Fellow Citizens and Residents,
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Today, 3rd May 2020 is World Press Freedom Day and on behalf of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, I take this opportunity to renew my party’s commitment to press freedom, not only in St. Kitts and Nevis but throughout our Caribbean region and the world at large.
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World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendations of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
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The theme of this year’s celebrations is “Journalism without Fear or Favour” and the United Nations informs us that May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to:
Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
Defend the media from attacks on their independence; and
Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “As the (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote (which is) verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”
Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, as in December 1993, we live in an environment where the government of the day continues to attack freedom of the press and freedom of access to the press using many machinations and other means of suppression. Dissenting views are not tolerated and are routinely denounced as fake news, whilst pronouncements in favour of the government, however fictitious, are promoted as fact.
We have seen this before. Many will recall that in December 1993, the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party was fighting an ongoing battle for press freedom with the government of the day. The Labour Spokesman was routinely attacked, the printery was set on fire and even a notice board attached to Masses House was taken down by the police. Our party was denied access to ZIZ Radio and Television whilst on the other hand, the government shut down all other channels whenever the Prime Minister made a television address to the nation.
When the Labour Party was returned to power in 1995, only two radio stations, one television station and three newspapers existed in St. Kitts and Nevis. They were ZIZ, VON Radio, The Labour Spokesman, The Democrat and the St. Kitts-Nevis Observer. Under my leadership, strong promotion, and belief in press freedom, that number rose to three newspapers and at least eight radio stations. When we left office in 2015, in addition to the three newspapers and ZIZ, there were VON Radio, Freedom FM, KYSS FM, WINN FM, Dominion Radio, Sugar City FM, Radio St. Kitts-Nevis and SKN Vibes, along with a host on online media entities.
Our record on press freedom is therefore quite clear and it is an enviable one that speaks for itself. Today, the government’s actions against the press speaks volumes. Prime Minister Harris has even gone so far as to take Freedom FM to court over what most people reportedly believe to be a politically motivated attack on free speech. Using fake social media profiles,the Harris government and its agents have also launched vicious attacks against female journalists with whom they disagree. And, as in 1993, our party is granted very limited access to the national media whilst the government abuses its power by regularly using ZIZ as its political campaign propaganda tool.
I want to remind our citizens that a free press is one of the strong pillars upon which any democracy is built and the absence of press freedom is one of the first steps toward dictatorship.
As the time to make choices draws near, I urge you to let the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party’s demonstration of respect for Journalism without Fear or Favour, freedom of speech and freedom in general, be one of the issues that guides you to make the right decision.
I wish all our media personnel a very happy and productive World Press Freedom Day 2020.