Press Freedom Day: “Journalism Under Digital Siege”

Today Guyana joins the rest of the world in observing World Press Freedom Day themed “Journalism Under Digital Siege.”
This theme is indeed most fitting given the rise of online media along with conventional media houses captivating and utilizing the many social media platforms. This transition and transformation have now opened the door for media houses to be intruded by intentional dangerous hacking software which can threaten the entire existence of a media house.
It is no surprise therefore that the Guyana Press Association has called on media houses and journalists to take all the “necessary steps to guard” and insulate themselves against such threats as spyware.
To quote the press association’s message: “…media houses should of necessity take the requisite action to minimise the surveillance and monitoring of their work in violation of the freedom to receive and impart ideas.”
However, such threats in today’s context does not only breach the security of the media entities but can also lead to the physical harm of journalists and their sources.
It is the Association of Caribbean Media Workers which said: “The environment within which journalists in the Caribbean operate is becoming increasingly perilous. Even so, many countries have already enacted legislation to intercept communication and counter what they regard as cybercrime. There is evidence to support the view that cybercrime legislation can become abused and become problematic in the context of the preservation of free expression…with most media and journalists having an online presence, media enterprises have become acutely aware of some inherent vulnerabilities. These include exposure to hackers whose sole objective is to destroy channels that offend the public or private status quo and so inhibit the free flow of the truth to the wider public.”
In the context of Guyana, under the APNU/AFC Government there was a huge debate when the then David Granger led-government made a backway step and pushed ahead with Section 18 (1) of the cybercrime legislation. This section speaks to charging persons utilising cyberspace to register their dissatisfaction with the Government of the day. Section 18 (1) states: “A person commits an offence of sedition if the person, whether in or out of Guyana, intentionally publishes, transmits or circulates by use of a computer system or any other means, a statement or words, either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation, or other thing that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in Guyana; advocates the use, without authority of law, of force as a means of accomplishing a governmental change within Guyana,” among other things.
It could be recalled that the then AG Basil Williams first read the Bill on August 4, 2016, and it was sent to a Special Select Committee, where it stayed for two years and was then sent back to the National Assembly unchanged. The contents created quite an uproar then and continues to create that uproar among the media as freedom of expression was being stifled by the legislation.
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 welcomed 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: “World Press Freedom Day gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the significant work of journalists, remind ourselves of the fundamental principles of press freedom and assess the current state of press freedom locally and around the world…we recognize that media freedom is a cornerstone of democratic societies and essential to the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and universal values anchored in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.”