Jamaica moves up in world press freedom ranking

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Print this page Email A Friend!


KINGSTON, Jamaica — France-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Jamaica sixth on its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, a move two places up from the country's 2017 ranking.

The index, which was released yesterday, ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists.

“Jamaica ranks among the countries that most respect freedom of information,” RSF commented in its report.

“The very occasional 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.”

It also noted that the law decriminalising defamation passed by the House of Representatives in 2013 was a step in the right direction.

Jamaica's ranking is the highest for a Caribbean country since the index was introduced in 2002.

Meanwhile, the United States' ranking fell from 43 to 45, continuing its downward trend in the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, RSF said.

In contrast, Canada gained four places due to stepstakento safeguard the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

The watchdog accused Trump of perpetrating anti-media rhetoric and actively seeking to curb press freedom.

“In 2017, the 45th President of the United States helped sink the countryto45th place by labelling the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempts to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routine use of the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, and calling for media outlets' broadcasting licenses to be revoked.

“President Trump has routinely singled out news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of him, and retweeted several violent memes targeting CNN.”

RSF said that 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.

“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 last year, several reporters were physically attacked while investigating a story involving the owner of a private oil company, a rare example of violence against journalists unseen in the country in recent years. It ranked Trinidad and Tobago at 39thdown from 34thposition last year.

Belize, where the index dropped from 41 last to 47 this year, RSF said that coverage of political developments and criminal cases is controversial because the media are extremely polarised.

“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,” it added.

RSF said that although Guyana’s constitution guarantees free speech and the right to information, officials often use its defamation laws, which provide for fines and up to two years in jail, to silence opposition journalists.

“The members of the media regulatory authority are appointed directly by the president. This restricts the freedom of certain media outlets, which are denied licenses. 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. A draft cybercrime bill could penalize whistleblowers and media for publishing information collected “illegally,” RSF said of Guyana which climbed to 55 on the index this year as compared to 60 last year.

In the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), RSF said journalism is not a prestige profession.

“Journalists get little training and often abandon media work because it is so badly paid. Many media outlets are under the direct influence of politicians, especially during elections, because officials can withdraw state advertising at any time, depriving 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. The authorities are also monitoring social networks more and more closely, which encourages a degree of self-censorship.”

Elected officials, through the distribution of official advertising, can deprive editors at any time of the income on which they depend. In some islands, political parties even own media outlets or hold majority shares in these organisations, which compromises the independence of the media.

“The authorities are also increasingly monitoring social networks, which encourages some self-censorship. The possibility of having a law against the so-called “false information” was even mentioned, although no text has yet been ratified.”

RSF said that there has even been talk of addressing so-called “Fake News” in legislation, though no bill has yet to be drafted.

According to RSF, which ranked the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands at 22 up from 28 last year, “democratic governments from several countries in the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) have adopted Trump’s favourite phrase when criticising the work of journalists.

“Given that criminal defamation still remains on the books in many Caribbean countries, the spread of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric could have very serious consequences for the local press.”

It said the Cybercrime Bill Saint Vincent and the Grenadines adopted in 2016, a vaguely worded law expected to chill freedom of the press and expression online, is likely to be exported to other countries in the OECS.

“Like many of its neighbours, St Vincent and the Grenadines still criminalises defamation, and this legislation has extended this offence to include online content.”

In Suriname, where the index declined by one point to 21 this year, RSF said that with few attacks on journalists and a varied media landscape, the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country gets fairly good marks these days for its respect of information freedom.

"But training and resources are lacking and “public expression of hatred” toward the government is punishable by up to seven years in prison under a draconian defamation law.

“The very controversial Desi Bouterse, who became president again in 2010, this time via the polls, and was re-elected in 2015, has managed to be amnestied for the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents, including five journalists.”

Despite the recent evolution of press freedom laws, Haitian journalists still suffer from a severe lack of financial resources, lack of institutional support and difficult access to information, RSF said.

It said some still suffer intimidation and aggression. The country suffered greatly from the 2010 earthquake and cyclone Matthew in 2016, which severely damaged existing infrastructure on the island.

Private media, which are very much in the interest of their shareholders, struggle to express their views without self-censorship. In 2017, a bill on defamation was passed in the Senate, imposing heavy sanctions against journalist

The top 10 countries in the index are:

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Netherlands
4. Finland
5. Switzerland
6. Jamaica
7. Belgium
8. New Zealand
9. Denmark
10. Costa Rica

ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT