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World Press Freedom Day 2023 — How Free is The World Press Today?

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Veteran journalists have grown tired over the past quarter-century, with the way annual international observance and celebration of journalists and journalism have been treated like a yearly one-sided ‘Hip-Hip Hooray’ over ‘Press Freedom’ that only dances to the same old song about what really constitutes ‘The Press’ and ‘Press Freedom’ today.

It’s also bled many like hearts, the way surviving influential Caribbean journalists of yore have so easily drifted with the new tidal wave (of Press Freedom) that’s more in accordance with post-World War II interpretations of the Role of The Press, than addressing the ongoing challenges facing journalists and journalism globally – and in a Caribbean region also grappling with finding itself after the ceremonial transition from colonialism to independence.

In the 1980s and early-1990s, International Journalists Day was observed worldwide on September 8, activities largely supported by member-organizations of the International Organization of Journalists (IOJ), mostly located in developing countries, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Activities were always global and regional and largely-led by journalists’ entities committed to a New International Information (and Communications Order), as proposed by UNESCO under Senegalese Director General Amadou M’Bow in the 1980s.

IOJ global conferences were also attended by delegates from the European and US-dominated World Federation of Journalists (WFJ) and affiliate entities with different ideological interpretations of both ‘Press’ and ‘Freedom’.

However, the IOJ, September 8, UNESCO and M’Bow would all become victims of a Cold War response that saw the beleaguered African Director General banished, UNESCO forced to back-off from the call he led for a New International Information Order (NIIO) and consolidation of highlighting ‘Violations of Press Freedoms’ in Eastern Bloc nations, as measured by Western yardsticks.

By 1991, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist and former member-states got caught-up in the crossfire of the biggest global political realignment of the 20th Century, the re-ignited Cold War spirit gave new life to the old claims of violations of ‘Press Freedom’ in Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Waving red danger flags, old multinational Cold War broadcasting entities (Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, etc.) were revived to join the Western-driven modern multinational mainstream media to globalize the cause of ‘Press Freedom’ in the East European nations being courted by the European Union (EU) and the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance.

The global Cold War media maelstrom that came with the newly-galvanized global political order saw International Journalists Day observances and September 8 replaced by May 3, ‘World Press Freedom’ Day.

In the last 25 years, May 3 has therefore been more of an annual global observance of ‘Press Freedom’ in selected countries, than of issues affecting journalists and journalism — around which all the acclaimed noble ‘freedoms’ revolve.

Every year, today’s global guardians of ‘Press Freedom’ create largely amorphous themes with only one common denominator: the two words ‘press’ and ‘freedom’.

The 2023 global theme is Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for All Other Human Rights – which also sounds like saying ‘Forget All Other Problems Facing Journalists and Journalism: Only Human Rights Matter Today!’

In days of old, September 8 observances included annual international conferences where regional entities representing journalists and media-workers addressed burning issues equally or similarly affecting them in Africa, The Americas, Arabia, Asia, Latin America and The Caribbean (LAC), Oceana and Pacific nations, each delegation, over days, getting enough time to state and make their case(s) for solidarity and support.

Those gatherings, subsidized by the larger bodies with capacity, also addressed common themes like ‘Censorship and Self-Censorship’, ‘Transnational Media Ownership’, ‘Journalists’ Rights’, ‘Representation for Media-Workers’, as well as arranging solidarity for and with journalists in nations where journalists are jailed and killed for doing their work, including Haiti.

A movement grew in the developing world of affiliated entities that countered the purist of Western interpretations of Press Freedom with demands for equal attention to ‘Press Responsibilities’ – the need for the so-called ‘Free Press’ to also accept and be guided by the usual traditional responsibilities of neutrality and not taking sides in covering politics or war.

IOJ conferences were attended by Caribbean journalists representing members of the Caribbean Association of Media Workers (CAMWORK) and a position of IOJ Regional Vice President for the Caribbean was created to give special attention to the newly-independent ex-European colonies (British, Dutch, French, Spanish, etc.) that had emerged on the global scene from the early 1960s.

Thanks to the growing heat of the 21st Century Cold War, May 3 has replaced September 8 as the date for global celebration of ‘Press Freedom’ while journalists and journalism continue to face the same problems of practitioners having to live by freedoms prescribed elsewhere, none-at-all connected to collective responsibilities for truth, independence and reliability.

During World Wars I and II, journalists braved bombs to give distant listeners and readers independent interpretations of war propaganda; but today, World War III has been unfolding before our very eyes for over a year in Ukraine, with journalists forced to take sides, reporting not from front lines but safe in hotels and underground bunkers, as soldiers die by the thousands, depending on WhatsApp and Telegram shares, rendering them unable to call the shots they cannot see, while the warring sides use ‘Kamikaze Drones’ for the first time in the history of war.

Within weeks of the start of the avoidable Russia-Ukraine conflict that’s assumed proxy-war proportions, the EU banned the Russian international broadcaster RT, resulting in Caribbean consumers (like me) who paid subscriptions for RT among a list of package-choice channels, losing a channel we’re still paying for, because of EU sanctions – and without notice (to this day) from service providers.

Thus, after an entire year of journalism being trampled and stomped-on and 14 months of mainly-one-sided global media coverage, one could not have expected World Press Freedom Day 2023 to be anything different from the previous 22.

And it wasn’t…