Gov’t rolls back order curtailing press freedom

The Government last night walked back an order that prohibited members of the media from moving about during the period of lockdown in St Catherine.

“The final gazette will reflect that journalists will remain exempted during the period of the lockdown in the parish of St Catherine,” a news release from the Government quoted Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

He was responding to a call from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) along with editors and executives at the island’s major media houses yesterday for the Government to immediately rescind the order.

“We would be the laughing stock of the democratic world if we were to allow this to stand without protest,” PAJ President George Davis said in a statement supported by Milton Walker, group head of news and sports, RJRGLEANER Group; Vernon Davidson, executive editor, publications, Jamaica Observer; Cliff Hughes, executive editor and chief anchor, Nationwide News Network; Kaymar Jordan, editor-in-chief, Jamaica Gleaner; Kelly Silvera, vice-president, news, sports and current affairs, CVM TV; Natalie Campbell, news director, IRIE FM; and Julian Richardson, country content manager Loop News.

In Parliament on Wednesday night Holness had announced the times during which members of the public can move about, including “persons who are employed to the media such as journalists, television or radio presenters, camera operators, announcers, engineers, technicians, and newspaper delivery personnel between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm on Wednesday… and between the hours of 7:00 am and 9:00 pm on Saturday”.

Added Holness: “So the media is allowed to move freely on the restocking days. On the no-movement days no one is permitted to move. If there is a matter that requires their presence, they would have to get the permission of the ground commander.”

The PAJ and the editors and executives said that, while media workers will adhere to lawful instructions from the security forces, and will take all necessary steps to protect themselves, given the contagious nature of COVID-19, it is vital in the public interest that they be allowed to continue reporting on the pandemic.

They also stressed that the occurrence of a pandemic does not diminish the need for the media to continue to act as watchdogs of the society.

“The very fact that the measures taken by the State to contain the spread of the coronavirus have involved far-reaching curtailment of constitutional rights makes it even more important that the State does not fetter the media’s work at this time,” Davis said.

However, last night Holness said the media are expected to follow established protocols to protect the identity and privacy of people affected by COVID-19, as well as the health workers conducting contact tracing investigations and testing.

He also said all citizens, including media personnel, should observe all the guidelines and orders to ensure their personal safety and the safety of others.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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