Acts that harm press freedom

Yesterday we reiterated the importance of the freedom of the press and reaffirmed this newspaper’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of journalism.

The Bahamas made a formal pledge to protect the rights and freedoms of the press when it became a signatory to the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec, joining leaders in the Western Hemisphere in a commitment to the principle that a free press is necessary in order for societies to resolve their conflicts, promote well-being and protect their freedom.

The declaration, which is based on the precept that no law or act of government may limit press freedom, lists 10 fundamental principles necessary for a free press to perform its essential role in a democracy.

Elected officials not espoused to democratic principles find it difficult to respect the work of a free press. On the one hand, they might demand that the facts be reported, while becoming upset on the other hand when they do not like the way they are portrayed in the reporting of those facts.

When that upset on the part of members of the government descends into actions that hinder or prevent press freedom, the freedom of the public at large is also hindered.

Principle 6 of the declaration states: The media and journalists should neither be discriminated against nor favored because of what they write or say.

When a member of the government makes it difficult for journalists to access information, either by refusing to answer questions when asked, providing only partial information, or taking unreasonable lengths of time to provide a response, it is a violation of his or her public duty.

Whether or not a minister or member of Parliament believes a journalist to be friendly toward his or her cause, their duty is to respond promptly and transparently to questions by the press.

Additionally, journalists and media houses ought not be singled out for exclusion from government press conferences and statements, nor should they be threatened with such exclusion.

Covered in the considerations under Principle 6, conversely, is the granting of favor or privileges to journalists in an attempt to sway reporting in one’s favor or to have a particular ideology promulgated throughout a society.

The effect of this is damage to the credibility and reliability of the press, without which the Fourth Estate — charged with holding public officials accountable — loses its standing in a nation.

The Chapultepec Declaration was forged against a backdrop of violations of press freedom worldwide, with the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) on the declaration’s 20th anniversary in 2014, claiming its continued relevance in the face of ongoing violations of freedom of the press and of expression.

While journalists in The Bahamas are not subjected to the kinds of violence suffered by their counterparts working under brutal and repressive regimes, press intimidation happens here in other ways through actions such as verbal aggression, attempts at causing embarrassment among peers or covert slander through tabloids or the internet — all in an attempt to pressure a journalist to cease from doing his or her job.

Principle 10 of the declaration states: No news medium or journalist may be punished for denouncing the government.

In a democracy, the freedom to praise the government also encompasses the freedom to criticize the government. If the actions of government are illegal, abusive, undemocratic or counter to good governance, the press ought to expose the same, level fair and accurate criticism and hold to the fire the feet of those elected to serve the people’s interests.

And it ought not be subjected to retribution for doing so.

Those elected to high office who are unable or unwilling to respect these basic tenets of democracy and the need to vigorously protect press freedoms do a disservice to their country.

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