Free­dom from In­tel­li­gence

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Much has re­cently been made of the sup­posed find­ings of Free­dom House and Saint Lu­cia’s pole po­si­tion in Press Free­dom Rank­ings, which only goes to show that peo­ple see what they want to see, and good­ness gra­cious me, Saint Lu­cians re­ally needed to see and hear a bit of good news other than tales about the mis­er­able state of their coun­try. The bad news is that our jour­nal­ists seem to be, at least in this case, in­tel­li­gence-ex­empt.

First, let’s look at the Free­dom House find­ings in gen­eral: Press free­dom de­clined to its low­est point in 12 years in 2015, as po­lit­i­cal, crim­i­nal, and ter­ror­ist forces sought to co-opt or si­lence the me­dia in their broader strug­gle for power. And only 13 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion en­joys a Free Press—that is, where cov­er­age of po­lit­i­cal news is ro­bust, the safety of jour­nal­ists is guar­an­teed, state in­tru­sion in me­dia af­fairs is min­i­mal, and the press is not sub­ject to oner­ous le­gal or eco­nomic pres­sures.

First of all, glob­ally Press Free­dom is in a pretty poor state (its low­est point in 12 years) and be­ing best of the worst is hardly a rec­om­men­da­tion. Clearly, with larger coun­tries in mind Free­dom House con­cen­trates on “po­lit­i­cal, crim­i­nal, and ter­ror­ist forces seek­ing to co-opt or si­lence the me­dia in their broader strug­gle for power.” Well now, is there any­one out there who be­lieves that crim­i­nals, drug lords and politi­cians never at­tempt to sub­vert, si­lence, or threaten jour­nal­ists in Saint Lu­cia? I think not; we’re just too small, far too small, to reg­is­ter on any­one’s scale.

Se­condly, roughly speak­ing, Saint Lu­cia’s pop­u­la­tion is un­der 200,000. The global pop­u­la­tion is 7,425,000,000 (al­most 7.5 bil­lion) and grow­ing by the sec­ond. Sta­tis­ti­cally, Saint Lu­cia’s pop­u­la­tion scarcely reg­is­ters glob­ally (0.00269%). Even mea­sured against the mere 13 per­cent of the world’s peo­ples that en­joy a free press, the pop­u­la­tion ra­tio of Saint Lu­cia is ap­prox­i­mately 5,000 to 1.

Thirdly, it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that our jour­nal­ists are al­lowed to write what they like, re­port on what they see, and com­ment on what they be­lieve, sim­ply be­cause they have noth­ing to write about, noth­ing to re­port on, and noth­ing to com­ment on, but when they do, even if it is a mere re­port­ing of some­thing they have read in another, pos­si­bly for­eign pub­li­ca­tion, they are pounced upon by lo­cal politi­cians with threats of le­gal ac­tion and en­su­ing heavy costs un­less they re­tract their state­ments and beat them­selves about the head with thorns and ashes. Me­dia own­ers are al­most al­ways pa­thet­i­cally ea­ger to com­ply.

Of course, there are even more sub­tle and in­sid­i­ous ways to pun­ish the me­dia: Gov­ern­ment wields a mighty purse through its many publi­ca­tions. Any me­dia house that does not toe the line will soon find it­self stand­ing in line for a long, long time for any gov­ern­ment money to be be­stowed upon the fawn­ing, grov­el­ing de­fend­ers of free speech.

Fourthly, Free­dom House found that “in the Mid­dle East gov­ern­ments and mili­tias in­creas­ingly pres­sure jour­nal­ists and me­dia out­lets to take sides, cre­at­ing a “with us or against us” cli­mate that de­mo­nizes those who re­fused to be cowed”. Can any­one think of any lo­cal leader who de­mands to­tal loy­alty and pur­sues a “my way or the high­way” pol­icy of to­tal sub­mis­sion to his own re­gal high­ness?

OK, here’s my the­ory: Saint Lu­cia is so small, so in­signif­i­cant, so ir­rel­e­vant, that even the most egre­gious trans­gres­sions against hu­man rights, free­dom of the press, civil lib­er­ties, cor­rup­tion and bribery scan­dals, po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions, money laun­der­ing, en­forced il­le­gal in­car­cer­a­tions, etc. all go un­no­ticed, un­re­ported and un­pun­ished be­cause “sta­tis­ti­cally” we just don’t reg­is­ter on any scale.

You don’t be­lieve me? Well let’s take a look at the top Free­dom House coun­tries in a cou­ple of other re­gions in­clud­ing ours. The two lead­ers in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa are – wait for it – The Cape Verde Is­lands and Sao Tome and Principe, two groups of minis­cule is­lands off the west coast of Africa. In the Asia Pa­cific Re­gion, the win­ners in the Press Free­dom stakes were – hold your breath – Palau and the Mar­shall Is­lands. In Eura­sia, there’s a bit of a sur­prise in store: The win­ners are Ge­or­gia and Ukraine, closely fol­lowed by Moldova and Ar­me­nia, coun­tries not known for any Press at all, and where free­dom sel­dom blos­soms, but when it does Putin steps in. The Mid­dle East and North Africa make in­ter­est­ing read­ing: Be­lieve it or not, Is­rael is num­ber one in Press Free­dom, quite a sur­prise for a coun­try peren­ni­ally at war. I find it even harder to be­lieve that Tu­nisia is num­ber two. Per­haps they owe their prime po­si­tions to the fact that all the other coun­tries in the re­gion have such re­ally, re­ally bad rep­u­ta­tions for abus­ing jour­nal­ists. And in the Amer­i­cas, there’s Saint Lu­cia and St Vin­cent. I rest my case. Any­way, we beat An­tigua and Bar­ba­dos, and that’s what re­ally mat­ters. Do­minica doesn’t count.

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