After nine years of existence, the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers has defied the doubting Thomases (and there have been many) and has been able to engage the multi-faceted tasks of networking journalists, promoting professional development in the Caribbean media and holding fast to the principles of free expression and a free press.
This has not been an easy journey. For one, we have attempted to accomplish our tasks largely through the volunteer efforts of resourced-starved national associations and focal points and the vision of a group of elected individuals functioning at the regional level and who serve on our executive board.
This, though, is not exactly the right model. Our counterparts who form part of the Global Forum for Media Development and the International Freedom of Expressions Exchange are both professionally outfitted and also receive the regular support of international media development agencies. Perhaps in the Caribbean we have too successfully sold our image as a tropical paradise to many who continue to believe that the threats to our freedom are imagined, if not over-stated and that “we cool”.
However, because of the partnerships we have forged through international partners who are finally getting the message, the ACM has been able to complete assignments over the years that have included a journalism mentoring programme, more than 20 training workshops and projects, collaboration on the publication of a handbook on covering climate change and production of our handbook on covering elections in the Caribbean.
The ACM serves on the steering committees of the Latin American and Caribbean operations of IFEX and GFMD and sits on the IT Sub-Committee of CARICOM. We also have working relations with the International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Americas.
Our agenda is transparent and obvious. It is what I often describe as the “freedom perspective” – meaning that we need to maintain constant vigil over freedoms and rights that cost us dearly through our experience of slavery, indentureship and colonialism. It is incredible that in a part of this globe characterised in the past by these phenomena on such a large scale, human rights NGOs are so sparse and, where they exist, are of questionable value in the context of the right to maintain hard-won freedoms – freedom of expression in particular.
Such a task has fallen to those of us who believe this is something worth fighting for, however much it challenges the fashionable instinct to opt for personal privilege over the collective good.
This, of course, is not altogether an altruistic aspiration. Media workers insist on press freedom so that media enterprises flourish and grow and create environments in which we thrive and achieve professional rewards and satisfaction.
Press freedom calls on those who wield economic and political power to account for their decisions and their actions. It not only pursues the facts, but relishes the truth. It is an important pillar upon which we can build our true independence.
This, perhaps, is not the season to dwell too much on these lofty, esoteric matters, but it is certainly the time for us to focus on where we go from here. It’s almost like that star more than 2,000 years ago when those who believed in something came up against those who did not believe. They fixed their gaze upon that star and never gave up.
It might be as we approach 2011, we are being called upon to re-dedicate ourselves to a cause that is not always popular - one that costs us money, time and, sometimes, friends.