I knew Tuesday (May 3) was World Press Freedom Day. But when I woke-up that morning, I didn’t know that Saint Lucia had ranked Number One in the Americas in a recent global Press Freedom study.
The first local story I heard about the 2016 Freedom House Annual Global Report never named where it came from. Instead, it was a stinging criticism that sounded like the report was bought and paid for by the Saint Lucia Government.
The Freedom House findings had made the headlines, not in Saint Lucia but in Antigua and Barbuda. The Observer had published the findings, which placed Saint Lucia at the very top of the global Press Freedom ratings card, ranking 11th out of the 199 countries researched.
This is big news. Any country will want to get that top rating. Any people should be proud of it. And any journalist or media person, generally, should be willing to accept the value of such an accolade. But here, the Report has been basically blanked from the beginning, with some press people here not even willing to show they can hate a dog, but admit its teeth are white.
I know of Freedom House and its annual reports. Officially described as a US-funded non-governmental organization, it was established way back in 1941 and its reports (like those of the US State Department) are widely quoted and criticized. Freedom House has been accused of being a CIA front, as well as of political intervention everywhere from Cuba to Ukraine.
Freedom House is definitely not my holy grail for journalism. But even though I can, I will not kick it into oblivion just because Eleanor Roosevelt was one of its founding chairpersons. Nor will I join those who simply dismiss its findings on Saint Lucia just because they don’t like them.
I do happen to feel very Press Free here. I do not at all feel threatened. I have stared down the barrels of police guns in defense of my right to work. I have also defended, in court, my right not to be obstructed in the execution of my professional duty. But that was way back then, when the phenomenon of extra-judicial police killings had just started, all of 40 years ago.
The latest Freedom House Report covered 2015. It can be accessed by anyone, including those who have criticized it loudest. But none have even quoted it.
If the findings were the opposite, I doubt we would have heard a single word of complaint or protest from those currently questioning what yardstick Freedom House used.
On Tuesday, one local colleague made a public confessional admission of Self Censorship – something every consummate professional will prefer to avoid. But Censorship and Press Freedom seem to mean something else here than elsewhere.
Freedom House, the Freedom Forum and the other such entities claiming to be monitoring human, press and other rights around the world say it is getting less safe for journalists worldwide. Over 800 have been killed globally in the past decade. More are being arrested and jailed than ever before. More are being persecuted and prosecuted globally, even pursued in countries they flee to. More media houses are being pursued in court today than before – and for more money too.
But none of all the above is happening in Saint Lucia – or in any of the other CARICOM countries that also came out in the top 50 of the 199 countries covered by 2016 Freedom House survey. And nothing that’s happened in the local media this year can be used to water down value of the Freedom House Reports findings to the government and people of this nation.
Some positive things are also happening, though. The din continues to gong in two-hour intervals on radio and TV by day and night, but the issues are also being debated. I see laymen taking journalists up here on matters of ethics and bias. I hear journalists saying government spokespersons must have a degree to be considered a pedigree, but I also hear regular people calling for acclaimed politically decaffeinated press people here to start to wake up and smell the real local coffee.
The theme for World Press Freedom day this year was and is Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This is Your Right. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all governments, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent, free media. Without this fundamental right, he said, people are less free and less empowered. But with it, he added, we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all.
I agree with Mr Ban. But again, it all depends on who is defining Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.
I don’t share (most of) the Freedom House-type definitions of either. But I see nothing wrong with counting myself among the sons and daughters of Saint Lucia basking in the sunshine of the finding that the Helen of the West and the fairest isle of all the earth is the Number One bastion for Press Freedom in The Americas.
I like it.
Now, let those who cannot swallow it eat their hearts out!