KIGALI, Rwanda — Veteran Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson Miller had heads nodding in agreement in Kigali on Wednesday as she urged Commonwealth countries to call out fellow member states that are not doing enough to protect freedom of expression.
Jackson Miller, a former Press Association of Jamaica president, was among panellists on day two of the Commonwealth People’s Forum being held on the margins of the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Discussing the theme, ‘Advancing Freedom of Expression in the Commonwealth’, Jackson Miller, armed with data, questioned the level of press freedom in some of the 54 Commonwealth member states, including the host country Rwanda.
Pointing to the level of freedom of expression in Jamaica Jackson Miller noted that the island is ranked at 12th on the latest World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders and is the second-best performing country in the Commonwealth.
Jamaica is ranked behind only New Zealand, which is 11th on the list headed by Norway with Denmark second.
Jackson Miller shared that while Jamaican journalists are criticised and pilloried for their comments it is unlikely that they would be arrested for doing their jobs.
But she argued that even in countries, like Jamaica, which are doing well with media freedom complacency cannot be allowed.
“We cannot be sitting under the banner of the Commonwealth — an organisation that is steeped in respect for rule of law, for democracy, for governance, for freedom of expression, free flow of information, as we see in the Commonwealth Charter — and yet not speak out when we see bad behaviour,” Jackson Miller said as she argued that this would allow the Commonwealth to appear like a dysfunctional family.
“You know those families where you have some members acting out but you are afraid to say anything to them in case dem get vex and leave,” added Jackson Miller.
The long-time host of Radio Jamaica’s evening news and current affairs programme Beyond the Headlines, and TVJ’s All Angles, charged that the Commonwealth has been too timid to speak to members about the problems in the grouping in respect to freedom of expression.
“Friends have to speak frankly to friends or it is not a true friendship…and I think we spend too much time tiptoeing around each other and being afraid to call out bad behaviour when we see it. So, for instance, the Commonwealth Journalists Association has pointed out that of the bottom 50 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, 10 of those are Commonwealth countries.
“We have to find the courage to speak to each other otherwise what is the point,” added Jackson Miller.
She charged that it would be a farce if the forum was to be completed without the participants pointing out what is going wrong.
“We cannot, for instance, not say to our host you need to do better when Reporters Without Borders has ranked Rwanda 136th out of 180 countries and has expressed concern about repressive techniques used towards journalists. We have to speak up, we have to be willing to say do better,” declared Jackson Miller to muted applause.