Gah! A journalist with an anxiety disorder. How does that work? I’m terrified of specific types of social situations. I run away from intense positive emotion directed toward me (Too much admiration makes me uncomfortable and forces a retreat into hermit mode) and my heart speeds when I’m intimidated.

Yet I’m in a job that requires me to interact with hundreds of people each month, to care deeply about the world and people around me and to enter into diverse types of social climates.

And in a world that feels like a constant threat, journalism is my safety zone. The search for truth and understanding is my armor that protects me from danger.

I do other things. I run often, hit the gym to trick my body into exhaustion with the hope that my mind takes the hint. I cook, attempt to bake occasionally, take road trips, all for the sake of peace.

Fortunately, I’m never intimated by authority figures, (like any good journalist my inherent distrust of them keeps me grounded) I’ve developed a deep compassion for human suffering and pray that my work can help even in some small way to alleviate that suffering, and nothing calms me quite as much as writing. It is my great love and my medicine.

So I’ve started this blog and there are two goals.

  1. To share my life as a journalist and a radio announcer.
  2. To share the effects my anxiety has on that life.

I’ll write about other things; a recipe here or there, a book review or a short story.

I’ll write.

 

 

Thank you for reading,

K.S Clyne