Jamaica’s record on press freedom is one of the best in the world. This is one of those areas in which we can justifiably hold our heads high and commend our political leaders for their commitment to maintaining freedom of the press.
When Reporters Without Borders released its tenth annual Press Freedom Index earlier this year, Jamaica ranked 16th worldwide, out of 179 countries around the world, and second in the hemisphere only to Canada. That’s right, we ranked higher than countries like Australia (30th), France (38th) or the United States (47th).
The group explains that the Index is calculated as follows:
“Reporters Without Borders prepared a questionnaire with 44 main criteria indicative of the state of press freedom. It asks questions about every kind of violation directly affecting journalists and netizens (including murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). And it establishes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.
“It also measures the level of self-censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticize. Financial pressure, which is increasingly common, is also assessed and incorporated into the final score.
“The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also reflects violations of the free flow of information on the Internet.”
When the countries with the worst rankings are examined, clear and often violent abuses are discerned. Reporters Without Borders said:
“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”
None of that applies to us here in Jamaica. Even while the Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association of Jamaica remain vigilant to ensure that this valuable freedom remains intact, we must acknowledge the favourable media environment in which we live and work.
Press Association of Jamaica President Jenni Campbell, at the PAJ’s function to mark World Press Freedom Day, called on all Parish Councils to fully open up the operations of the local government authorities to media scrutiny, by allowing press coverage of all committee meetings, as well as the monthly Council meetings.
“Absence of media means that the people are also absent,” Campbell said.
Some councils allow coverage of several or most committees, but others are still closed. Years after the Parliament opened up its committees to press coverage, there is no acceptable reason for local government authorities discussing the people’s business to have a different standard of openness. This is a call we must all support, and strongly.
The Media Association of Jamaica is urging the government to prioritise the Bill to amend the Defamation Act, and has made recommendations for the amendment of the Access to Information Act, said MAJ President Chris Barnes. More on that in another post.
This kind of activism is crucial, but we must recognize that the fact that these are some of our major issues in 2012 is testament to the commitment of our politicians who have avoided the route taken by many other developing countries of trying to oppress, control and intimidate the media. Perhaps the fact that several of them began their working lives in media may have helped!
So let us first take a moment to remember and salute our colleagues in Iran (175th), where RWB says that
“hounding and humiliating journalists has been part of officialdom’s political culture for years. The regime feeds on persecution of the media,”
Pakistan (151st), cited as “the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the second year running” and
Syria (176) where “total censorship, widespread surveillance, indiscriminate violence and government manipulation made it impossible for journalists to work.”
Let us then hail the Jamaican politicians, journalists, and civic organisations who have contributed to our proud record of press freedom.