In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day, the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party renewed the party’s commitment to press freedom, not only in St. Kitts and Nevis but throughout the Caribbean region and the world at large.
“Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, as in December 1993, we live in an environment where the (Timothy Harris-led) government of the day continues to attack freedom of the press and prevention the press from having access to information by 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 not only in St Kitts but regionally and internationally,” said SKNLP National Political Leader, the Rt Hon Dr Denzil L Douglas.
“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 (Rt Hon Dr Kennedy Simmonds) made a television address to the nation,” said Dr Douglas.
He noted that 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 mid-February, 2015, in addition to the three newspapers and ZIZ, there were Freedom FM, KYSS FM, WINN FM, Dominion Radio, Sugar City FM, Radio St. Kitts-Nevis and SKN Vibes, along with a host of online media entities,the former prime minister said.
As prime minister, Dr Douglas initiated live broadcast of all meetings of the St Kitts and Nevis National Assembly, established for the first time live monthly press conferences by the Prime Minister, created the Communications Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister (CUOPM) and osted a weekly radio programme “Ask the Prime Minister,” on ZIZ Radio.
As prime minister Dr Douglas reorganised the existing Information Service, which at time was responsible for writing all local news items to be read on ZIZ Radio and Television, into the St Kitts and Nevis Information Service (SKNIS). ZIZ Radio and Televison was also moved from a department of government into a corporation – ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) with a Board of Directors.
Dr Douglas also initiated weekly Cabinet Briefings and “Face to Face,” during which all ministers were present to respond to questions from members of the public.
“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 was granted very limited access to the national media whilst the government abuses its power by regularly using ZIZ as its political campaign propaganda tool,” said the former prime minister.
“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,” Dr Douglas said in the statement.
He wished all media personnel a very happy and productive World Press Freedom Day 2020.
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.
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.
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