"We need a journalism that is free, at the service of truth, goodness and justice; a journalism that helps build a culture of encounter." (Pope Francis, 2019)
John Allen, Editor of CRUX, says: "Freedom alone won't produce that kind of press culture - but the absence of freedom, inevitably, will guarantee that we never even get close."
Tomorrow, Sunday 3 May, the world observes World Press Freedom Day. The UN states: "UNESCO is launching a global campaign on media and social media channels, with a focus on 'Journalism without Fear or Favour' in an increasingly complex media landscape. The sub-themes are:
- Safety of Women and Men Journalists and Media Workers
- Independent and Professional Journalism free from Political and Commercial Influence
- Gender Equality in All Aspect of the Media
"May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to:
- celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
- assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
- defend the media from attacks on their independence;
- and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty."
Freedom of the Press is enshrined in TT's Constitution. See Chapter 1, 'The recognition and protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, Part 1, Rights Enshrined: (4)(k). With a score of 23.22, TT ranks 36 out of 180 countries (down from 39 in 2019) in the World Press Freedom Index in 2020, published by Reporters without borders (RSF). The top 5 are: Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Jamaica ranked 6th and Suriname ranked 20th. As RSF states:
"The Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country's ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country or region."
RSF states: "Journalism remains a dangerous profession..In the past decade, at least 554 journalists have been killed. In 2019
49 journalists were murdered, the lowest death toll in 16 years. While fewer journalists are dying, more are ending up behind bars. About 389 were locked up in 2019, up 12 percent from 2018... 57 journalists are being held hostage across the globe, mostly in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Ukraine."
Read: Freedom and the Media 2919: Media Freedom: A downward spiral by Sarah Repucci, Senior Director for Research and Analysis (https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-and-media/2019/media-freedom-downward-spiral). She says: "Media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade."
If TT is to develop representative democracy, we need an informed citizenry. The Express Editorial on May 2, 2019 highlighted some key issues. Inter alia, it stated: "In today's world of open access to borderless information, facts have become the greatest casualty in the promotion of programmed agendas. In the swelling tide of misinformation and disinformation, an independent and professional media are an essential rudder for holding on to reality and navigating one's way towards the truth...This newspaper is under no illusions about the threat to press freedom in T&T which we confront on an almost daily basis. However, press freedom is not a matter for only the press; it is for everyone who cherishes their right to participate fully in their nation's affairs as well-informed citizens." And consider journalism in a digital age.
You may recall that on World Press Freedom Day last year, the Vatican reported that Pope Francis, in addressing some 400 journalists of the Foreign Press Association of Italy on May 18, 2019, encouraged "a humble and free journalism that does not indulge in selling the 'rotten food of misinformation' but rather offers 'the healthy bread of truth and goodness.'
"I therefore urge you to work according to truth and justice, so that communication is truly an instrument for building, not for destroying; for meeting, not for clashing; for dialoguing, not for monologizing; for orienting, not for disorienting; for understanding, not for misunderstanding; for walking in peace, not for sowing hatred; for giving a voice to those who have no voice, not for being a megaphone to those who shout louder."
Let's pray for journalists who have lost their lives.
Leela Ramdeen is Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, (CCSJ) and Director of CREDI
See also: WACC urges support for independent, unbiased media: www.waccglobal.org/articles/on-world-press-freedom-day-2020-wacc-urges-support-for-independent-unbiased-media
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