World Press Freedom Day…calls for removal of sedition clause in Cyber Crimes BillAcross the globe, World Press Freedom Day is observed on May 3 annually and this year the day is being observed under the theme “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”. In observance of this day, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) is calling on all media practitioners to take a stand against those in authority as they see to wield influence on content disbursement.“The GPA is cognisant that in our society, lines of power, authority and decision-making in the media are blurred by shared interests, goals and objectives. In this regard, the Association is of the firm position that editors and other media managers need to stand up to those in authority and influence who seek to impose restrictions on freedom of expression because of their dislike of the opinions of others,” the GPA said in a statement.The GPA pointed to the recent silencing action by the Government when the decision was taken to fire columnists Lincoln Lewis and David Hinds from the Guyana Chronicle. Additionally, the Association said it has observed the increasing frequency in the manipulation of stories to fit political agenda of the behind the scenes actors while pointing to the recent actions of Government attempting to interfere in the free press.“Over the months we have had reports of Government officials calling media houses to demand sources from reporters, to demand that media outlets refrain from providing coverage to other public officials and threatening to call the Police to remove reporters from public meetings,” the GPA noted.The GPA believes truly independent media is vitally necessary to guard against human rights abuses, electoral malpractices, lack of transparency and accountability and gender-based inequalities. The Association also urged the Government and Opposition to discuss and arrive at a consensus to delete from the proposed Cybercrime legislation provisions that will amount to institutionalisation of criminal defamation.“Those provisions, we contend, must be removed because they are not in accordance with the global shift towards the removal of criminal defamation from the law books of several countries including a number of them in the Caribbean. Guyana will be retrogressing instead of progressing by entrenching the criminalisation of freedom of expression if certain sections in the Cyber Crimes Bill are enacted into law,” the statement said.The GPA noted that World Press Freedom Day 2018 also allows them the opportunity to call on media workers and Guyanese of all walks of life to zealously guard against fake news operations, especially on the Internet.The GPA’s statement concluded that it will seriously consider whether, in the interest of the promotion of high quality journalism, they shall have to name fake news outlets in an effort to protect unsuspecting members of the public from being duped or adversely influenced by fabricated content.Meanwhile, Guyana has been elevated five places up on the Reporters With Borders World Press Freedom Index. Guyana is now at 55 compared to 60 in 2017. The GPA said it welcomes the improved ranking with some reservations, pointing out that there are still significant hurdles to be crossed before Guyanese can feel that an improved ranking really matters.Additionally, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said a free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all adding that it is crucial to building transparent and democratic societies and keeping those in power accountable.“It is vital for sustainable development. Journalists and media workers shine a light on local and global challenges and tell the stories that need to be told. Their service to the public is invaluable. Laws that protect independent journalism, freedom of expression and the right to information need to be adopted, implemented and enforced. Crimes against journalists must be prosecuted. On World Press Freedom Day 2018, I call on governments to strengthen press freedom and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth,” the Secretary General said.The UN General Assembly proclaimed world Press Freedom Day in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.According to the UN, the theme of the 2018 celebration highlights the importance of an enabling legal environment for press freedom, and gives special attention to the role of an independent Judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and the prosecution of crimes against journalists.At the same time, the theme addresses the role of the media in sustainable development, especially during elections – as a watchdog fostering transparency, accountability and the rule of law. The theme also aims to explore legislative gaps with regard to freedom of expression and information online, and the risks of regulating online speech.Within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the contribution of journalists and media workers is most associated with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of peace, justice and strong institutions. In order to reach this goal, effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels must be developed, and press freedom is essential for this.
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