Sunday, 18 April 2010

Owing Our People Better Journalism

This dispatch is extracted from comments I made on Saturday April 17, 2010 as one of the judges of the IICA/CARDI Excellence in Agriculture Awards ceremony in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Those who keep a close eye on these matters, and they ought to include some journalists, are acutely aware of the distinction between the concept of food security and general agricultural development. In too many instances, the link between story content and the notion of food security in coverage of such issues in the local press is remote at best. This betrays a basic misunderstanding of the conditions under which food security for a nation is pursued and achieved.

It is however true that some of the experts themselves quibble over some key details, and it is perfectly acceptable to explore, through journalistic means, the main points of departure. The arguments are worthy of coverage, but they aren't. It makes no sense to parrot the current orthodoxy without a level of skepticism.

As has been the case with so many other journalistic awards, not only here but throughout the Caribbean, there existed wide gaps in the quality of print versus broadcast submissions. Stories in the print media category, save for one highly impressive television entry, far exceeded submissions received in the radio and television categories.

It is quite apparent that more has not been merrier in the area of broadcast media in Trinidad and Tobago. This is particularly so in the field of radio broadcasting. I am no old-timer mourning any golden age, but merely a consumer of radio content who now has a far wider range of choices than ever before. I must say there is absolutely nothing here that remotely resembles the most humble offerings of respectable radio broadcasters even in some other Caribbean territories.

There is a lot of work to be done in every single area. In researching, interviewing, scripting, editing and presenting. Sadly, television is not much better. To touch on just one point, people need to remember that one of the most indispensable assets of a journalist is his or her sense of humility.

I am pulling no punches on these issues, because the organisation I lead – the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers – not only has a commitment to ensure journalistic standards improve, but that we operate in an environment in which the mass media are free. The connection, in our view, is a very direct one.


Poor journalistic practices very often invite oppressive official behaviour, almost as much as excellent journalism does – the difference being that it is much easier to defend a journalist under fire for good work than it is to defend a journalist guilty of sloppy or unprofessional behaviour. In that sense, we as journalists, are very often our own worst enemies.

It is virtually axiomatic that the greater commitment to professional excellence in journalism the greater the chance that countries in social and political peril escape the worst consequences. On the question of food security, our societies in the Caribbean are in mortal danger.

In this respect alone, we owe our people better journalism. We derive our rights and freedoms only on the basis of this compact with our societies – not that we pursue some fuzzy notion of development support journalism - but that we empower our people through information and knowledge to make the correct decisions about what is necessary to resolve the challenges of the day.

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