We live in truly interesting times.
Whether it is the effects of climate change, a measles outbreak or the mishandling of a great nation’s economy, there is ample evidence that ignorance has consequences.
We live in a time of profound economic, political, social and technological disruption. And somehow, somewhere along the line, facts and truth have been become personal property, bent to the will of the possessor. Nowadays it’s Up is Down, East is West and Might is Right.
Some call it ‘disinformation’; others use the moniker ‘fake news’.
Yet, despite unprecedented levels of access to all forms of data and information, we are yet in an era of frightening information poverty, where freedom of choice more often than not revolves around conspiracy theories manufactured to ideological taste, or cat videos. Factual information gathered on our own Caribbean civilisation remains woefully inadequate.
In the past day, as we marked World Press Freedom Day – whose theme this year is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation” we are obligated to hold sacred the memories of those brave men and woman who have in the last year the last full measure of devotion to the quest for truth.
While we are thankful that we do not live in a nation, or a region, where the lives of journalists are in physical peril or mortal danger, we are mindful of those who contribute to death by obfuscation in our part of the world.
But the lifeblood of journalism is not a plethora of opinion but rich veins of factual information, on which a nation can determine consensus.
And our nation can ill-afford medieval monks possessing their Vulgate – their exclusive Latin text of the Holy Bible unavailable to the Great Unwashed – in the form of publicly held data.
We therefore endorse the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers’ call for the passage of Freedom of Information legislation.
The president of BARJAM, Emmanuel Joseph declared: “While BARJAM appreciates the fact that legislation of this nature does not fall within the targets set for the country by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, we contend that any measure that boosts or expands democracy, would also improve economic development.
“Democracy as we understand it, allows for the greatest level of participation by a people in the things that impact their lives and help them to make more informed decisions. People’s right to know how Cabinet Ministers and other public officers and even private sector players who interface with their public sector counterparts can no longer be discretionary, but guaranteed by law.”
Not only do we support the enactment of access to information laws but the concomittant abolition of ancient Official Secrets Act, introduce a century ago on the cusp and at the tail end of a Great War.
We contend that access to factual information, held in public trust, is a bulwark against the greed, graft and corrupt abuse of power.
It is conceivable that had we access to vital data and facts that our people might well have been so informed to prevent our descent into Greece-like fiscal penury.
It is possible that with access to official government data that the incredible distrust that surrounds decision-making on matters of regional integration – aviation, agriculture, trade, tourism, food safety and justice – might be more replaced with mature and sober commitment to unity.
We believe that now more than ever, there is a vital role for curated news – what we call journalism – in the shaping of public discourse, the determination of consensus and mature governance of our nation.
And we call on you, dear reader, to continue to press this organisation to demand that we hold fast to our principles but that we continue to report the news that is vitally relevant, meaningful and accessible to all.