Sat | Jul 20, 2019

World Press Freedom Day | A degree of freedom, but still a long way to go

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2018 | 12:03 AM

 

We are fortunate as Jamaicans to be living in a democracy showing signs of improving maturity with each election cycle.

However, voter participation at anemic levels and an overbearing impression from inside and outside of the island that corruption is rife and under reported, are constant reminders that there is much more work to do before we, as citizens along with the political directorate, can celebrate success in achieving what so many other less fortunate countries aspire to.

At the heart of the success of our democracy is the ability of the press to educate and inform, and the journalistic freedoms enjoyed. Our media landscape is characterised by three free to air television stations, several national and regional newspapers and nearly forty radio stations; only a handful of which operate with a fair degree of independence in a market which rewards them little, given stagnant economic growth and the disruptive nature of new media.

Troubling developments

Indeed, many media houses have had to consolidate or scale back activities in order to remain viable and at the same time maintain their ability to impartially cover developments in our democracy. This is a troubling development which poses a threat to press freedom.

Other developments we should be worried about include incidences of physical assault on our journalists, however minor they may be deemed, which continue unabated. We must rigorously denounce actions like these when they occur lest we become desensitised and the incidents grow in severity.

We should be worried that we still operate under laws which constrain media's ability to report on corruption as they would like, given the consequences of the burden of proof resting with the media houses. We are happy that the defamation law was changed to abolish criminal libel, but we lament that the changes stopped short of the adoption of the Sullivan standard.

We should be worried that, on the heels of the changes to the libel laws, we have laws proposed in the form of the Data Protection Bill, aspects of which, can send a journalist to prison for carrying out their duties or which could force a journalist to reveal their source(s) in an environment with the unfortunate characteristic of witnesses disappearing before they are able to testify, either because they have fled for their safety or, worse, immobilised through violent acts.

- Message from Media Association Jamaica Ltd