Editorial: Long live the free press

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Today is the United Nations-designated World Press Freedom Day, and we here at NEWSCO would certainly like to join with the other distinguished members of the Fourth Estate or the Fourth Power in raising a glass to the noble notion of press freedom, both here and abroad.

Actually, it is not merely a notion. It is actually enshrined in our constitution as well as the constitutions of many countries. It is a fundamental right. (see Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). For those who don’t remember, Thomas Jefferson’s pointed declaration, “Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all are safe,” was once the motto appearing on the masthead of an earlier iteration of this paper.

Needless to say, those profound words still inform our thinking and our mission, which is to give a voice to the voiceless, to shine a light in dark corners, to speak the truth without fear, favor or ill will. Of course, running a media house is no mean feat – the challenges are numerous and varied. In many parts of the world, newspapers have folded because of shrinking advertising dollars and a saturated media market. (see social media, web logs and a plethora of nontraditional news, entertainment and information sources).

Many big traditional media houses have either down-sized or bought out their competitors in order to achieve some profitability. Others have changed their business models in order to maintain relevance and achieve economies of scale. And still others have adapted rapidlychanging technological advances to stay ahead of the curve. For example, Observer Media Group, the precursor to NEWSCO, and a number of other outlets around the world, have eliminated the hard copy newspapers in order to save on paper and ink costs.

They have also established an online presence. This press business is not for the faint of heart and those of little faith! And yes, in many instances, it is a labor of love! And for the many concerned Antiguans and Barbudans who came together to keep the torch of a free press aflame, it is at once a sacrifice, a conviction and plenty love.

We’re talking folk with a determination and a vision like Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts, Dave Lester Payne and Sylvia O’Marde, among others. Having said that, it is important to note that one of the biggest challenges facing the press on this World Press Freedom Day is the scurrilous and shameful attacks on journalists and media houses by those in high places.

From US President Donald Trump, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea, to the Saudis, to the despicable regime in Myanmar, to (gasp!), you guessed it, our self-described, ‘Top Dog,’ they have made it part of their remit to harass, threaten, victimize, bully, ridicule and vilify free and independent media. Some journalists have been murdered (see Jamal Khashoggi of Saudi Arabia and Anna Politkovskaya of Russia, two who were murdered because they dared speak the truth), and others have been imprisoned. For example, there is the dastardly case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists, who have been imprisoned in Myanmar since December, 2017.

They face another 6 or so years there, especially now that the Myanmar Supreme Court, a little over a week ago, rejected their final appeal against their conviction and sentence (7 years). It is a travesty! Look, these two intrepid reporters were simply shining a light on the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. They were telling the world what the hell was going on in that benighted country, and for that, they became an enemy of the state.

In fact, they were charged under a Colonialera law with violating the “Official Secrets Act”. And they are not alone. Consider, if you will, the disappearance of Azory Gwanda, a Tanzanian journalist who was working on exposing corruption. Or how about the case against Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda who have been detained in Nicaragua for “inciting hate and violence.” Or that of Miroslava Breach Veldicea, a Mexican journalist who met with with murder most foul after daring to write on “corruption and politics.”

We could go on and on and on, but that would be superfluous. You get the point. Manifestly, on this World Press Freedom Day, which is being marked under the broad theme, THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN ELECTIONS AND DEMOCRACY, free and independent media in a number of countries is under assault. And the vicious and hateful rhetoric directed at the Fourth Estate from officialdom is downright irresponsible. Expressions like “Fake news” and “Enemy of the people” and “Enemy of the state,” that have been used by some governments to describe news reports that are unflattering, are a blot on those governments.

Remember, World Press Freedom Day is, among other things, “A reminder to governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . .” [Wikipedia] The gracious and beautiful people of Barbuda embrace and cherish that right to freedom of expression, and they came up big for the cause this past weekend right here on Redcliffe Street with the overwhelmingly successful Barbuda-Observer food extravaganza. Our nation is indebted to them.

Similarly, our national icon, Dame Eusalyn Lewis, recognizes the importance of an unfettered media, and she has conceived of, and is spearheading, the Observer Goodwill Day on May 15. We expect the donations to the survival of the free press here in our fair state to be just as wonderful. We are thanking our great and highly-esteemed Dame in advance for her remarkable initiative. Mr. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, also appreciates the critical role of a free press to our democracy. Says he, “No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable, and speaking truth to power.” We concur! It is our sacred duty

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