Celebrating world press freedom day |03 May 2021
By Vidya Gappy
Today is an important day for the press worldwide. For many of us who have been in this field for decades, this day is not only special for us but essential for our survival as a journalist.
According to the Constitution of Seychelles, every Seychellois has the ‘freedom of expression’. ‘Every person has a right to freedom of expression and for the purpose of this article this right includes the freedom to hold opinions and to seek, receive and impart ideas and information without interference.’
The United Nations also stated that ensuring freedom for the media around the world is a priority. Independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance in democracies that are young and old. Free media can ensure transparency, accountability and the rule of law; promote participation in public and political discourse, and contribute to the fight against poverty.
An independent media sector draws its power from the community it serves and in return empowers that community to be full a partner in the democratic process.
Freedom of information and freedom of expression are the founding principles for open and informed debate. New technology will continue to evolve and allow citizens to further shape their media environments as well as access a plurality of sources. The combination of access to information and citizen participation in media can only contribute to an increased sense of ownership and empowerment.
In Seychelles we are lucky to have the Access to Information Act, 2018. But do we really have access to ‘information’ as we would want to? Many of us know the pain of waiting for information for an article. We are somewhat perplexed to see how news of national interest are being leaked first in international media before even being communicated to us.
In his address to the nation dated April 26, 2021, President Wavel Ramkalawan had a few words for all journalists: “Today we have to congratulate ourselves as Seychelles in the field of freedom of the press where we gained 11 points on the global scale and now we are rated 52nd out of 180 countries. In this coming year we will have to work hard to be the number 1 in Africa and below 25 in the world. The principal is simple: we attach great importance on the freedom of the press, freedom of expression and human development. Express yourself, criticise, analyse, give your opinions or promote your ideas based on the truth. In this transition period, I urge the media to do a professional job as you are not politicians. Be impartial in your reporting and report on all aspects of the story...”
This is what we are striving to do every day in the Seychelles NATION newspaper, but we still sometimes face barriers. We still have information of national interest being sent to only one media house. In Seychelles, we have only seven functioning media houses and the social media! There is not much space for competition as our readers/viewers are also small. In order for us to do our job properly we today call upon the public, the government and private organisations to help us by giving us the relevant and true information we are looking for, for our story for your interest/education.
Happy World Freedom Day to all my peeps! May we continue to strive to bring out the truth and help the country to grow. I will conclude with these two quotes: "Freedom of the press is the mortar that binds together the bricks of democracy ‒ and it is also the open window embedded in those bricks." (Shashi Tharoor) and "The press should do what it can to minimise the abuse of power (self-scrutiny can help and so can competition), but we should also try to understand with clarity why and how press freedom can enrich human lives, enhance public justice, and even help to promote economic and social development." (Amartya Sen)
On this special day we also asked our readers what they think of the media in Seychelles nowadays and how can it be improved.
Louise Testa, tourism industry: “There has been much progress in the accuracy of content in the main national newspapers and a marked reduction in editorially-driven political bias. This has led to enhanced transparency and is welcome. This is also a potential antidote to much of the unregulated and inaccurate nonsense posted on social media. Citizens need to be able to maintain a high degree of trust in the main print publications and, generally, this is realised.
“However, across the mainstream print media the standard of journalism varies, with lapses in effective proof-reading and editing leading to some articles suffering from errors of grammar and spelling which a reader would not expect to find on what are, after all, the most read news platforms in the country.
“There also seems to be less cutting edge investigative journalism these days, with authors often content to simply report events through quotes and statements already in the public domain. Digging deeper and venturing behind the 'front story' is less common, with journalistic excursions into more risky territory rarely undertaken. The end result can, in the worst cases, lead to a newspaper stuffed with boring reportage, features, 'imported' material from international agencies and, of course, the mass of advertisements which comprises a considerable percentage of each edition.
“The smaller weekly publications frequently publish material not usually found in the dailies but such articles have to be placed within the context of specific political agendas. They do, however, often provoke public debate ‒ something which a good newspaper should always aim to achieve.
“Moving forward, the main print media outlets should support higher standards of journalism, both in a technical sense and through articles which go beyond the rhetoric of the day. A few more 'exclusives' and a reduction in the 'inclusives' would see newspapers contribute more powerful, relevant and interesting content which would very probably attract more readers.”
Richard Ramasawmy, career broadcast journalist, international lecturer in broadcast media:
“The question pertaining to the freedom of the press always rewinds my memory to the famous saying of the no less famous Thomas Jefferson who wrote in 1796: ‘The only security of all is in a free press.’ And it cannot be more relevant today. In Seychelles, I have had the privilege over the past 25 years to be a witness of this gradual but resolute journey towards a free press. Without evoking the situation of yesteryears, I prefer to take notice of this freedom today. Viewers, listeners, and readers have the luxury to receive news in its plurality of sensibilities and opinions. I call it luxury as historians will one day compare the times and will draw their own conclusions. The live transmission of many national events such as the National Assembly proceedings, the hearings of The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission and the live coverage of political press conferences are but a few examples of this new television culture. Some may question that notion of freedom of the press by mentioning that the State still owns the only television channels in Seychelles, but the national broadcaster is trying to accomplish its independent mission with quite some commendable policies. Anyway, it has this solemn mandate while the critical mass of the economy and population is a deterrent for any venture in terrestrial private television stations in Seychelles. The written press is now on a very plural foothold, and radios are playing in a diverse environment. But challenges for a level playing field for all news providers are the ones Seychelles must now face. Strict libel laws apply to journalists, editors, and publishers. But do they apply to online unregistered local newsfeeds? If so, how and if not when? What if these online newsfeeds put the country’s security at risk, incite unrest, molest people, create clans and sects, organise terrorist networks? How to fit this ever-changing digital media landscape of local internet news providers into the legal framework? We tend to treat such issues on a politically partisan standpoint in Seychelles. It is actually a national issue of freedom of the press and the responsibility that goes along with it. This is an on-going debate of freedom of speech versus abuse of speech. Can we charter along this unknown territory…!”
Betty Baaba Doku, teacher: “It is said that the press is a reflection of society because it mirrors the values that are important to a people at a given time. Also in a democracy the press is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm, in that they hold in check the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
“So the state in which the press finds itself in a given environment is a reflection of the state in which the totalities of the people find themselves.
“In Seychelles, a young democracy, the press may not be fully asserting their role, but everything points to the fact that the media is growing fast alongside the democratic tenants of the country.
“Media pluralism; the government controlled ‒ and private radio stations, newspaper outlets, the effective use of social media and the citizens’ ability to voice out their concerns without fear of victimization, points to a vibrant Media in the Seychelles.
”The citizens being able to participate in national discourse, or voice out their concerns about important national issues without fear is an indication that the quality of the media in Seychelles is growing.
“A progressive media is a deliberate effort by all branches of government to allow for free speech or free expression of individual opinion irrespective of their merits and demerits. It also involves the education of the citizenry by government and civil society agencies to exercise free speech with recourse to their responsibilities.
“Citizens must not be oblivious of the devastating effects or danger that uncontrolled free speech without exercising responsibility could foist on society in general. It is important that to improve the media, access to information for journalists to inform and educate society should be facilitated rather than hindered.
“There should be legislation to aid the work of journalists in general and enhance free speech. Media personnel should be protected in the course of their work. There should be a conscious effort by the various arms of government to recognise, open up and fraternise with the media, removing barriers that impede their work and allying fears that come with the practice of their work.
“The concept of categorising one part of the media as pro-government and the other as anti-government should be discouraged, since it takes a vibrant media to keep the government on its toes in order for it to deliver on its mandate.”
Christopher Lespoir, pilot and businessman: “On the occasion of the World Free Press day, I wish to share my opinion about our own state of affairs when it comes to the press.
“The press is there to ensure and uphold one fundamental rights outlined by our constitution and this is in regards to freedom of expression and rights to information. It goes without saying that our little Seychelles has evolved immensely when it comes to the press. Much of the evolutions of the press was guided by evolution of our politics. A more openly democratic system brought with it more eagerness to share information, and to normalise accountability. But as expected it came about with much resistance which bit by bit is turning into acceptance. The number of political mouthpieces along with other casual publications, bears witness to this progress. But as we take a look at the path paved, it is also important to assess the performance of the press too.
“The press has a fundamental responsibility to provide information to members of the public in a timely and accurate manner. Rights should always walk side by side with responsibility. We need to take a close look at each and every one of our media outlet and self-assess where it went well and where we still have gaps for improvement.
“It is clear that that our local media will keep progressing to become more vibrant. Today we hear of such word like investigative journalism more and more. Press conferences are no longer a sugar coat exercise. Tough questions are asked, replies are sought. All this is called progress.
“But as we take some time to evaluate the state of affairs within our local press, it is important for each and every individual to understand their role towards upholding the freedom of the press. We cannot become selective on what should be reported or not neither should we be reporting half-truth. I strongly believe that once all sides understand their true role on how to balance out their rights and responsibility, this is when we will have a true freedom of expression.
“I take this opportunity to wish all media outlets courage in their noble task, and may they find the strength to keep doing what they do best.”
Vahid Jacob, digital and communication specialist: “I think the Seychelles press has become more free during the past one year to six months. It’s like they are no longer scared to go investigate and ask questions which they wouldn’t dare to before. The only issue is a lot of the time they only cover one side of the story instead of interviewing both sides.”
Elisette Racombo, teacher: “My suggestions are maybe the press should try to be more updated with information and also when conducting interviews on certain matter. They should get views from different angles of opinion. Evolution in reporting should be taken into consideration.”
Daniel Hugelman, computer science and communications engineer and businessman: “Having returned in early 2019 after 19 years in Germany, I was pleasantly surprised about the increase in the number of publications and the amount of journalistic activities in general. I also like that the major publications have lost their political bias and are now reporting independently. However, I have also noticed that major news scoops are solely "published" on the grapevine, namely in various Facebook and WhatsApp groups. These items have a major impact on our society but are either not touched by any journalists, or only very late. I would welcome it if such items were at least analysed for validity and either reported on or debunked.”
Unesco 2021 theme: Information as a public good
Information as a public good. In this context, it is timely to recognise and promote the concept of information as a public good – as something that helps to advance collective aspirations and which forms the key building block for knowledge.
Especially in digital form, a fact ‘consumed’ by one person does not prevent others from also ‘consuming’ it. Information is inherently non-exclusive, although many factors create artificial restrictions – whether these be paywalls, copyright, official and corporate secrecy, and direct censorship. Information also has positive externalities, or positive spillovers. As a public good with potential for universal reach, information allows us to know our rights and prerogatives, as well as contributes to the general interest, at the service of sustainable development.
The importance of freely accessing reliable information, particularly through journalism, has been demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic: in times of crisis such as this, information can be a matter of life or death. This has been especially true in the face of the Covid-19 ‘disinfodemic’, a mixture of misinformation and disinformation that has spread across the world sowing confusion, discord and division. The lack of publicly available reliable data and information has created a vacuum for potentially harmful content (including hate speech) and misleading conspiracy theories, mostly spread online through Internet business models and actors who exploit these.
The Covid-19 public health crisis has shed light on the vital role played by free and independent media worldwide. The output of news media (be it in print, television or radio, analogue or delivered via digital platforms) remains a powerful source of information that people access, even when this is via social media networks. In this way, media workers everywhere have significantly contributed to our understanding of the pandemic by making overwhelming and highly complex flows of information more accessible, making scientific facts understandable to the broader public, providing regularly updated data, and engaging in fact-checking. In many countries, journalists and fact-checkers have critically monitored contracting and subsidies that respond to the pandemic and have faced pressure from authorities as a result. In other cases, they have been hampered by measures put in place to contain the virus as well as challenges from both police and public during the host of public protests that have characterised this period.
To conclude, Seychelles NATION sought the opinion of Zimbabwean journalist and editor Moses Magadza, MA in Media Studies; BA(Hons) Media Studies; Diploma in Journalism and Communications; Diploma in Education; Diploma in Copy Editing and Proofreading (UK), about this year’s theme.
“My view on the theme is that it represents very high, albeit unattainable expectations. Journalism as a public good presupposes a media that provides a platform for the free and robust exchange of ALL voices in a society to bring about socioeconomic development and the entrenchment of democracy. To achieve that, something radical about the ownership and funding of the media industry as well as editorial autonomy must happen. Under the prevailing ownership patterns, journalism is largely pandering to the whims and caprices of the rich and powerful who own and fund it. Advertising also still influences editorial slant. Having said that, it is always good to aim him high do that when plans fail and fall, they land on tree tops,” wrote Mr Magadza.