Monday, May 2, 2011

PAJ President Jenni Campbell’s World Press Freedom Day message

A free press is essential to sustain, maintain and monitor a healthy democracy. Unfortunately only 17 percent of the world's citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press.

  Too many governments as well as non-state actors control the viewpoints that reach citizens and brutally repress independent voices which aim to promote accountability, good governance, and economic development.

Freedom of the press in Jamaica is guaranteed as an off-shoot of freedom of expression under the Constitution.

 It is full-time for us to declare press freedom in its own explicit terms, so that every Jamaican knows, without the shadow of a doubt, that he or she has the right to express himself or herself freely whether in private or as part of the national dialogue via media.

For the most part, we enjoy a free press in Jamaica. There are issues concerning the very strict, archaic libel laws which curtail the press' ability to expose corruption and concerns about public officials without fear of redress.

Recent efforts by our Parliament did very little to change this situation. Although there is talk to repeal the Official Secrets Act, there is still a damning culture of fear among public officials that ensures that secrecy remains the culture, whether or not it is the law. This makes it difficult if not impossible to bring some issues to public attention.

For changes to the libel laws, we argue for the Sullivan brand, which holds public officials to greater scrutiny by virtue of the fact that they make decisions in the public interest and are paid from the public purse. Hence, they ought to be held accountable by the public they serve.

If we do not ensure that the press is free to investigate and publish its findings, we would have taken a backward step in regard to our freedom for which our fore-parents fought long and hard.

As journalists, we do not take our freedom for granted, we too undergo self-examination to ensure that we hold fast to high standards and serve our public with dignity.

We abide by our Code of Practice which lays out the framework for responsible media and as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we recommit ourselves to the tasks of providing truths which will offer worthwhile options to our people.

Jenni Campbell

Sent from my BlackBerry® device from Digicel

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