Today is World Press Freedom Day. This year’s global theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law – highlights issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public. Local and regional media organizations issued special messages as part of the day’s celebrations.
Maintain high professional standards, says BARJAM President
It is ironic that the 25th celebration of world press freedom day this year has as its global theme ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law.’
This theme could not have been more apt at this time with Barbados caught up in a general election campaign and with scores of candidates seeking power, promising justice and adherence to the rule of law, even as they use the media to propagate their messages.
The Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers (BARJAM) welcomes the fact that the theme will cover issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system and the accountability of state institutions towards the public.
If there is ever a time when the media in Barbados need freedom so it can keep the political process – and politicians – in check, it is now during the “silly season.”
Our media practitioners will very likely be facing verbal attacks and possibly physical threats, as members go about their business of covering various political meetings and other events along the campaign trail.
The integrity of practitioners will also come under the microscope more than ever, as we seek to bring fairness in an emotionally-charged atmosphere that is punctuated by “tons” of partisanship.
But while we focus attention on others, it is also important that in our quest for freedom of expression and proper access to information, we look inward.
All media professionals, especially those on the front line of information gathering and dissemination, need to ensure we stay true to our calling and duty and do not yield to any form of bribery, coercion or intimidation to cover up known “sins of commission or omission” by any public figure.
A word to media bosses and owners as well – support your media workers as they stand up for professionalism. Do not give them over to the “political wolves” who may seek to “devour” them just for doing their job.
BARJAM also takes this opportunity to show solidarity with those media professionals who put their lives on the line every day in danger zones of the world to keep the various publics abreast of crucial events.
We look forward, meanwhile, to the long-mooted Freedom of Information Bill coming to Parliament in Barbados and being enacted.
It is hoped that the incoming government would make that bill a priority.
BARJAM will keep its feet to the fire on this.
President – BARJAM
The Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers
Free media critical to democracy, CBU President says
The Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) members in 24 countries and territories of the Caribbean and Americas are pleased to join the global media fraternity in celebrating World Press Freedom Day 2018. The theme selected for this UN-sponsored event, Media Justice and the Rule of Law is particularly apt given recent concerns in the Caribbean.
Across the region, actions have been noted that could stifle the operation of some fundamental media freedoms on which the fourth estate rests: access to information and freedom of expression, through unfettered journalism. Sometimes the efforts working against a free media are demonstrated in new legal provisions, such as in Jamaica by the Draft Data Protection Bill, with similar provisions being introduced by legislators in Suriname as well as in Trinidad and Tobago.
In one case the attack has been on the very life of a journalist. At this time there are still no answers to the questions about the disappearance and assumed death of Haitian photojournalist Vladimir Legagneur.
The CBU maintains that the provisions of Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights are fundamental to the enjoyment of the other rights enshrined in constitutions around the region, when journalists are permitted to practice their profession and media houses are not regulated to achieve purely political and economic purposes the entire society benefits.
An excellent demonstration of this already this year has been the series of exposes in the British media about the experiences of Caribbean descendants in the United Kingdom under a hostile immigration policy, which sought to invalidate their legal status, deny them the rights of citizenship and force them out of what had become their home country.
Those stories, demonstrating the suffering caused by a recent and inhumane government policy, generated a groundswell of public criticism of the administration which then moved swiftly to apologise, seek early remedies and accept full national accountability. Some of the fodder for the debate was generated in stories done here in the Caribbean about West Indians, who after a lifetime in Britain then visited the Caribbean, only to be barred from returning to the UK.
On this WPFD 2018, the CBU calls on its members and other media workers to continue to ferret out stories on these issues of discrimination and maltreatment of our citizens at home and in the diaspora, especially poor treatment exerted by those in places of power.
Of course, the region continues to celebrate our prominent positive-featuring among the top countries for media freedom. In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Jamaica was ranked at number six, having improved its ranking by two places from eighth in the 2017 report.
According to the report published in late April, “Jamaica ranks among the countries that most respect freedom of information. The very occasional physical attacks on journalists must be offset against this, but no serious act of violence or threat to media freedom has been reported since February 2009, a month that saw two cases of abuse of authority by the Kingston police. The law decriminalizing defamation passed by the house of representatives in 2013 was a step in the right direction.”
Other high or moderately performing countries in the 2018 report were Suriname at 21, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States at 35. But the region must not rest on its laurels when it also includes Belize at 47, two places behind the United States, Guyana at 55 and Cuba at 172.
The CBU notes that it is easy to erode our good press freedom reputation, especially if laws are passed that intentionally or not, impinge on this freedom of the media. It is for that reason that on WPFD 2018 the CBU calls on political leaders in the Caribbean, now contemplating necessary Data Protection legislation for our citizens, to publicly commit that they will not pass laws forcing media to disclose their sources to anyone or any authority.
The Union also strongly encourages governments to commit to doing all they can to ensure that access to public information about the quality of governance being provided can be scrutinised by our citizens, the taxpayers whose funds they are entrusted with, to garner and to spend prudently. It is to be recognised that journalists seek information on our citizens’ behalf.
On WPFD, the CBU celebrates the positive impact of media freedom on developing regions such as the Caribbean and pledges to continue building of the capacity of its members to promote the enjoyment of all rights, through a free and fair media.
President – CBU
MIC calls for independent and innovative media industry
The Media Institute of the Caribbean (MIC) joins the global media community in observing World Press Freedom Day under the theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law.
In the Caribbean, there have been uneven gains in press freedom standings, as tabulated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Some countries have experienced improvements while others have recorded declines in these annual ratings.
Emerging challenges include legislation to address concerns related to online content and regulatory measures intended to bring about greater orderliness in the broadcast sector. For example, proposed and enacted cybercrime and data protection laws threaten to impose new and heightened levels of criminal liability for breaches; this can have a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of the press.
At the other end of this spectrum of challenges are physical attacks on journalists, including the recent, tragic murder of Haitian journalist Vladimir Legagneur who went missing on March 14 while on assignment in the Grand-Ravine area of Port-au-Prince.
In Trinidad and Tobago, photojournalist Kristian De Silva is currently engaged in legal action against an assailant for an assault on him in September 2017 and, during the election campaign in March, journalist Calistra Farrier was attacked by a political activist in Grenada.
The work of journalists calls for courage and bravery in the face of intimidation and threat of death.
Today, Caribbean journalists honour the 88 colleagues across the world who paid the ultimate price in the defence of democracy and freedom of expression as they carried out their professional duties in 2017.
We also call, in particular, for the release of journalists imprisoned in Cuba and look forward to the blossoming of press freedom in this state as it takes tentative steps towards democracy.
In most instances, though, attacks on the media are characterised by more subtle methods involving corporate and political players.
As noted by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, “freedom of the press, like any other freedom, is never completely secure. The development of a knowledge and information-based society via digital channels implies heightened vigilance, to ensure the essential criteria of transparency, free access and quality.
“Quality information requires working to check sources and select pertinent subjects; it calls for ethics and an independence of mind. It thus depends entirely on the work of journalists.”
On the 25th observance of World Press Freedom Day, the Media Institute of the Caribbean (MIC) is recommitting itself to achieving the vision of “empowering Caribbean communicators and leaders to contribute to the regional democratic process by supporting an innovative and independent media industry.” To achieve this, MIC will continue to promote professional development, media advocacy, media literacy and accountability.
President –Media Institute of the Caribbean
Abolish laws hindering freedom of expression, urges ACM
The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) joins with its national affiliates and regional partners in observance of World Press Freedom Day 2018.
This year’s theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law, speaks specifically to the media’s fundamental role in bringing about justice, promoting transparency and strengthening democracy.
The ACM is concerned that there is still work to be done in bringing about more transparency in the political process and creating a Caribbean society that is more embracing of freedom of expression.
Justice is not served when antiquated legislation remains on the books and politicians can use criminal defamation laws and other regulations that criminalise expression to threaten and intimidate journalists.
The rule of law cannot be upheld when journalists are denied access to information or are punished for disseminating it.
As an organization committed to press freedom, we must be concerned when cyber crime, data protection and other legislation designed to address the new reality threaten to adversely affect the work of journalists in their respective countries.
We, therefore, make a fervent appeal to all governments throughout the region to remove laws that encumber freedom of expression, deny access to information and prevent journalists from shining light on the truth without the threat of prosecution.
We also urge media workers to become more aware of laws that could curtail access to information or, worse yet, put them at risk of facing criminal penalties. I encourage everyone to use World Press Freedom Day to highlight press freedom challenges via social media with the hashtag “pressfreedom” or “worldpressfreedomday.”
This year, the ACM has partnered with the Media Institute of the Caribbean to mount a five-day investigative journalism workshop coinciding with World Press Freedom Day. We are delighted to provide an opportunity for regional journalists to sharpen their skills in this area as there is currently a scarcity of qualified reporters in this specialised field. Over the past year, we have been working closely with the Media Institute of the Caribbean, which is now a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. Naturally, this relationship will be critical in building capacity in this area.
Earlier this year, we successfully hosted a workshop focusing on the coverage of disasters. This was a critical and timely exercise as it enabled us to develop guidelines for reporting on disasters. It cannot be emphasised enough how important such a blueprint is for journalists in a region that frequently grapples with natural events like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanoes.
The ACM is proud to continue its partnership with key organizations that promote freedom of the press and freedom of expression. ACM executive member, Denis Chabrol, sits on the steering committee for the Global Forum for Media Development (GDFM). He is currently representing ACM and GDFM at World Press Freedom Day activities in Accra, Ghana.
Immediate Past President and current executive member, Wesley Gibbings holds a seat on the Latin America/Caribbean board of IFEX – an international organization dedicated to the promotion of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.
It was just days ago that the ACM joined IFEX in expressing concern about increased violence against journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. A staggering 16 journalists have been murdered so far for the year, and just recently in Haiti, police recovered the remains believed to be that of a photojournalist killed while in pursuit of a story. Like IFEX, we believe that violence against journalists and media workers constitutes one of the most extreme forms of censorship.
While we are proud of what the ACM has accomplished, we are mindful that there is so much more work ahead. With the hard work and support from our members, affiliates and partners, we will continue to widen our reach, access resources and fulfil our mission of being advocates for press freedom.