As Barbados today joined in the rest of the Caribbean in observing World Press Freedom (WPF) Day, the umbrella body of regional media associations has identified the growing incidence of “fake news” as one of the major challenges facing the profession.
While not specifically mentioning the phenomenon – except when it made reference to a joint declaration by several hemispheric and global bodies on the issue – the Trinidad-based Association of Caribbean Media (ACM) said in a statement that “disinformation”, particularly through social media, was being deliberately employed to muddy the waters and deceive people.
“We are . . . mindful of the challenges posed by disinformation and propaganda presented as fact and the emergence of new platforms, recognizable mainly by their operational opacity, designed to mislead audiences. In many ways they hinder free expression by misdirecting the free flow of information and interfering with the public’s right to know the truth,” the ACM said in the statement which appeared to have been inspired by a joint declaration on “fake news”, disinformation and propaganda issued on March 3 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
In that declaration, the various organizations expressed concern that disinformation and propaganda were often “designed and implemented so as to mislead a population, as well as to interfere with the public’s right to know and the right of individuals to seek and receive, as well as to impart, information and ideas of all kinds” and emphasized that some forms of disinformation and propaganda “may harm individual reputations and privacy, or incite to violence, discrimination or hostility against identifiable groups in society”.
In reflecting on the joint statement, the ACM said the development of “participatory and transparent” initiatives were needed “for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena”.
“Such a declaration is supportive of the strategy of the ACM to deploy the weapon of knowledge in the pursuit of higher standards of media practice and media literacy in the Caribbean region,”
At the same time the ACM said WPF Day also provided an opportunity “for strong, well-equipped newsrooms and public affairs units staffed by trained and dedicated professionals under conditions befitting their essential roles.
“It is also a time for media professionals to re-dedicate themselves to the task of shedding light on areas of darkness and speaking truth to both the powerless and the powerful, fearlessly and impartially.
“In many respects, achieving these objectives requires the existence of an environment in which there is much stronger and more pervasive commitment to human rights and freedoms, with an emphasis on freedom of expression and, through this, the protection of communicators in all their diverse manifestations, including what we today describe as ‘new media’”.
But the ACM warned that achieving this would require the shaping of societies in which rights are held to be indispensable features of growth and development; the role of a free press is recognized, promoted and protected and recognition of the need “for more, not less, news, views, information and contending analyses”.
The umbrella regional media body said that the global observance of World Press Freedom Day 2017 brought special meaning to Caribbean media professionals, with focus on advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies through the application of critical minds “during what we recognize to be critical times”.
“As media professionals, we recognize there is an implicit impact of good journalism that is both developmental in nature and supportive of the social infrastructure to advance the goal of good governance.
“On World Press Freedom Day 2017, we believe there is much to celebrate but much more work to be done in the promotion of press freedom, enhancement of professional skills in the Caribbean media and the networking of regional journalists in pursuit of peaceful, just and inclusive societies,” the ACM added.