We are monitoring developments on a proposed plan for a code of conduct for educators being promoted by Jamaica's education minister. The proposed code contains a clause, accompanied by sanctions, which seeks to preclude politically active teachers and principals from criticising the programmes and policies of the Ministry of Education in any media, including social media. This code also states that members of school boards will not be allowed to criticise the minister of education or ministry of education personnel in any public fora, including the media.
This element of the code, not only will serve to stifle press freedom as it would have the impact of muzzling important voices of transparency within public sector administrations.
The government's opposition and several organisations including Jamaica's Media and Press Associations have come out strongly against this code.
We continue to await the parliamentary committee report on the proposed Data Protection Act (2017) to see whether the exclusions for media/journalism have been strengthened as per the lobby of the media and press associations. The Minister who was piloting the bill was forced to resign due to an unrelated scandal and has yet to be replaced, causing a delay in the process.
The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) has urged the Jamaican government to increase its oversight responsibility beyond free-to-air electronic media to policing social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, to halt the use of media for the proliferation of hate speech, unethical advertising, disinformation, scamming and terrorist recruitment.
They have called for more powers of sanction in a revamp of legislation governing the local digital media landscape.
The Broadcasting Commission expressed outrage at the loss of traditional media gatekeepers and the consequent rise in fake news, especially from unregulated online entities, and cited the risk of concentration of influence held by big social media organisations being the potential for abuse by maligned state actors, organised crime and terrorist networks.
The head of the BCJ, while acknowledging that there might be backlash from free-speech campaigners, has said that countries globally are thinking social media cannot continue unregulated.
The media has operated without restraint and interference during this period.
Barbados has a new Government – the Barbados Labour Party(BLP) – which took over the reins on last May 24.
So far, the promised and much-touted transparency and open government policy by the BLP led by the first female Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Amor Mottley, is evident.
The government continues to hold regular press conferences, give timely updates and there is a free flow of information to the media. The Government relies heavily on digital media to get their information and messages out.
The Information Service of the government has also gone digital and no longer relies on the emailing of information and minister's assignments as has been the tradition of the past.
The challenge for media in Barbados continues to be the fact that there is no Freedom of Information. This has been the clarion call to various governments over the years.
Moderating of online comments continues to present problems for media houses given that they can be held liable for third party comments under what are strict libel and defamation laws.
Trinidad and Tobago
A major issue concerning press freedom has been the arguments against sections of the long proposed Cyber-crimes bill which had the potential to criminalise the activities of working journalists.
Provisions in the act called for action against reporters and editors for carrying information shared on line. The issue was the focus of two sessions before the parliament's Joint Select Committee, in which representatives of the country's Media Association presented forceful arguments against the potential dangers in these provisions. The matter remains under parliamentary review, with the government having agreed to take the MATT considerations under consideration.
In November and December, the country was convulsed over the collapse of an arrangement in which the government was seeking to lure the international luxury chain Sandals to Tobago. Leading government figures blamed what they saw as negative press for the collapse of the deal, and the decision by the chain to pull out. They sought to convey the idea that the media was not demonstrating an attitude of supporting what is deemed to be in the national interest by carrying too many negative reports, quoting opposition figures and persons with concerns and questions about the proposed arrangements.
A major dispute flared up recently in which the vastly popular Commissioner of Police railed against media houses, for what he described as the quest for audience and circulation, in giving coverage to persons identified as gang-leader and members, and their families.
This involved a development in which reputed "gang leaders" were detained and held, presumably under questioning for several days, and then released with no charge. The detentions were conducted on the basis of what the police said was "intelligence" gathered on the targeted suspects, presumably for some time prior. When they were released, they men were interviewed, members of their families were interviewed, and lawyers representing them were interviewed.
The Commissioner was angered by this, saying in one television interview that such publicity was not in keeping with the national interest. He said it was providing publicity for persons not deserving of it, that it was sensationalism.
One newspaper (The Express) responded strongly to these assertions, pointing out to the Commissioner that it was the responsibility of the media to seek to carry all possible sides of any story.