Sun | Feb 23, 2020

Jamaica's media on firm footing, says former New York Times attorney

Published:Wednesday | April 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Shena Stubbs-Gibson (left), company secretary/legal officer at RJRGLEANER Communications Group, and Zahra Burton (right), founder of Global Reporters for the Caribbean based in Kingston, Jamaica, chat with George Freeman, executive director of Media Law Resource Centre in New York, after he made a presentation to media managers and reporters at the Liguanea Club in New Kingston yesterday.

Despite the recent survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project showing that the majority of Jamaicans do not trust the media, George Freeman, the former New York Times in-house counsel, believes that press freedom in Jamaica is on solid grounds.

"A free press is important to securing any democracy, and I believe that the Jamaican media landscape is certainly on good grounds at the moment," Freeman said. He was the guest presenter at a forum hosted by the Global Reporters of the Caribbean at the Liguanea Club in New Kingston yesterday.

"Yet, the news is something that is of public interest ... people in a democracy ought to know what their government is doing," said Freeman during his presentation to media managers, editors and media attorneys on standards for reporting in the public interest and how to deal with pressure from government, powerful persons or entities, and, even within news organisation, to censor or not publish information that is in the public interest.




In using the ongoing fractious relationship between United States (US) President Donald Trump and major media outlets as a case in point, Freeman sought to make the point that in spite of pressures being brought to bear on publications, each media house has a responsibility to report the news in a fair, balanced and factual manner.

"We see this in the US, President Trump is at great odds with legitimate media houses, calling their news fake, even when the story is based on facts. This kind of pressure is being handled well in many instances by the respective media houses, and we need to pay attention to that," he said.

Freeman told The Gleaner that publishing certain sensitive materials that may impinge on national security must always be taken into consideration, but he noted that in such cases it must still be left to the media house to decide if they are going to publish.

"We looked at some of those cases in the United States, such as the Pentagon Papers, on which the movie The Post is based, and some of the other instances which I was involved in when I was a lawyer there, and, basically, the presumption is to publish unless the government can show specific evidence why it would be harmful to do so.

"But it's the media house that should make that decision responsibly, weighing whatever the government says. They must get specific facts that make them believe there could be danger or harm if the story is written."