World Press Freedom Day: Take nothing for granted

World Press Freedom Day: Take nothing for granted

Friday, May 03, 2019

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Today's observation of World Press Freedom Day will no doubt serve to remind us in Jamaica never to take for granted the healthy press freedom we currently enjoy because many countries elsewhere are not as fortunate.

For example, we note an order by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for 13 radio and television stations in that country to suspend their news editors, producers and heads of programming over their coverage of the arrest of Ugandan rapper-turned-parliamentarian Bobi Wine.

The Agence France Press (AFP) reported yesterday that the media houses were ordered to submit “recordings of all live programmes and news bulletins aired” on Monday — the day of his arrest.

The Opposition politician, whose real name is Mr Robert Kyagulany and who is regarded as a potential challenger to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, was arrested for allegedly staging an illegal protest in 2018.

According to the AFP report, Mr Kyagulany and other activists had held a demonstration in Kampala against a social media tax without notifying the police.

Amnesty International said the order from the UCC “represents a blatant attack on press freedom and a lamentable tendency towards State censorship”.

“The Ugandan authorities must immediately rescind this decision and end the harassment and intimidation of journalists and media houses. Journalists must be allowed to freely do their job,” Amnesty said. We agree with them.

Luckily, the closest Jamaican media has come to such State harassment were two instances when politically blinkered supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party and People's National Party, led by their puppet masters, staged separate marches on the Jamaica Observer and The Gleaner, respectively.

In both instances, the politicians were not pleased with criticism being levelled at them on the pages of the newspapers.

But that, we hold, is one of the media's roles in the functioning of a democratic society. Our job includes holding public officials accountable as much as it requires us to highlight and celebrate the successes of our country and its people, as well as contributing to healthy and vigorous debate on matters of national importance.

Against that background, we note the growing concern about the use of social media to circulate information that cannot stand the test of scrutiny. Indeed, we recall that last year the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, along with several other organisations, took a joint position on this most important issue.

“Fake news,” they said, “has emerged as a global topic of concern, and there is a risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking, and other approaches contrary to human rights law.”

That concern is even greater today as the world has seen an exponential growth in the use of social media. Published data suggest that social media users worldwide this year stands at 3.4 billion people — an increase of nine per cent over last year.

As media, we must acknowledge that we have a duty to ensure that we remain true to the tenets of the profession to provide the public with information that is accurate and balanced. And, when we err, it is our duty to provide redress.

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