On World Press Freedom Day, the planet and Palestine are on the Caribbean's radar

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The focus of the 2024 World Press Freedom Day, marked annually on May 3, is on the climate crisis. Between May 2 and 4, as UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) hosts the 31st World Press Freedom Day Conference, this time in Chile, discussions will be dedicated to the importance of freedom of expression against the backdrop of the current global environmental crisis.

This year's theme is particularly pertinent for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like the Caribbean, which are often the first to feel the ill effects of the climate crisis through things like higher temperatures, sea level rise and intense adverse weather events, although they contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Noting that “we in the region grapple with the existential crisis climate change presents to the Caribbean,” and that “the media plays a major role in reporting on environmental problems and possible solutions,” a statement issued by the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) suggested, “[T]he time has come for regional media to highlight the impact the environmental crisis is already having in our respective countries, especially its impact on the socio-economically disadvantaged.”

The ACM statement also urged media workers to use their freedom of expression responsibly,”and not engage in misinformation and disinformation.” It also said that the 2024 theme “highlights the need for specialised training of journalists in science communication so that practitioners are better able to report on the science of climate change for our diverse audiences.”

The association also challenged regional governments, NGOs and international agencies to help provide the “much needed resources to support sustained reporting on environmental matters through features, documentaries and investigative reports,” explaining, “the planet is our home, and we need to preserve it.”

Other regional press bodies and media houses expressed similar sentiments. Grenada's media association, for instance, announced that it would institute “a comprehensive training programme aimed at bolstering environmental journalism and sustainability” in order to “equip media workers with the requisite skills and knowledge to report effectively on environmental issues and advocate for environmental stewardship.”

Meanwhile, the Media Institute of the Caribbean (MIC) made an important link: “Today signals a call for those who tell the stories of upheaval and loss, to be not just heard but listened to as they uncover and share the impacts of the climate and the threats to our planet’s biodiversity. This year’s theme must be placed within the context of the significance of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.”

In this vein, it said, it has launched “a Review of Freedom of Information and Access to Information legislation in the Pan Caribbean region citing the areas where amendments would support ease of access to information and create a system of improved transparency related to all matters of public interest. It serves as a guide for Caribbean nations, without such legislation, to consider.”

Knowledge is power, it said, when it comes to the “millions of people [who] face the effects of environmental ecosystems being lost and their lives being negatively altered.” MIC saw a direct correlation between this knowledge and its advocacy for “more accessible information where people can be better prepared to address their challenges via informed decision-making.”

The organisation also made a point of paying homage to “the journalists who continue to persevere against all odds to keep their stories at the forefront of the global issues agenda” and commended “the environmental advocates, civil society organizations and private sector actors who are working to make a difference.”

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), however, decided to shine a spotlight elsewhere. Noting that an “unprecedented number of journalists [were] killed in 2023, it “join[ed] [its] colleagues across the globe in solidarity towards a free press, to mourn journalists — including an unprecedented number lost in the line of duty and in the war zone of Gaza — and to call for greater protection for all media workers.”

Harkening back to its mission to “defend press freedom and the Fourth Estate as enshrined in [Trinidad and Tobago’s] constitution,” MATT pledged “to remain vigilant on behalf of journalists, understanding that a strong democracy depends on free and fair media.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that 2023 was among the deadliest for journalists in almost a decade, with many of the victims being Palestinians reporting on Israel’s war on Gaza under impossible conditions. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) was dismayed at both the high mortality rate for journalists (over 10 percent) and the fact that since October 2023, foreign journalists have been barred from the Gaza Strip.

In this context, MATT said, it supported “the move by the IFJ to nominate its affiliate, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for 2024 as a means of honouring all Gaza’s journalists.”

It has since been announced that Palestinian journalists covering Gaza have been named as laureates of the 2024 prize.

On May 2, Trinidad and Tobago joined the many other Caribbean nations that have officially recognised the State of Palestine.

The World Press Freedom Index, published annually on World Press Freedom Day, acknowledged that journalists the world over have been under significant political pressure: “Press freedom around the world is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors — political authorities. […] This finding is based on the fact that, of the five indicators used to compile the ranking, it is the political indicator that has fallen most, registering a global average fall of 7.6 points.”

While some regional journalists were therefore committed to their role in helping to protect the planet, others like MATT stood in solidarity with fellow journalists, “redoubl[ing] its commitment to holding those in power to account, […] remaining a voice for the voiceless and standing strong as a pillar of democracy.”

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