Sarah on World Press Freedom Day and Government’s controversial media policy.

sarahwescotwillliams0304201PHILIPSBURG:---  Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot Williams in a press statement on Tuesday: “This policy is in complete contravention of universal principles and human rights.”
MP Wescot reflected on the media policy with the opening statement: “Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would have to caution the government of our country of infringing on human rights and in this case, specifically on the universal right of the freedom of expression and that of the press.”
To issue a policy, enforce it and at the same time admit that it is open for negotiation, input etc. etc. is even more astounding, given that it then can be enforced, amended, and suspended at the government’s discretion at any moment. “So today it can apply to me and tomorrow to you.”
“Freedom of the press is universal freedom precisely to reign in any government’s potential rogue actions. That the government could even think of issuing the media policy like they did, leads me to no other conclusion than that below the flowery surface of the St. Maarten government’s professed “open government policy”, is a concerted effort to be open on their terms only”, was the MP’s blunt conclusion.
“Makes no sense to even critique the policy on its individual parts. The government’s premises, both overt and covert are flawed, seriously flawed and on this International Day of Freedom of the Press, I want to call on the government of St. Maarten to retract this policy with immediate effect.
“Deal with the security aspect, but do not use this aspect to curtail the freedom of the press, as enshrined in universal declarations.”
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO's General Conference in 1991.
At the core of UNESCO's mandate is freedom of the press and freedom of expression. “UNESCO believes that these freedoms allow for mutual understanding to build a sustainable peace.”
“May 3rd acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.”(UNESCO)
It is also telling when the last IPKO declaration of August 2021 contains the following statement inter alia, agreed to by all delegations, including St. Maarten:
“With regard to safeguarding the rule of law and parliamentary democracy in the countries, it is noted that this is the subject of continuous attention for all countries within the Kingdom and should be. The delegations see directors, representatives of the people, and the judiciary an exemplary role. Essential elements of the rule of law must be well maintained in order to prevent excesses that may threaten the rule of law. Independent journalism is of great importance here and should be anchored in media policy and legislation. The spread of fake news and subversion requires vigilance. The soundness of governance, transparency, and accountability, with the associated checks and balances, should contribute to the mutual trust between citizens and government.”
“In the meanwhile, an old draft of a “media law” is still pending in parliament. It was decided by the government of St. Maarten to maintain this draft following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. More than a decade later, this matter does not seem to have any urgency, yet government without any legislative foundation, sees it fit to come with a policy…and what a policy.”
In conclusion, I want to take this opportunity to extend to all media workers and media houses my congratulations on World Press Day and wish them fruitful reflections on their role in their respective communities and in the world at large at this critical time, MP Wescot concluded her statement.