Global observance of World Press Freedom Day 2017 brings special meaning to Caribbean media professionals with its focus on advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies through the application of critical minds during what we recognise to be critical times.
The framing of this challenge by UNESCO resonates favourably in our region as we pursue the achievement of the related attributes of good governance and sustainable development.
As media professionals, we recognise there is an implicit impact of good journalism that is both developmental in nature and supportive of the social infrastructure to advance the goal of good governance.
There is also reason at this time to promote enlightened conversations about the general state of the media industry in the Caribbean and the future of the practice of journalism – a pre-requisite in the achievement of sustainability in the sector.
It is time for the regional media industry to re-examine its place in the scheme of things and to invest more heavily in the skills to take it through to the next phases of media development. This is the time for strong, well-equipped newsrooms and public affairs units staffed by trained and dedicated professionals under conditions befitting their essential roles.
It is also a time for media professionals to rededicate themselves to the task of shedding light on areas of darkness and speaking truth to both the powerless and the powerful, fearlessly and impartially.
In many respects, achieving these objectives requires the existence of an environment in which there is much stronger and more pervasive commitment to human rights and freedoms, with an emphasis on freedom of expression and, through this, the protection of communicators in all their diverse manifestations including what we today describe as ‘new media’.
Achieving this would require the shaping of societies in which rights are held to be indispensable features of growth and development. Societies in which the role of a free press is recognised, promoted and protected. Societies that recognise the need for more, not less, news, views, information and contending analyses.
We are however mindful of the challenges posed by disinformation and propaganda presented as fact and the emergence of new platforms, recognisable mainly by their operational opacity, designed to mislead audiences. In many ways they hinder free expression by misdirecting the free flow of information and interfering with the public’s right to know the truth.
As reflected in the March 3 Joint Declaration by the UN, OSCE, OAS and ACHPR Special Rapporteurs on ‘Fake News’, Disinformation and Propaganda, we believe that “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”
Such a declaration is supportive of the strategy of the ACM to deploy the weapon of knowledge in the pursuit of higher standards of media practice and media literacy in the Caribbean region.
For this reason, we applaud the teams that have worked hard on publications, dispatches and training programmes over our 16 years of existence to promote greater awareness of issues related to Caribbean media, the rights of the child, the rights of women, regional integration, climate change and the environment, immigration, elections, investigative journalism and, latterly, a new publication on the role of parliament in society.
We applaud our 10 member organisations throughout the region and collaborating global institutions including IFEX, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) and the ACP Press Clubs Federation – on which we occupy council positions – for the high level of collaboration and cooperation we have enjoyed.
On World Press Freedom Day 2017, we believe there is much to celebrate but much more work to be done in the promotion of press freedom, enhancement of professional skills in the Caribbean media and the networking of regional journalists in pursuit of peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Wesley Gibbings, President