EDITORIAL: Press freedom demands vigilance
THERE WAS NO fanfare locally to mark the occasion, but yesterday was World Press Freedom Day.
Despite it being virtually overlooked, the day remains one of great significance to journalists, and indeed all those who cherish Press freedom. Without an unfettered media, democracy cannot flourish.
The importance of free expression was perhaps best exemplified earlier this year with the tragic incident in France where ten of Charlie Hebdo’s staff and contributors were killed by extremists. Sadly, in many countries, the right to express an alternative view is seen as treachery.
We must ensure that neither the extremists nor those who set out to curtail the public’s right to know impede the freedom of expression we enjoy. That hunger to be informed is why listeners turn to the call-in radio programmes to have their say, or to newspaper columns such as It Matters To Maria to have their problems highlighted and acted on. These interventions are essential in helping to build a better society, one in which divergent points of view can be freely expressed and shared values can be advanced for the benefit of all.
Journalists work on behalf of the public and for the betterment of their society. They face incredible risks to highlight the truth about events, favourable or unfavourable. The unfortunate situation is that they can face intimidation and vilification simply for doing their jobs.
The threat to Press freedom comes in various ways. Take the lack of freedom of information legislation which has been long promised in Barbados and is clearly overdue. The absence of a whistle-blowing law, the threat of defamation and even self-censorship and civil service rules which make “improper” disclosure of information a disciplinary offence, all impact on the vibrancy of a free Press. This situation does not lend to an enabling environment for journalists to do their work independently and without fear.
There must be vigilance in the collective effort to ensure the highest degree of protection for journalists, who need a safe and enabling environment to perform their work independently, without threats and undue interference. The pressure can come from politicians, business leaders or those heading non-governmental organisations.
Today, Barbados and the entire world is more open and connected than ever before. The explosion of social media has meant that not only is there a greater flow of information, but that all types of views and comments are now posted. Facts are not sacred and truth is secondary in this type of environment.
The role of an independent Press is to be responsible at all times.
Let us salute Press freedom and the importance it means to society. It is indeed one of the pillars in protecting and strengthening democracy.