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Caribbean media mark World Press Freedom Day

Media representatives from Guyana highlight threats to press freedom in their country, at the Caribbean Media Summit and World Press Freedom Day forum in Curacao, 3 May.

Media representatives from Guyana highlight threats to press freedom in their country, at the Caribbean Media Summit and World Press Freedom Day forum in Curacao, 3 May.

Representatives from Caribbean media organisations are today meeting in Curacao to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May and to convene a Caribbean Media Summit.

The meeting is taking place at the Renaissance Curacao and celebrates the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, which has the theme, ‘Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media’.

The event is organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Curacao National Commission for UNESCO, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the Curacao Media Organisation.

In a joint message for World Press Freedom Day, Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon and Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova noted that freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is essential for empowering people and building free and democratic societies.

“Freedom of expression also provides the conditions for protecting and promoting all other human rights. But its exercise does not happen automatically — it requires a safe environment for dialogue, where all can speak freely and openly, without fear of reprisal.”

Delivering the keynote address at the opening of the summit, Alison Bethel McKenzie, Executive Director of the International Press Institute, spoke of the ongoing campaign against criminal defamation laws, inherited from European colonial powers, still remaining 16 independent Caribbean territories.

“Criminal defamation and seditious libel laws are threats to journalists and their ability to do their work,” Ms Bethel McKenzie stated, as she noted that in almost all cases, such laws carry a prison sentence of at least one year.

Ms Bethel McKenzie reported that some progress has been made in repealing such laws. Last July, Grenada became the first Caribbean country to repeal criminal defamation laws, though seditious libel laws remain there. Trinidad & Tobago’s parliament is now considering repealing of such laws and the twin-island republic’s parliament is expected to vote on the matter in the coming weeks. Jamaica’s parliament tabled a proposal in March to repeal criminal defamation and this is also under consideration in Antigua and Barbuda.

Ms Bethel McKenzie called on regional publishers and journalists to ensure that they are driven by courage, professionalism and integrity in their efforts to report the news and to practise “prideful reporting, without favour, while adhering to journalistic best practices.”

The Caribbean Media Summit continues to Sunday, 5 May with panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of media issues including reporting elections, reporting natural disasters, safety of journalists in the Caribbean, decriminalizing of defamation and online safety for journalists.

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