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Let us use press freedom to highlight social issues – Daniel

Let us use press freedom to highlight social issues – Daniel


Tue, May 20, 2014

by Shana Daniel

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”{{more}}

This basic human right of free speech and more specifically for the purpose of this article, the importance of a free press and the role of journalists and editors and their common pursuit to freely gather, report and analyze and share the news, despite challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions is what I wish to salute.

According to the latest Freedom House reports, the sobering reality is that more than one-third of all global citizens live under highly state-controlled media and information environments classified as “not free.” And the global struggle for press freedom remains a work in progress. While here in SVG, we may not be able to identify with some of the harsh realities where journalists are systematically targeted and killed for reporting on certain issues, we should not become too comfortable so as to ignore the plight of others.

As a young information officer employed at the Agency for Public Information (API), the importance of a free media took on greater significance for me when I held a placard, which highlighted the plight of journalists in Colombia with the headline “45 Journalists were killed in that country since 1992,” and marched from Half-Way Tree to Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica on May 3, 2014. The day was observed as World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). The United Nations General Assembly established the day in 1993 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world; to defend the media from attacks on their independence; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

I was among a number of journalists from across the region who met in Jamaica to celebrate the occasion. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) funded the trip. The Press Association and the Media Workers Association of Jamaica, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the International Press Institute organised the event.

The day before the walk, I had participated in a forum discussing “Free Media’s contribution to Good Governance, Empowerment and Eradication of Poverty” on which topic I also made a presentation.

In that forum Alison Bethel-McKenzie of the International Press Institute (IPI) said that her organization chose to celebrate WPFD in Jamaica in celebration of Jamaica’s bold repeal of criminal defamation laws. Jamaica and Grenada, she said, have set the standard for the region and the Americas in repealing their defamation laws. The IPI commended Grenada for decriminalizing defamation and is hopeful that governments in the region will follow suit. “While journalists are not being systematically killed physically, assaulted and imprisoned in the Caribbean with the same chilling regularity as in certain other regions of the world, criminal defamation and seditious libel legislation are an example of the serious challenges that remain with respect to journalists’ right to exercise their profession freely,” McKenzie said. At the same time she cautioned journalists to pursue their profession ethically. “Reporters, editors and publishers,” she said, “must be fully committed to integrity driven, professional reporting, keeping the ideals of journalistic best practices at the forefront of their missions.”

As I marched with my fellow regional media practitioners in Jamaica on May 3, I got a new and deeper appreciation of the role of a free press in a democratic society. I urge my fellow local media practitioners to let us use this freedom to highlight social issues that impact communities, to tell the stories of women, of children and the poor, and to give these stories as prominent a place as is given to murder, sex related stories or politics, as the struggle continues for press freedom globally.