World Press Freedom Index for 2017 was recently published and out of the roughly 180 countries analysed Jamaica was ranked 8. (In 2016 Jamaica was ranked 10.) Number 1 was Norway followed by Sweden. The British and US media came in at 38 and 41 respectively.
The World Press Freedom Index report is published by Reporters without Borders – Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF).
The annual index analysis focuses on media freedom, diversity of opinions allowed, independence of media, transparency, the legal environment, and abuses or violence directed at journalists
The index is not there to comment on the quality of journalism; which in Jamaica for me is definitely top ten material. Especially in the coverage of sports, human stories, local politics, youth, local communities, entertainment and education.
Part of analysis by RSF is drawn from questionnaires completed by the local media professionals, lawyers and sociologists.
According to the latest findings by RSF ..
“Jamaica ranks among the countries that most respect freedom of information. 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. The law decriminalizing defamation passed by the house of representatives in 2013 was a step in the right direction.”
Abuse against Journalists
My attention in the index findings was drawn mainly to the issue of abuse of journalists. How broad is the definition of abuse by RSF? Does it cover sexual harassment?
In Jamaica it is common knowledge that sexual harassment affects many professionals during the course of their duties.
In 2016 the Jamaica Observer published article citing examples of the sexual harassment faced by some local female journalists.
The article entitled Caribbean women journalists and those testy moments with men provided examples of awkward situations that journalists have found themselves in….
- “Basically, male interviewees sometimes want to ask you for your number or just touch you or hug you inappropriately,”
- “I was also approached for a dinner “date” once by another (govt) minister. It was stunningly awkward. I was outraged but stunned when I mentioned the incident to my male editor and he recommended I go on this date to solicit information. It felt like a suggestion of prostitution for news,”
- “I have been in a situation where an aide to a minister was seeking to date me and I politely said no and he proceeded to angrily curse me out and walk behind. I was trying to walk away from him and he was following behind me cursing and so on.”
- “We live in a region that does not take rape reports and stalking reports seriously. Imagine me going to the police station to tell the police his boss – the minister – sent me lewd messages … you get the picture…
Transparency, Media Freedom, Independence of Media
The index’s categories on media freedom, transparency and media independence also caught my eye.
Like most developed and developing countries, Jamaica’s journalists is bound to face challenges and obstacles in carrying out their roles effectively and unconditionally.
- Respected sports journalist Wayne Walker has spoken of his frustration in getting access to senior football administrators since his last probing interview of local president Horace Burrell in 2015.
- Other sports journalists admit to giving soft interviews (or avoid harsh criticism) to leading sport administrators and sportstars for fear of being blackballed.
- In 2016 the Press Association of Jamaica complained at the lack of any press conferences by new Prime Minister Andrew Holness. (The Prime Minister had given a few one on one interviews.)
- Holness’ predecessor Portia Simpson-Miller hardly conducted press conferences and didn’t give any one-on-one interviews throughout her latest term in office. (One of the disappointments when President Barack Obama visited Jamaica in 2015 was that no press conference was held.)
- In 2016 the Miami Herald published an article regarding allegations made against Jamaican MP James Robertson. For days the media in the Jamaica refuse to touch the article and if they did never mentioned James Robertson by name. Was it fear why the media withheld the “prominent politician’s” name? If a similar overseas report featured a Jamaican dancehall artiste he/she would have been named immediately.
- Digicel Communications – owned by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien – is a major employer, sponsor and advertiser in Jamaica. Since 2016 O’Brien has been embroiled in a highly publicised lawsuit against the Irish State & 2 Irish politicians for comments made in the Parliament about his banking affairs. [very unusual for any democratic parliament to be sued in this way] Why was this story not covered by the media in Jamaica? Was media freedom compromised?
- What is the perception when we see Danville Walker – Managing Director of Jamaica Observer – chairing a number of state bodies that covers areas such as customs, environment and trade? Can there be authentic media independence from the Jamaica Observer when covering these state bodies? Given Walker used his paper to defend these controversial appointments.
Indeed Jamaica may have scored well in the index despite the above minute observations. Canada’s media – ranked 22 – has had its level of state spying and intimidation. The US media has had their own challenges of intimidation by both the Obama and Trump administration.
- If Donald Trump Targets Journalists, Thank Obama – James Risen
- CIA designed tool to keep tabs on files leaked to whistleblowers and journalists.
Again, the index is about media freedom and not the quality of reporting.