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.