Freedom of expression & human rights

Today, as Guyana joins the rest of the world in observing World Press Freedom Day, themed “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights”, journalists must pause to pay homage and recognize the work of some 67 media workers who were killed in 2022. This is a startling 50 per cent increase over the past year.
This year’s theme brings attention to the invaluable role of freedom as a human right.
It is no surprise therefore that the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, in his message, has said that this year’s theme reminds that press freedom represents the very lifeblood of human rights.
President Dr Irfaan Ali, in his message, also brought spotlight to this point when he said: “Respect for human rights is predicated on respecting human dignity. A free press, therefore, upholds and enables human rights to the extent that it defends and promotes human dignity. In the exercise of its core functions of education, enlightenment and entertainment, the media must demonstrate its commitment to human dignity by foremost upholding the truth, and avoiding malicious actions aimed at bringing persons and entities into public disrepute. The use of the media as a weapon to promulgate hatred and division and to defame and distort represents a betrayal of the national ethos, the ethical and professional codes of the Fourth Estate, and an affront to human dignity.”
Freedom of Expression is not only enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but is listed as a fundamental right in many of the constitutions in the Caribbean.
In fact, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, brought the spotlight on the fact that a small number of countries have gone a step further and have enshrined press freedom.
To quote ACM: “World Press Freedom provides an opportunity to focus on the immense importance and connection of freedom of expression to all other human rights, such as education, health, freedom of movement, rest and leisure, and the free will of the people to elect their leaders. In the absence of freedom of expression, more often than not through the media, the public cannot be properly educated and informed about the other human rights to which they are entitled.”
We therefore support the call by ACM for Caribbean decision-makers to utilise the rapid advances in social media as a mass communication tool to facilitate the two-way flow of information on all public interest subjects that touch and concern the many facets of the other human rights.
Locally and around the world, the media has a crucial responsibility to act as a watchdog, to protect public interest against malpractice and to create public awareness. As the Fourth Estate, exchangeable with the Fourth Pillar of Democracy, the media’s role is to act against injustice, oppression, transgressions and prejudice in society.
Freedoms that Guyanese have come to enjoy over time did not come easy. Some unfortunately paid with their lives in the struggles for their attainment.
We welcome the World Press Freedom Day message by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and European Union Diplomats in Guyana, when they said in a joint statement: “…media freedom allows for transparency and accountability, important components for Guyana’s management of resources during a time of rapid growth. It is imperative that all stakeholders, including decisions makers such as the Government and the Opposition, maintain a mutually respectful relationship with the media in its capacity as the Fourth Estate and as a vital part of democracy in action. This means granting the media access to public officials and to information should be the norm. Requests for public information should be honoured. The 2013 Access to Information Act should be effectively implemented to empower the media to do their job.”