Last Friday, May 3, marked the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. May 3 was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. According to UNESCO, the day is observed to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; evaluate press freedom around the world; 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.” The theme for 2013 was Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media.
Jamaica has been deemed by international media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, to have an “honourable record in freedom of expression and media safety” and leads the Caribbean in press freedom. In fact, according to the 2013 Press Freedom Index, Jamaica leads the entire Western Hemisphere, ranking 13th in the world.
This is a feat we should not take for granted. Censorship is the order of the day in many countries worldwide as publications are unable to report on certain issues or they risk being fined, suspended and closed down. In some cases, journalists, editors and publishers risk their very lives to report on the issues affecting citizens. Thankfully, Jamaicans have access to news and information from a variety of sources and even have platforms to air their own thoughts in the media, particularly through talks shows and letters to the editor.
Freedom of the press plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights and liberty of citizens. Journalism has often been referred to as the ‘fourth estate,’ in that reporters are charged with the responsibility of scrutinising the activities of government. This is a responsibility not to be taken lightly as the public depends on the press for accurate information that could affect their daily lives. Therefore, journalists must ensure that they adhere to the highest standards of their profession.
We are fortunate to live in a country where press freedom is respected, even though political leaders sometimes express disapproval with certain stories or cry ‘media interference’ when they are uncomfortable with the information revealed. Local journalists have also been calling for a reform of the current libel and defamation Acts for several years. These laws prevent the media from reporting on items that can be classified as ‘contentious,’ which can inhibit investigative journalism. Press Association of Jamaica president Jenni Campbell has stated that Jamaica’s ranking could be even higher if the planned reform of these laws is undertaken.