73rd General Assembly
Salt Lake City, Utah


There are several developments against press freedom which needs to be monitored.

Labels of "fake news", made so popular by the current US president, have been adopted by the current government and seem to be directed at and reserved for certain media institutions that have been in seeking to hold the government accountable.

There are instances where the government selectively participates in editorial fora and events; where reporters have difficulty in accessing officials including the Prime Minister for one on one interviews. There is omission from invitation lists for press briefings with senior editors by the Prime Minister and selective release of government information to certain media houses and/or specific journalists.

The government has gone as far as introducing Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) TV, a social media channel geared to promote the activities of the Prime Minister in spite of the long-standing existence of government information services in Jamaica Information Service (JIS) and Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ). In announcing the launch of OPM TV, the Prime Minister had tweeted that the online portal would give the public all the information its needs.

The portrayal of a recent news story has revived discussion on the establishment of an independent media complaints council.

The issue surrounded the Gleaner's publication of a story headlined "Not You, Madam! - I Am Answerable To The Contractor General, Prime Minister Tells Political Ombudsman" which conveyed the interpretation of the prime minister's response to a question posed to him.

The headline drew a response from the Office of the Prime Minister which, rather than addressing the media house through the editor in chief or the managing director, went straight to the other houses and consequently on air with their opposition to the headline. This stirred a raft of issues and debate from which the group drew both criticism and support but more seriously raised an issue about the need to establish an independent media complaints council.

The last discussion on the establishment of an Independent Media Complaints council was held in 2013 when the Press Association of Jamaica (journalists) published and updated media code of ethics and sought the support of the Media Association of Jamaica (media owners) for a joint signing of the document. While the two associations could agree on most elements of the code, there was disagreement with a clause providing relief for persons aggrieved by media houses to seek remedy from an independently established media council, constituted with former media professionals and legal luminaries amongst others, who had the power to enforce corrective action on a media house even if the media house did not agree. This body proposed by the Press Association, would be set up and funded entirely by the Media Association. The MAJ objected on the basis that misused or corrupted power of a press council could serve to have a chilling effect on press freedom. Most media houses preferred instead to adopt and enforce codes of conduct and promote the reliance on the courts in determining whether aggrieved parties' claims were justified. At least one media house established a position of "editorial ombudsman" to preside over the media house's internal processes to drive complaints to resolution. The associations in 2014 agreed to disagree and the matter was not further pursued. The resurgence in 2017 of this issue will likely be debated hotly for the remainder of the year and perhaps into next year.

The Prime Minister had taken out an ex-parte injunction against a television station barring the repeat of a programme aired about him and his taxpayer status and land ownership. The courts have since denied him an extension of the initial injunction after the matter was heard with the program producer and the station able to present their side of the story in court. That the Prime Minister sought to use the court to prevent the repeat, and the injunction was granted prior to the court's hearing of the publisher's side of the story, underlines the chilling effect, if even temporary, on freedom of expression. The injunction overturned sets precedent for future issues.

Jamaica's Information Minister shared in the Senate on March 10, 2017 that the Government was engaged in talks with the Broadcasting Commission (the country's broadcast regulator) regarding proposals to manage the media landscape. Reid told his colleagues in the Upper House that the administration was moving to address the consumption and influence of media content. "In this era of disinformation and terrorist recruitment, there was the need to find a new balance between privacy rights and legitimate security concerns," the information minister had said. The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) shortly after sounded a note of caution that the media watchdog will not allow Jamaica's constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression to be eroded.

The PAJ queried whether the Government intended to enact legislation to impose further regulation on the media, and if so, of what kind; and further, why the administration was having discussions with the Broadcasting Commission when the regulatory body had no jurisdiction over content on the Internet.

The Jamaican Media landscape comprises three free-to-air licensee television stations, three national daily newspapers, close to thirty national radio station licensees and over 40 cable providers, including a new wireless subscription cable operator.


There have been no major press freedom violations during this period.

The media continues to labour in an environment in which there are no regularly scheduled press briefings with the Prime Minister or his Cabinet, as is the case in neighbouring Caribbean countries. In June 2016, after having served as Prime Minister for six years, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart held his first official press conference. It has not been repeated since then.

Nine years after the Freedom of Information Act was drafted, it has still not been laid before Parliament.

Other issues which have implications for the press include social media and the ongoing straitened economic circumstances.

There has been an expansion of the local use of social media in recent years. With it, has come some level of abuse as the individuals have used social media to circulate news that is not properly sourced, fact-checked or even confirmed. There are no requirements for publishing standards and social media can afford individuals anonymity to publish unconfirmed statements. These trends have put the media in the position of being negatively judged against social media news purveyors. There continues to be concern that social media excesses could prompt a legal backlash that could bring the media into its net.

With several years of low or no economic growth, there has been a decline in advertising revenue across the media landscape. Concurrently, there has been an increase in media outlets during the same period. The result has been more media houses competing for diminishing revenue, a situation which could jeopardise the future viability of some of the smaller players.