Protecting press freedom safeguards democracy
Freedom of speech is a fundamental prinicple of the democratic ideal.

“We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech because, in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth.” — Barack Obama

Journalism is the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through print and electronic media, such as newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, webcasts, podcasts, social networking and social media sites, and e-mail as well as through radio, motion pictures, and television.

In Jamaica, the organisation representing journalists in both traditional as well as new media fields is the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ). The PAJ is guided by its constitution, which defines its overarching goal as being dedicated to the best interest of democracy and press freedom in Jamaica. The PAJ is organised and operated exclusively for the furtherance of the education and professional status of its members.

In Jamaica, there are currently over 30 radio stations both community-based and those which provide islandwide coverage. In an era of alternative and misinformation the value credible news bring is very important not only to the intended audience, but also to cement the stability of democracies worldwide. The absence of credible news was the catalyst for supporters of former President Donald Trump who attacked the United States capitol on January 6 in 2021.

Increasingly, journalists continue to risk their own lives in order to bring us the news.

Since February 24, the beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine, 18 journalists have been killed and 13 injured, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.

The war’s first media fatality was Evgeny Sakun, a Ukrainian cameraman working for the local Kyiv Live TV channel, who was killed when Russian missiles hit the Kyiv television tower on March 1.

Globally, the media landscape has grown exponentially over the years. The novel coronavirus pandemic forced many journalists to work online or in the digital realm, given than many media outlets had drastically reduced their staff during the pandemic. The demand for online content has increased tremendously and mobile journalism has now become an area of focus and space for many journalists.

World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), observed on May 3, is an annual celebration of press freedom. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

According to the United Nations, after 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart, and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing. Special commemorations of the 30th anniversary took place during World Press Freedom Day International Conference.

JOURNALISM UNDER DIGITAL SIEGE

Disturbingly, in many parts of the world journalists are harassed, falsely imprisoned, and even murdered. Unquestionably, journalism is under siege. This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme was ‘Journalism under digital siege’, which highlighted the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally mediated attacks on journalists and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.

The latest UNESCO World Trends Report Insights discussion paper, ‘Threats that Silence: Trends in the Safety of Journalists’, highlights how surveillance and hacking are compromising journalism. Surveillance can expose information gathered by journalists, including from whistle-blowers, and violates the principle of source protection, which is universally considered a prerequisite for freedom of the media and is enshrined in UN Resolutions. Surveillance may also harm the safety of journalists by disclosing sensitive private information, which could be used for arbitrary judicial harassment or attack.

Jamaica ranks 12th on the World Press Freedom Index.

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX

The 2022 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), shows that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse, and reliable information.

This 2020 edition of the index, which evaluates the situation for journalists each year in 180 countries and territories, suggests that the next 10 years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies); a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and an economic crisis.

Norway tops the index, while Denmark is the runner-up. Sweden ranks third. Estonia comes in at fourth, while Finland is ranked at fifth, and Canada 19th.

Interestingly, the United States of America, which is often regarded as the bastion of free speech, comes in at 42. Jamaica is down five places and ranks 12th out of the 180 countries on the index.

Contrastingly, the other end of the index has seen little change. Russia is ranked 150t, Saudi Arabia is ranked at 166th, Ukraine is ranked 106th, Cuba comes in at 173rd, China is ranked 175th; North Korea (down one) at 180th has taken the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea (178th) continues to be Africa’s worst-ranked country.

There is a growing global push, encouraging more transparency regarding how Internet companies exploit citizens’ data, how that data informs predictive models and artificial intelligence, and enables amplification of disinformation and hatred.

The recent acquisition of the popular social media platform Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk should be a cause for concern for all of us. The fact is, Twitter will now become privately owned and the rules of engagement will most likely be changed in line with the ideals and values of its new owner.

Undoubtedly, media freedom is a fundamental right, however, a significant number of countries do not recognise such freedoms. Governments need to redouble their efforts in order to safeguard journalists as they pursue truth in carrying out their duties.

Press Freedom is not a privilege; it is a human right.

In the words of renowned American journalist, the now-deceased Walter Cronkite, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Wayne Campbell

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or waykam@yahoo.com.

Wayne Campbell

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