In the past six months, in the context of developments press freedom is on a precarious perch and could change suddenly for the worse. Indeed, there are pockets of adaptation of the "fake news" moniker by local politicians which causes concern among local media.
The most important development is the proposed introduction of the Data Protection Act. The media associations continue their efforts in partnership with other stakeholders (including the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and other regional media associations) to have media exempt from the provisions of the Bill.
The Act seeks to safeguard the privacy of individuals in relation to personal data, as well as regulate the collection, regulation, processing, keeping, use and disclosure of certain information in physical or electronic form.
Under the Act, private and public-sector entities will need to implement the necessary technical and institutional support to ensure greater protection of personal data within their custody or control.
The Government minister responsible for the bill said that with the increased use of digital and electronic communications, citizens need proper protection in the use of their personal data and other sensitive information.
The Media Association Jamaica Limited (MAJ) appeared before the Joint Select Committee in Parliament examining the Data Protection Act on February 27, 2018, to voice concerns about the negative effects it believes the proposed law will have on the gathering and production of journalistic content. MAJ expressed deep concern about the chilling effects the practical application will have on press freedom as well as the additional administrative burden it could place on media houses in carrying out their work.
The MAJ argues against a draft provision that any information requested by the proposed Information Commissioner, must be handed over. The MAJ contends that this could remove the journalist's or media house's ability to protect the identity of their sources potentially exposing them to intimidation, victimization or harm.
Another concern highlighted by the MAJ is that, under the proposed legislation, a description of the personal data being processed is to be registered before being published. The MAJ contends that, given the nature of the media business, it could prove very onerous if media were to be asked, on each instance that it handles personal data, to provide registration particulars, before the information can be processed.
In February, a Gleaner newspaper photographer witnessed a commotion caused by police attempts to arrest a man. In a shopping plaza. He began recording the incident on his smart phone and was instructed by a police sergeant to stop recording. Identifying himself as a media worker, he continued to record the incident. The sergeant ordered a constable to pepper spray him.
At the end of March, the media was denied access to cover a recent swearing-in of two cabinet ministers and two ministers at the governor general's residence. Only the government-run, Jamaica Information Service was allowed to cover the ceremony at King's House.
The Government Press Secretary sought to explain that there was inadequate space because the room that usually hosts such ceremonies was being renovated. The Press Association of Jamaica PAJ said it rejected the excuses about lack of space and facilities.
In the statement Prime Minister and the government were reminded that the media should be allowed to cover national occasions, and not be relegated to getting pool photographs from the government's information service.