World Press Freedom Day 2023 has come and gone — and Caribbean journalists and journalism continue to face the same threats to their professional and personal freedoms that the Caribbean Association of Media Workers (CAMWORK) exposed and fought against in the 1980s and 1990s.
The regional media landscape still largely reflects absence of the early professional and organizational emphases that addressed the need for equal attention to media ‘Responsibilities’ as to ‘Freedoms’.
The early-90s Caribbean fascination with the ease and pace of change by and through interface with IT has given way to the current fear that robots have been made to think so well, they can and may soon take over from humans, leading to over 100 Hi-Tech High-ups, including Elon Musk, issuing an urgent warning in April 2023, that it’s getting too-near to being to too-late to rein the robot thinkers in.
(Indeed, I saw an interesting feature on TV just yesterday, in which the robot said: “I feel like I’m alive, but I know I’m a machine…”)
The power of IT helps journalists and reporters, scientists and technologists, governments and state bureaucracies, banks and schools, etc. to dig deeper and work harder on searching for and finding solutions to problems ranging in gravity, from mega to major and minor.
Today, we no longer have to post letters, or place overseas calls through telephone exchange operators, listen to the radio or watch TV for the weather, or even write our appointments in a diary (with pen and paper).
Information Technology (IT) continues to be a boon and a bone, helping and hindering, blessing and cursing journalism and communications, making gathering and dissemination faster and easier – and causing too many reporters (and journalists) to get lazy and/or lazier.
Today, journalists walk with an entire toolbox, if not a desk, in their hands or their pockets: a Cell Phone with voice and video recorders, cameras, clocks, calendars, calculators, notebooks, files, folders, pens, keyboards, dictionaries, diaries, photo galleries, video albums, address books, telephone contacts, land-lines, different email options, WhatsApp, radio and TV stations, newspaper of the world, plus all the ‘Apps’ one’ll ever need to find anything one doesn’t have that’s available on the ‘Net – all for free and in different languages.
Former colonies usually suffer longer hangovers before returning to the actual grips of life after swallowing new technologies hook, line-and-sinker and paying the consequences of longer reconnections with reality; so with the too-many Caribbean citizens caught like innocent spiders in the invisible cobwebs of the world-wide-web (www), some even actually depending on Facebook to remember their mothers’ birthday – or when is Mother’s Day…
Likewise, broadband has virtually gone both abroad and overboard, but with stark differences between those who use it for entertainment and for information, leaving too-many miscalculating support levels on numbers of Facebook followers’ or ‘Likes’.
Entities needing to transmit urgent messages to the General (entire) Public are led into the false security zone of being advised to ‘post it online’, thereby automatically excluding the majority in some countries who either don’t have access to, or simply cannot afford or dimply don’t want to adapt to today’s IT devices.
In the process, those left behind are left to play catch-up, if ever…
At national levels, major media houses try their best to minimize even perceived association with governments, lest they be accused — by the opposition — of being “in bed with” the day’s government, so they remain overly-guarded about even how they cover good news from or about the government.
Some of the most influential media houses would not directly criticize the government and everything it says and does like others do, but will find ways to take issue with its best performances or star projects, citing any one of a wide variety of ‘rights’ and quoting ‘Articles’ and ‘Chapters’ of international conventions Caribbean citizens know very little or nothing about.
The usual suspects in every country hijack and highlight selective ‘Universal Rights’ and ‘Freedoms’ to pursue naked political goals, preach political polemics and openly preach war in the name of ‘Freedom of Expression’, some using language very clear to the ear, but being explained as not meaning what was heard.
Some government leaders, for many different reasons, see no problem and waste no time taking the press to court, even for reporting the truth.
In early February, I read an interesting post by ‘JIRIE’, an interesting and refreshingly-new online Caribbean news service that features subjects of popular regional interest to global audiences, that featured the ‘Top Ten Richest Caribbean Leaders’.
The lineup was quite revealing, naming names and providing obviously well-researched figures to point to leaders of independent and non-independent former British West Indian territories, including some also in court to answer charges relating to or surrounding their clearly-apparent rapid accumulation of wealth while in office.
A few weeks later, when I returned to the item, it was ‘No Longer Available’ online – pulled down, I was made to understand, “due to a sizeable legal threat…”
Big traditional mainstream media houses have their in-house or retained legal representatives and the deep-pocket politicians won’t spare a cent to find lawyers who’ll find ways to help hide the truth, or have it withdrawn from publication.
But not so for small and new ventures trying to break with the past and talk outside the box.
Some major media houses actually hide behind laws and selective conventions to accommodate and/or defend calls to violence – whether in politically-charged societies or not.
Nothing has changed since World Press Freedom Day last week.
But – as I do every year – I did rewind to those ‘good old days’ when one chose to be a journalist because one wanted to be an ongoing part of informing by gathering and disseminating news.
Today, however, in too-many cases, the magnet is more the glitz-and-glamor of being Seen-Heard-and-Read, until the next better-paying job comes around…