Jamaica outranks neighbors on press freedom index


In “Jamaica falls but outranks neighbours on press freedom index, the Jamaica Observer reports: The Paris-based Reporters without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) Thursday named Jamaica as the Caribbean country that most respects freedom of information.

In its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, the RSF, which conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press, placed Jamaica at number eight out of a total of 180 countries examined. Having ranked sixth on the index in 2018, which saw Jamaica moving up two places from its 2017 ranking, the island nation dropped two places in this year’s index.

The RSF conducted investigations in 13 Caribbean countries. Barbados was not among those Caribbean nations listed. “Jamaica ranks among the countries that most respect freedom of information. The rare physical attacks on journalists must be offset against this, but no serious act of violence or threat to media freedom has been reported since February 2009, a month that saw two cases of abuse of authority by the Kingston police,” RSF said in its global report.

It said while the law decriminalising defamation passed by the House of Representatives in 2013 was a step in the right direction, in May 2018 RSF shared its concerns with Parliament regarding a drafted Data Protection Act that, if passed, could have a chilling effect on journalists.

RSF said with few attacks on journalists and a varied media landscape, Suriname, which is the second-highest Caribbean country and 20th overall, gets fairly good marks these days for its respect for the freedom to inform. But training and resources are lacking and ‘public expression of hatred’ towards the Government is punishable by up to seven years in prison under a draconian defamation law.” RSF said that the “very controversial Desi Bouterse, who became president again in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015, has managed to be amnestied for the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents, including five journalists”.

In its report, the Paris-based group said Trinidad and Tobago’s controversial Libel and Defamation Act was partly amended in 2014, but “malicious defamatory libel known to be false” is still punishable by up to two years in prison as well as a fine. It said most media outlets are privately owned, but those regarded as favourable to the Government get the lion’s share of State advertising. “Several pieces of legislation — the Cybercrime Bill, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Data Protection Act, and the Broadcast Code — could have a chilling effect on press freedom and free expression online if adopted.” RSF said that police attempted to restrict journalists from reporting on a flood on public roads in 2018, highlighting concerns that authorities and public servants in Trinidad and Tobago do not respect the rights of journalists.

Trinidad and Tobago was placed 39th overall on the global report, and third in the Caribbean, ahead of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States that was collectively placed at 50th overall and fourth in the region. But RSF said that journalism in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts-Nevis, and Montserrat, is not a prestige profession in the subregion.

“They receive little training and often abandon media work because it is so badly paid, an issue that particularly affects female journalists in the region. Many media outlets are under the direct influence of politicians, especially during elections, because officials can withdraw State advertising at any time and deprive them of income they depend on. In some of the islands, political parties even own or have major shares in media companies, compromising journalistic independence,” RSF said.

It said that the authorities in the subregion are also monitoring social networks more and more closely, which encourages a degree of self-censorship. “In 2018, reports of editorial censorship by the general manager of the Grenada Broadcasting Network brought into question the journalistic independence enjoyed by reporters working for Grenada’s largest media network,” RSF said. The One Caribbean Media has since launched a probe into the allegations.

Although Guyana’s Constitution guarantees free speech and the right to information, RSF said that officials often use various pieces of legislation, including defamation laws—which provide for fines and up to two years in jail — to silence opposition journalists. It said a Cybercrime Bill that was passed into law in July 2018 took into account amendments RSF proposed, regarding provisions that could have posed a threat to press freedom if used to penalise journalists for publishing reports deemed critical of the Government or that are based on information from confidential sources. “However, the Bill remains imperfect. The members of the media regulatory authority are appointed directly by the president. This restricts the freedom of certain media outlets, which are denied licences. Recent attempts to improve regulation of the broadcast industry involved no consultation with any broadcasters. Journalists are still subjected to harassment that takes the form of prosecutions, suspensions and intimidation.”

Coverage of political developments and criminal cases in Belize is controversial because the media are extremely polarised, the RSF said with regards to that Caribbean country, noting that this often results in legal proceedings that are long and costly for media outlets. “Cases of threats, intimidation, and harassment of journalists are occasionally reported. Due to inadequate infrastructure, Internet access is among the slowest and costliest in the Caribbean.”

In the case of Haiti, RSF notes that despite recent changes in Haiti’s media freedom laws, journalists suffer from a cruel lack of financial resources, an absence of institutional support, and difficulty in accessing information. “And some continue to be the victims of intimidation or physical violence, especially while covering protests. A series of natural disasters in recent years have inflicted a great deal of damage on the impoverished country’s already extremely limited infrastructure.”

[. . .] Norway is ranked first in the 2019 index for the third year running, while Finland has taken second place from the Netherlands.

[Many thanks to Dale Battistoli for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/jamaica-falls-but-outranks_162668?profile=1373

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