Thursday, 12 August 2010

Word to New T&T Journalism Interns

These remarks were made at the launch of a newspaper internship programme in Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday August 11, 2010. Students between the ages of 16 and 19 were selected on the basis of their performance in a writing competition. They are being interned at the Trinidad Guardian:

I am very honoured to have been selected to say these few words to you as you accept the challenge of being introduced to one of the most important professions anyone can consider entering. Like other similarly old and enduring professions it has faced more than its fair share of infamy. But, at its core, its basic tenets strike at the most noble aspirations of human beings – the need to know and to understand changing realities, and in so doing claim and secure our future.

As a consequence of this important mandate, free societies vest in media enterprises and the journalists who operate within them, a variety of freedoms and rights derived from the broader, more universal freedom to express oneself. In Trinidad and Tobago, this manifests itself in the constitutional guarantee of a free press. We are the only Commonwealth Caribbean country with such a feature in its national constitution and some of us have had, over the years, to defend its continued presence there.

In return, there is the implicit agreement that we provide our society with the journalism it not only deserves but which it requires as we move from one stage of development to the next and as we confront some of the most difficult challenges we have ever had to face. It is a journalism that insists on the basis principles of fairness, balance, accuracy and a commitment to truthfulness.

Our people deserve the best journalism and we need to deliver it. I am not sure we are currently doing so.

But none of this is possible in an environment in which direct and indirect forms of censorship are officially applied, neither is it possible under conditions in which self-censorship is allowed to take root. Meeting the requirements of such a journalism is also impossible if the people assigned such responsibilities are not equipped with the basic intellectual and material tools to perform such a function.

This programme is an important start. We have with us today, some of the brightest and the best who have come forward. The panel of judges marveled at the high standards, as if we ever fell for the view that the current generation ought to be written off. Instead, we found there are scores of you who care, who seek to understand and who believe you can help convert this country into a different kind of place.

It was evident that some considerable reading is taking place, that some high level of interpretation of events is occurring and, most importantly, there is pursuit of an understanding of the realities. Through this, and through you, this entire exercise can and will benefit from the special perspectives you as young people bring. They are perspectives that bring the irreverence, skepticism and candour of youth and a way of looking at the problems of our society that cuts through the fluff and fog age and experience (as valuable as they are) sometimes bring.

There is another quality you can also bring to the profession that is, unfortunately, not in abundant supply nowadays. This is the attribute of humility. Because it is sometimes absent, the stupid, simple question is often omitted. Because it’s not there, opinion is sometimes more highly valued than information. Because there is so little humility, hubris and conflict predominate. The news, someone once said, is always more interesting, and certainly more important, than the journalists that cover it. That’s lesson number one.

So, we are here, ready and willing to make our first embrace of this noble profession. The time we have is short, so we get down to some work in a little while. Our sessions will be deep and intense. We will find time for some wholesome fun and, at the end of it all, I am hoping it would be as much a learning experience for me as it would be for you.

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