Statement by Senator Ruel Reid on Press Freedom in Jamaica

Photo: JIS Photographer The Hon. Senator Ruel Reid, CD, Minister of Education, Youth and Information.

Story Highlights

  • I wish to make a statement on some emerging issues relating to press freedom in light of Jamaica being ranked in 8th position by the Reporters Without Borders Organisation and amid concerns about malicious communications in cyber space.
  • Jamaicans can be justly proud that our longstanding practice of allowing our free press to operate in a manner that promotes free discourse in support of our traditions has been recognised outside our borders and being praised.
  • Mr President, the fact is we are now in a new era and many of the rights and responsibilities previously taken for granted are being challenged by technological developments, new paradigms and new mores.

Mr President

I wish to make a statement on some emerging issues relating to press freedom in light of Jamaica being ranked in 8th position by the Reporters Without Borders Organisation and amid concerns about malicious communications in cyber space.

On Wednesday, May 3, World Press Freedom Day was observed internationally and Reporters without Borders, an international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press, gave its assessment that Jamaica ranks among the countries that most respect freedom of information.

Jamaicans can be justly proud that our longstanding practice of allowing our free press to operate in a manner that promotes free discourse in support of our traditions has been recognised outside our borders and being praised.

The Access to Information Act has allowed more of our citizens and media to gain access to government information as we broaden the scope of transparency and accountability.

Mr President, I would suggest it should be of great import to our citizens as a whole that we should value this tradition and to be on alert to resist any attempt to undercut this freedom.

Mr President, the fact is we are now in a new era and many of the rights and responsibilities previously taken for granted are being challenged by technological developments, new paradigms and new mores.

Among the critical issues facing us are:

I: Technological Change
• Changes in technological are advancing more rapidly than the necessary regulatory and legislative reform.
• There is a risk that further technological developments will render current regulatory systems and legal frameworks increasingly ineffective. How should regulators deal with the “informal sector”?
II: New Media landscape and Fake News
• The media revolution is transforming fundamentally the nature of journalism and its ethics. The means to publish is now in the hands of citizens. While the internet encourages new forms of journalism that are interactive and immediate, there are also greater risks of falsehoods being peddled as authentic information.
• Current media ecology is chaotic. Professional journalists share the journalistic sphere with tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists, and social media users.
• We are also moving towards a mixed news media of citizen and professional journalism across many media platforms. This new mixed news media requires new mixed media ethics – guidelines that apply to amateur and professional whether they blog, tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers.

The challenge remains how much of this can be legislatively regulated or whether it should be at all.

So even as we celebrate press freedom, the threat to our societies face may not be the physical intimidation which so many fear. Rather the biggest concern should be the undermining of institutions and the best practices in our way of life by persons with evil intentions.

III: The undercutting of reasoned discourse.

• The media environment shapes the way in which information is disseminated and understood. Falling costs of production and a multiplicity of viewing and listening options have led to smaller audiences and an intense fight for ratings, which has encouraged even more attention-getting sensationalism than were seen in the past.

IV: Terrorism
• Should Jamaica be concerned about terrorists’ access to our media space?

• Organisations such as ISIS are skilled at recruiting disaffected youth via social media. Many of the recruits are alienated with a history of personal or psychological problems, petty crime and gang membership.

• Some of these organisations offer a powerful message of glamour, violence and a sense of belonging.

• Social media is now a key battleground for terrorist organisations.

In this new era of disinformation and terrorist recruitment, there is a clear need to find a new balance between privacy rights and legitimate security concerns.

There are other concerns to be looked at as well regarding the competition for ratings and the protection of minors.

What are the implications of technological change for privacy and the management of personal information?

One of the most important roles of government is to create the conditions for economic prosperity and development. This means that government has to address all of these issues and develop a modern regulatory framework that is designed for the new era.

It also requires a deep understanding of the critical importance that communication channels now play in an economy and of the economic impact of popular empowerment through widespread engagement with data, creative images, voice-based services and text.

This means that the government itself must move beyond its traditional focus on increasingly narrow and static infrastructure issues and address the consumption and influence of content.

Mr. President, we must celebrate our achievements but must use the media in a positive way to re-socialize our society to be disciplined, respectful , loving and peaceful. We must encourage and celebrate positive parenting, positive role models and the achievements that lead to good outcomes.

Let’s not use our press freedom to destroy others or Jamaica.
Let’s not glory in the fake news industry.
Let’s us together build a better Jamaica .

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