I sent the letter below the RSF as I was disturbed at the high rank of Jamaica in comparison what most people here acknowledge to be reality.
To: “Reporters Without Borders” firstname.lastname@example.org; “Reporters Without Borders Americas Desk” email@example.com; “Reporters Without Borders Internet Desk” firstname.lastname@example.org
As a patriotic natural-born Jamaican, I am ever-eager to see Jamaica rank as highly as possible on the world stage — from FIFA & Olympic rankings to IMF & international NGO assessments. However, I can neither embrace nor endorse such a high ranking when it is not deserved; and further, when it endangers the lives of family and friends about whom I care deeply.
I write then, to register my discontent and disappointment at the rank accorded to the nation of Jamaica in the 2008 World Press Freedom Index released yesterday, October 22nd, 2008. The report accorded Jamaica a rank of #21; however it is clear to even remote observers that this comparatively high rank has not been earned by the Jamaican government. Further, this comparatively high rank is a disservice to the many Jamaicans that depend on a free press to act in the public interest. This rank ill serves them as it diminishes the significant barriers to a free press deliberately erected via both official action and state inaction.
Firstly, Jamaica today has a regime of libel laws that were originated, and are perpetuated, to stifle the freedom of the press. Jamaica has a regime of libel laws wherein the penalty of imprisonment is still a threat that can be used to intimidate journalists who would seek to publish information detrimental to the interests of public officials & personalities. How can RSF reward the Jamaican government for maintaining the threat of a prison sentence (in abhorrent prison conditions) over those journalists who wish to speak freely? How is this comparatively high ranking for Jamaica compatible with RSF’s stated objective to “fight against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom”?
To his credit the new administration of Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who was inaugurated on Sept. 11th 2007, has begun a process of reform of these onerous libel laws. However, it is my view that until and unless that process is completed and a new freer regime of libel laws is enacted by the parliament, the comparatively high rank accorded to Jamaica in the 2008 rankings is premature and misguided.
Secondly, Jamaica is a murder capital of the world where allegations (many proven) of state brutality, and extra-judicial murders by state agents, are widespread; in addition to a more generally pervasive violence in the society. This atmosphere of widespread violence and general state inaction is not conducive to the free exercise of the the craft of journalism. RSF works “to improve the safety of journalists, especially those reporting in war zones.” Reporting in Jamaica is very much akin to reporting in a war zone; and to reward the inaction of the state with this high ranking sends the false message that anemic responses to atrocious violence (including violence against the press) is laudable. Indeed journalists in Jamaica have publicly acknowledged the trepidation with which they enter certain communities, called “political garrisons”, to conduct their work. These political garrisons are criminally controlled locales, invariably aligned with state actors — government officials and political functionaries. Therefore reporters are rightfully concerned at the fate they might meet if they engage in actions in these areas that are not sanctioned by the state actors or which may be inimical to the interests of these political functionaries.
Lastly the ownership structure of media in Jamaica lends (perhaps rents) itself to mercantile interests, including those detrimental to free enterprise and competition. It is widely believed that state agents engage in light/no enforcement against the commercial interests of media owners in exchange for biased coverage in their favor.
I urge RSF to consider these factors in future indices.