JAMAICA has emerged as the western hemisphere's leader in press freedom, according to the 2013 Press Freedom Index released yesterday by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders).
Jamaica rose three places to 13th on the index, ahead of Canada which fell 10 positions to 20th, and the United States which climbed 15 places to 32nd.
The global press freedindex ranks 179 countries, with Finland again holding the top position and the north-eastern African State of Eretria placing last.
While lauding Jamaica's placement and the players who contributed to it yesterday, Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) President Jenni Campbell said the country's ranking "could be even higher if the planned reform of the archaic libel and defamation law is done".
"The libel and defamation laws remain the greatest restrictions for Jamaican journalists who want to get on with the job of informing the nation fearlessly and unbiased," Campbell said.
"The freedom of the local media is a significant achievement for the country and I am challenging the Portia Simpson Miller-led Administration to stick to its word of tabling the amended legislation in Parliament before the end of this legislative year," she added.
Meanwhile, the RSF said political tension and judicial harassment have led to several Caribbean countries receiving low grades on its index.
It said Trinidad and Tobago, which was ranked 44th, has still "not stopped its illegal monitoring of journalists' phone calls and attempts to identify their sources although it promised to stop in 2010.
In Suriname, which dropped nine places to 31st , RSF said "often stormy relations between President Desi Bouterse and many journalists are unlikely to improve after the passage of an amnesty law for the murders of around 15 government opponents, including five journalists, three decades ago" when Bouterse headed a military government in the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community country.
Meanwhile, the RSF said that the seven-member Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) fell eight places to 34th because of "often direct pressure from the political authorities on news media and the failure to move ahead with the decriminalisation of defamation".
It said similar pressure was reported in Guyana (69th), "whose ranking continues to suffer from the state's monopoly of radio broadcasting".
"The clearest new trends are to be seen in the south. Brazil fell again, this time nine places to 108th, after falling 41 places in 2011. Its media landscape is also badly distorted," RSF added.
RSF said Cuba, the hemisphere's only country to tolerate no independent media, got the region's lowest ranking -- 171st.
"The past year has seen a renewed crackdown on dissent and the island now has two journalists in prison, one of them a state media employee," RSF added.
RSF said that just as the emergence of major protests and ensuing crackdowns had a big impact on the rankings of certain countries in 2011, so a decline in the protests has logically also had an impact a year later.
In addition to Finland, other countries making up the top 10 are The Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Denmark, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden.
Joining Eritrea and Cuba in the bottom 10 are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, Somalia, Iran, China, Vietnam, and Sudan.
"The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.
"In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media's economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse," he added.
— CMC & Jamaica Observer reports