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Editors' Forum | ‘Not fully free’ - Literacy specialists bemoan challenges to freedom of expression in Jamaica

Published:Monday | October 16, 2017 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Clement Lambert
Paulette Kerr
Isabel Viera Bermudez.

Jamaica continues to rank among the countries that most respect freedom of information in the world, gaining two places to eight in the recently released Press Freedom Index 2017 by Reporters Without Borders.

But organisers of a Media and Information Conference 2017, to be held in Kingston next week, have warned that freedom of expression in Jamaica may not be as 'free' as many now believe.

"We are not doing as well as you say we are doing in terms of freedom of expression because we are playing catch-up in many ways," said Dr Clement Lambert, lecturer in literacy studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.

Lambert argued that minority groups are particularly denied freedom of expression in Jamaica, and that starts in the schools.

"From an educator's stand-point, the curriculum needs to be improved so that we include the conversations that we have to have - conversations about diversity, about acceptance of other persons regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, and otherwise," added Lambert.

He told Gleaner editors and reporters that as an educator, he was aware that there was a great deal to attend to in terms of freedom of expression from an educational standpoint.

"There is still the notion that children do not have a lot to offer, so we are recipients of other persons' expressions, but we are not being promoted enough to produce our expressions," said Lambert.

Chief librarian at the UWI Mona campus Paulette Kerr also expressed concern that minority groups are not allowed full freedom of expression in Jamaica and argued that efforts have to be made to address this.

"What we are saying is that we should empower our citizens with the understanding that they can, at least, be able to work with people of any orientation," said Kerr.

"How is it that we are going to make sure that our citizens understand that our differences in a real sense don't matter. Or if they do matter, how can I get to that place where I can still reason with you and even if I don't agree that a family can be a man and a man and children, I can understand that it there is such a family, and how do I reach out to that family?" added Kerr.

For Isabel Viera Bermudez, UNESCO adviser for communication and information at the Kingston cluster office for the Caribbean, to ensure that freedom of expression is fully realised in Jamaica, we have to start in the primary schools.

"We could start by including this in the curriculum - freedom of information and freedom of expression. Teachers should help us to get this to the children from the primary level," Viera Bermudez told the forum.