|Jamaica is back at sixth place on worldwide press freedom rankings. / Photo by: wellphoto via Shutterstock|
Jamaica is back at sixth place on worldwide press freedom rankings, making it one of the countries that most respects press freedom, according to Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner.
Respecting press freedom
The Caribbean country slipped from its world press freedom ranking two places to eighth in 2019. The ranking was conducted by international organization that advocates for press freedom Reporters Without Borders.
The media watchdog pointed out how Jamaica’s ranking improved although there were few rare attacks on journalists. It also reported how there is no threat or act of real violence to press freedom in Jamaica since February 2009. It was during that time when Kingston-based personnel were found to have abused their power
Reporters Without Borders shares how there have been improvements since the 2013 decriminalization of defamation law in Jamaica. Yet, it expressed its concern about the drafting of the Data Protection Act. It said that the law may end up dissuasive for the country’s journalists.
|There is no threat or act of real violence to press freedom in Jamaica since February 2009. / Photo by: Olaf Speier via Shutterstock|
Jamaica’s Data Protection Act
The draft of said act proposes that it will empower the head of the data protection regime to demand information from data sources and this includes what journalists have. The law also proposes that personal data be registered first before it is published. The act has already been considered by the joint select committee of the Jamaican Parliament.
Another concern raised by Reporters Without Borders is the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2019. Passed in September last year, the law increased the fine from $20 to $1 million for taking photos in the precincts of the court. It said that the law is a “retrograde measure” since access to information should not be penalized but favored instead.
Importance of access to information
Research and knowledge management center Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC) said that access to information is “critical” to enable citizens to exercise their voice and to hold the government accountable. It is also important because it helps the citizens enter into informed dialogue about the country’s decisions that will affect their lives. It is considered as vital to empower everyone, including the excluded and vulnerable people, to claim their entitlements and rights.
However, access to information’s contribution to good governance in a country still lies in the citizens’ ability to use and demand information and the willingness of the government to be transparent. Both of these things can be constrained, though, in low capacity settings. An important question in this regard is to know what extent a person can access information and the level of government transparency.
GSDRC went on to state how, in some cases, citizens are reluctant to assert their legal right to information because of the prevailing culture of not questioning those in authority and out of fear of a repressive leadership. There are also other cases when there are structural barriers to poor people in using and accessing information. For instance, access to the internet is low in remote areas and in other developing countries.
Reporters Without Borders also mentions the comment made by Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness last year about how the media need not report the truth. On November 17, during the West Kingston Annual Constituency Conference at the Tivoli Community Centre, he invited his party supporters to instead follow his social media pages. “They can take whatever stance they want to take because it’s free media. It doesn’t have to be the truth,” he said, adding that the information also doesn’t need to relate to the facts since it can be their opinion.
The comment made by the country’s PM has contributed to discrediting the press in Jamaica, Reporters Without Borders added. After that 2019 comment, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) raised its concerns about the utterances of the Prime Minister as they seemed to criticize the accuracy of reports in traditional media. The Media Association Jamaica Limited (MAJ) also backed PAJ’s concern.
2020 World Press Freedom Index
Norway ranked first with a 7.84 World Press Freedom Index score, followed by Finland (7.93), Denmark (8.13), Sweden (9.25), Netherlands (9.96), Jamaica (10.51), Costa Rica (10.53), Switzerland (10.62), New Zealand (10.69), and Portugal (11.83).
Among the 180 countries, North Korea was at the last rank with 85.82 score, ranking lower than Turkmenistan (85.44), Eritrea (83.50), China (78.48), and Djibouti (76.73).
Coronavirus threatens press freedom worldwide
This year’s World Press Freedom Index has also pointed out how the Covid-19 pandemic may threaten press freedom in a country and how it may worsen the crises that global reporters are facing. New York Times’ reporter Jenny Gross analyzed the report on how the pandemic has redefined the norms and how new laws were passed that broaden state surveillance.
The laws meant to slow down the spread of coronavirus are also the ones that may have long-term negative effects on freedom of expression and news media. Reporters Without Borders’ secretary-general Christophe Deloire said that the health crisis enabled governments of different countries to “take advantage of the fact that the politics are on hold, the public is stunned, and protests are out of question.” Then, they imposed measures that would otherwise be impossible if there is no pandemic.
The report also mentions how press freedom in the US, for instance, suffered under the administration of President Trump. The US ranked 45th in the recent World Press Freedom Index. China remained in the 177th spot. China announced in March that it would expel American journalists working for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times and demand these outlets to provide the Chinese government with detailed information of their operations.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made such an announcement after the US administration only allowed 100 Chinese citizens to work in the US for state-run Chinese news organizations.
In 2019, Cuba ranked the last in the press freedom index in Latin America and the Caribbean region, with a score of 63.81. Jamaica ranked first in the region with an 11.33 score, followed by Costa Rica (12.24), Uruguay (16.06), Suriname (16.38), Trinidad, and Tobago (24.74), Chile (25.65), and Guyana (26.63), as published by database company Statista.
It appears that Jamaicans’ faith in the press as a valid source of information is still strong. With vibrant journalism, it allows the citizens to expand the scope of their knowledge and allows conversations that concern the public.