‘Free Speech’, ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of the Press’ all have one common denominator – Freedom. But despite all efforts to present them as norms associated with freedoms that every person on Planet Earth should hold sacred, each means different things to different people in different places.
‘Free Speech’ is supposed to represent freedom to speak one’s mind without fear of being punished, but as interpretations go, it’s also, more often than not, stretched to also mean saying anything, even knowingly lying, the name of having a protected right to ‘freely’ express a ‘personal opinion’ – with no bounds…
‘Freedom of Expression’ is seen and treated the same, only being stretched wider than the normal speech boundary and enveloping all other forms of expression, including publishing and broadcasting.
‘Freedom of the Press’ (or ‘Press Freedom’) is the widest and most amorphous of the lot of loose phrases, especially abused by those accused of abusing freedoms to get away with abusing others through character assassination, including making false claims without submitting proof and citing ‘fundamental’ and even ‘human’ rights and freedoms.
In all three cases, journalists and journalism everywhere are affected by differing interpretations of the legally-vague and widely-interpretive laws used to protect or punish us.
But none of these ‘freedoms’ really exist as full freedoms that must be, can or ever fully respected, especially since they’re more abused than observed, but in all cases never accepted or respected by those punished with them.
The likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange were brave enough to steal and spill top-secret US intelligence that also exposed more dirty deeds than secrets about how the US military and intelligence operates in other countries, the likes of Wikileaks and the trove of valuable public information released in the court of public opinion are treated like traitors and ‘threats to national security’, forcing them to seek and find innovative ways of forever separating the land of their birth to seek asylum in embassies and with state support.
Ditto the likes 21-year-old US Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira who earlier this year released yet another trove of hardly-guarded top-class military ‘secrets’ that again exposed that the US has never stopped spying on its partners, this time including South Korea and Ukraine, both naturally irked but neither able to do anything but exclaim.
Same with how international media entities claiming to be champions of Press and Media Freedoms go about assessing ‘state of the media’ or ‘conditions affecting journalists’ in countries not considered friendly to global geopolitical interests of the Group of Seven (G-7), European Union (EU) and NATO groupings.
Press Freedom today continues to be defined, not by what’s happening on God’s Green Earth, but by an ancient interpretation by US President Thomas Jefferson, who said, in 1786: “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”
That age-old phrase, coined in the Dark Ages of the modern media when no one even thought of a cell phone or computer, is today being bandied-around in the faces of journalists operating in the IT Age.
Similarly, press freedom is today still defined in the USA as “the right to publish and disseminate information, thoughts, and opinions without restraint or censorship as guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution…”
Thing is, though, journalism and media advocates too lazy (or just unwilling) to research for even-more-appropriate quotes by journalists, past and present, from Caribbean, Latin American, African, Asian or other developing nation, to fly and flag as even-equally quotable and just-as-worthy of use as and for professional guidance today.
As a result, Caribbean journalism and press freedoms are measured by yardsticks not set for regional standards, leaving external guides to judge and rule according to rules not set in or influenced by local experiences.
Take Reporters Without Borders, heralded as a primary global guardsman at the weighbridge of the fabled golden gates to the fortresses of global press and media freedom, which issued a recent report on the ‘State of Press Freedom in Guyana’ that’s amused and amazed even the government’s critics (excluding those with established records of having their own particular ways to cover different elected Governments of Guyana).
The Guyana Chronicle newspaper went to painful lengths earlier this week to respectfully acknowledge the external entity’s claim to be a thermometer for local press freedom, but to also point out where its yardstick faltered at every inch of measurement – and to offer better measuring hints, like widening their base of research and avoiding conclusions so-far from reality that no one cares to even try to understand.
In Saint Lucia, the abuse of press freedom and abuse of legal mechanisms to punish journalists who might feel they said the right things the wrong way is one that’s well known to veteran journalists, including the many over decades who’ve been forced out of every government job and into virtual eternal penury after each regime change.
But even more dastardly is the perennial efforts by a small but loud, hatchet-wielding online team of hatchet men (and women) who spend long days, nights and weeks, over the past 17 months, to assassinate Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre’s honest character with invented lies he’s been able to disprove every one of.
And if you thought that was low, just consider the same cabal (already abusing their access to the internet and the protection chat rooms have from their parent entities abroad to knowingly engage in murdering the character of the nation’s leader) also now looking to chop and downgrade the sound-play of the Return of Jazz and Arts Festival to Marchand and the happiness with its success, with the stupid and foolishly-shared comment like the ‘People cannot eat Jazz!’
And we’re supposed to take those champions of press freedom seriously?