Position of pride
JAMAICA’S political directorate and the main entity which represents media workers, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), were beaming yesterday after the country was described as “almost flawless” in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders (RSF).
The index lists Jamaica at seventh out of the 180 countries ranked, a slight decline from the sixth position which the island enjoyed last year but which placement keeps Jamaica second in the Americas, behind only Costa Rica which is ranked fifth.
Responding to the latest ranking, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Robert Morgan told the Jamaica Observer that this should be a source of pride for all Jamaicans.
“The Government, civil society and the media have partnered over the years to ensure that we have freedom of the press and that members of the media, and journalists, are able to carry out their work without restrictions so that we can ensure that our democracy remains strong,” said Morgan.
“The fact of the matter is that there have been occasions where challenges have come forward but the good thing about our relationship with the leadership of the media is that we are able to have conversations and we are able to resolve any concerns they may have,” added Morgan as he pointed to two issues raised by RSF in its report released yesterday.
According to the RSF report, Jamaica generally enjoys widespread respect for freedom of information and continues to rank among the safest countries in the world for journalists.
It noted that physical aggression is rare and that it has been over a decade since a serious act of violence was committed against a member of the press in Jamaica.
However, RSF noted that Jamaican officials drew criticism at the start of the coronavirus pandemic when Government restrictions were seen as prohibiting journalists from doing their work at a time when there was a strong need for accurate reporting.
“The Press Association of Jamaica, along with editors and executives from the country’s major media houses, called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to rescind public lockdown orders that prevented TV and radio presenters, reporters, camera operators, technicians and other members of the media from moving around freely,” said RSF.
“Holness had already attracted negative attention in late 2019 for remarks he made suggesting that news reporters did not have to stick to the facts or truth, and that a free press enabled journalists to ‘take whatever stance they want’. The PAJ qualified his comments as a ‘troubling misrepresentation of the work of the press’,” added RSF.
But Morgan pointed out that the Holness Administration was quick to have conversations with the media to figure out the best way for journalists to do their jobs when these issues were raised, and they were quickly addressed.
“I think the message that has been sent to this Administration [by RSF] is that you have been doing a good job but every year the criteria becomes more stringent so you have to continue working hard to ensure that you fulfil the requirements of press freedom, which is something…to ensure that you have a democratic society.
“We are going to continue working with the press to ensure that they have access, to ensure that they are able to do their jobs. And we ask the press not to take this ranking for granted but to look at it as something to be proud of, to look at it as a signal that the Government of Jamaica believes in press freedom and is willing to partner with all members of the media to ensure that we continue to have this wonderful ranking and move even higher,” declared Morgan.
In the meantime, PAJ President George Davis said the latest RSF ranking reflects the reality on the ground and is a fair and accurate reflection of the state of journalism in Jamaica.
“There are several impediments in the environment that the Press Association of Jamaica moved swiftly to remove. I must say that, for the most part, the Government has been cooperative; they are listening. And most of the time when we appeal to them for the removal of those obstacles, they often oblige,” Davis told the Observer.
“That is very important because many of our counterparts in other parts of the world see the impediments and ask for them to be removed and their pleas fall on deaf ears. Thankfully we have a Government that is listening…and that bodes well for journalism in Jamaica on the world index.
“It is a mark of immense pride and I can tell you that, when I speak with my colleagues from the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, I am brimming with pride when the issue of the press freedom rank comes up,” added Davis.
Selected from the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Ranking of 180 countries
5 Costa Rica
33 United Kingdom
44 United States
179 North Korea
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