The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) has been able to keep the Caribbean firmly on the international press freedom agenda over the past six years of its existence.
I believe we have done so by capturing, in our own clumsy way, the vital connections between the work we do and the work left to be done by our societies.
This often means that the sounds of the street, the songs of the farmers, the cries of the higgler and the pain of our youth often enter the studio. Engaging the job as we have, invites dissonance and discomfort. It is both an inherent peril and a benefit of free expression.
The ACM is also, in another regard, singularly important as a Caribbean beacon. The recent meeting of Latin American and Caribbean press freedom agencies and international institutions covering the region, in Austin Texas, was one example of how ‘out of sight’ could so easily mean ‘out of mind’.
It was instructive that many delegates attended the meeting, as in the past, with a version of what comprises Latin America that excludes Caribbean islands states beyond Haiti and Cuba (and to a lesser extent, Puerto Rico).
It took my own intervention in Jordan a year and a half ago, at the first Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) to impress upon participants, not only from Latin America, that while the Caribbean and its mainland neighbours might be friends and even brothers, but we are not the same person.
The distinction is not meaningful for jingoist purposes (though this is certainly the case in some Caribbean quarters) but as a means of capturing the nuances of a region whose cultural antecedents are so similar, but at the same time decidedly different from the Latin American experience. Indeed, the same would certainly hold between countries of South America. Argentina is not the same as Uruguay and even Colombia is not the same as Venezuela.
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, led by Brazilian journalist and academic, Rosental Calmon Alves and based at the University of Texas at Austin, has made a critical and perhaps unprecedented difference in this matter.
The recent LATAM/Caribbean meeting of press freedom agencies, hosted by the Knight Center with support from the Open Society Institute, provided a meaningful forum for discussions on methods currently employed by the international organizations concerned with monitoring press freedom issues.
The English-speaking Caribbean stood out for the manner in which our experience showed that the silencing of journalists is not only a function of the assassin’s bullet or the kidnapper’s mask.
The Caribbean media are being slowly suffocated by political cultures, economic circumstance, social disabilities and official policies that scavenge on our misfortune as emerging nations that survive without enduring and ancient democratic and cultural habits.
The insidious nature of the assault and the fact that it is not readily recognised even by Caribbean journalists makes the task of the ACM even more difficult.
In the end, we may have to make it in the world on our own, but only if we choose to do so.
Press freedom and its parent, free expression, are absolutely essential for our survival as viable societies. There is no natural reason, inherent in the history of the world why we should exist on our own. That we speak of independence is a wonder. That we dare speak of achieving it is more.
Had we not already had the ACM in 2007, we would have had to invent one. Independence in the field of journalism is to be earned. There is no lottery here.