Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The ACM on the Move

One of the more painful things for me within recent years has been the denial by some that the modest organisation launched by a handful of us in Barbados in 2001 has blossomed into an authoritative, credible and responsible organisation of Caribbean journalists.

We have at various times been described as "an email organisation", "irresponsible" and a "paper organisation." by colleagues who continue to nurse the wounds of a previous experiment that died when international largesse and freeness dried up.

To our credit, all the eggs of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers have not resided in the same basket and we have been able to distribute the risks associated with running an organisation such as this evenly throughout the global media development community.

We are already responsible for two major journalistic publications: "The Looming Storm - State of the Caribbean Media Report 2005" and the "Climate Change Handbook for Caribbean Journalists." Soon, we will launch our "Handbook for Election Coverage".

We have initiated and hosted courses, workshops and a pilot mentoring programme and intervened effectively in free press issues throughout the Caribbean.

Here is a little update on my own activities as President of the ACM.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

On the invitation of the ACM’s Focal Point in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Theresa Daniel, I visited St Vincent on January 24 against the backdrop of the police detention of Jeff Trotman of The Vincentian newspaper on December 21, 2008 and talk of the formation of a new national association of journalists.

I was able to secure a meeting with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on the morning of January 24 and we discussed both the Trotman incident and government relations with the media in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

At the end of the meeting, I was satisfied that a serious effort was made to investigate the circumstances surrounding Trotman’s detention and that an appropriate expression of “regret” in writing had been prepared and financial compensation offered. Up to that time, the response of the Attorney General to Mr Trotman via his attorney was still being considered.

Other issues discussed included the role and modus of radio talk programmes, the existence of criminal libel and levels of professionalism in the national media.

I later addressed a meeting of senior journalists in Kingstown. It was a very impressive turnout of print and broadcast journalists. I explained the role of the ACM in relation to national associations and urged them to move expeditiously to establish their own organisation.

A steering committee, on which Theresa Daniel would serve as advisor, was nominated and timelines for follow-up discussions and activities were determined. I offered ACM assistance in this process.

I also offered to consult with our international partners to see whether some kind of professional development activity can be convened in St Vincent. We agreed that an activity linked to journalistic safety and reporting under difficult circumstances should be arranged.

Since that meeting, I have consulted with Luisa Rangel, a media trainer associated with the International News Safety Institute (who is also a member of this listserv and a longstanding friend of the ACM). She has indicated that there is a very real possibility of hosting such an activity in St Vincent and she has started looking into the matter.

I think our colleagues in St Vincent and the Grenadines need our collective support as they make the bold move to establish a strong and vibrant representative organisation for journalists and media workers in the country.

Barbados

On the invitation of the Interim Committee of the Barbados Association of Journalists and the ACM’s Focal Point, Julius Gittens, I visited Barbados on January 25-26.

On January 25, I attended a general meeting of the BAJ. It was very well attended and attention was generally paid to two main issues: (i) regularising the affairs of the organisation and (ii) the proposed increase in state registration fees for freelance journalists.

On the first point, I am confident that Amanda Lynch-Foster (interim President) and Julius Gittens (interim Vice President) and their team will do what is necessary to re-build the BAJ and to take it to a level of strength it did not have before.

On the point of registration fees, it is my view that this provision runs counter to the freedom of expression guarantees of the constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights. I have forwarded some of the articles on this subject to the folks at IFEX for interpretation.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has also appointed someone to pay attention specifically to Caribbean issues. He will also be brought into the picture soon.

Thank you, Amanda and Julius, for your hospitality. On the morning of January 26, Julius and I also appeared on the CBC morning television programme to discuss the registration issue.

Trinidad and Tobago

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago convened a meeting of senior journalists and editors on January 21 in an attempt to assess the training needs of journalists. The discussions were very useful.

I am concerned though that the current focus on journalistic standards in TT stems directly from the recent incident involving the Prime Minister’s inappropriate visit to a radio station to complain about the behaviour of two broadcasters.

However, the issue of raising professional standards has been a longstanding concern of the Media Association and those present shared the view that training was one way of addressing the shortcomings.

The meeting was also called on the prompting of the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) which comprises media owners and managers, and which has sought guidance from MATT on the precise training needs of journalists.

Dominica

Draft broadcasting legislation is again on the table in Dominica and the ACM has been approached by the Media Workers Association of Dominica (MWAD) to assist in analysing and shaping a response to the proposed law.

We have been successful in getting IFEX support for this exercise and Article 19 has also expressed an interest in participating in an activity in Dominica to carefully examine the legislation in the context of a free expression guarantee in the country’s constitution and via international covenants.

We are currently making arrangements for such a workshop and a date is expected to be finalised soon.

Render your verdict on the ACM now.