Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of “Communicating Rights at Work" – A Training Workshop for Media Professionals. Port of Spain – September 28, 2011

The ACM is delighted to be associated with this activity over the next three days. This workshop is an entirely fitting intervention by the ILO. It comes at a time when the region appears challenged by the need to balance political and economic expediency against the minimum requirements of universally-accepted rights and standards that span virtually the entire spectrum of human, social interaction.

On this occasion, we focus on international labour standards and how best media professionals are able to communicate workplace rights. In many respects, this subject does not represent neutral turf. Labour standards are by no means non-contentious, politically-blind obligations. They meet the classical criteria of the news agenda; presenting opportunities for following conflict, tracking money flows, reporting intrigue, defining inter-personal and group relations and identifying the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of human potential.

For this reason, what participants are being offered over the next few days constitutes a bountiful package of raw story material waiting to be further elaborated on the news and features pages and broadcast productions of our various media enterprises.

And what stories they are.

We will explore the unfolding canvass of globalisation and how rights at work have become a cross-cutting, pervasive issue ignored at the peril of countries such as ours. The quest for social justice in the face of changing paradigms and a growing sense that poverty and hunger entangle the humanscape like lethal, creeping vines.

The tripartite formula, even as changing circumstances continually challenge the mathematics of relationships across the labour aisles and bring into clearer view the algebra that leads to cohesion and social peace. The role of media as interlocutors in the developmental dialogue – as intermediaries between the governed and those who govern.

Indeed, these are all stories that already reach our front pages and lead our newscasts in the garb of crime and violence, industrial conflict, political intrigue and the terms of our peoples’ engagement with the world around them.

We are fortunate that our alliance with the ILO has led us to this point. Our societies cry out for counsel on the maintenance of freedoms and rights. They urge us on to provide a basis for understanding and appreciating the value of minimum expectations in a world of change.

Understanding labour standards and their impact on tangible economic outputs can provide a much needed nexus between aspiration and achievement – how societies construct tangible evidence out of otherwise elusive, unseen values and standards and goals. How rights and freedoms are indispensable, indivisible features of human progress, however grave the present reality, however urgent the need to abrogate them appear.

In this regard, we would do well to get these stories right. It is our obligation. It is an important requirement which substantiates the case for specific, discrete rights and freedoms for a sector upon which modern democracies continue to rely.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Improving Media Coverage of Immigration Issues

Report of Caribbean Working Group on Coverage of Immigration Issues
Austin Forum – September 8-10, 2011

The Caribbean Group comprised: Wesley Gibbings, Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers Trinidad and Tobago (Moderator); Colette Les Pinasse, journalist, Haiti; Gotson Pierre, Alterpresse, Haiti, Maude Malengrez, FOKAL/OSF Haiti and Maria Soldevilla, Listin Diario, Republica Dominicana.

The subject of improving media coverage of immigration issues in the Caribbean was addressed by (i) identifying issues that required further journalistic investigation and (ii) proposing mechanisms to more efficiently achieve improved coverage.

Areas for Further Journalistic Investigation

  1. The incidence of re-migration;
  2. The processing, re-integration and treatment of criminal deportees;
  3. The role of the Caribbean Diaspora in influencing politics and economic life;
  4. Evolving means of moving money between borders in the form of financial remittances;
  5. Closer examination of the incidence of intra-regional migration;
  6. Work on assessing the impact of recent trends involving new groups of immigrants such as Asians and Africans into the Caribbean;
  7. The integrity of institutional support for immigrants including the provision of vital services;
  8. More diligent monitoring of immigration laws and their impact on emerging humanitarian concerns;
  9. Examination of the impact of outward migration on children;
  10. Avoidance of the use of stereotyping in the treatment of immigrants;
  11. Attention should be paid to the “feminisation” of the immigration phenomenon;
  12. The need to verify official immigration statistics;
  13. Recognition of the multi-dimensional nature of immigrant engagement in the life of host countries;
  14. The use of new technologies as immigrant communities communicate with their home countries and as their families and friends communicate with them;
  15. The incidence of transient groups that move continually from one country to the next;
  16. Language and cultural shifts as a consequence of immigration;
  17. The incidence of “paperless” immigrants;
  18. The economic impact of the splintering of families in the face of outward migrations;
  19. Coverage of new money flows as a result of immigration

Mechanisms for Improved Coverage
  1. Development of online platforms for the sharing of official immigration data within the region;
  2. Establishment of a multi-media/multi-lingual repository for news stories and information on regional immigration;
  3. The greater use of social networks that aid in the networking of Caribbean journalists for information sharing;
  4. A mechanism to facilitate greater cross-border collaboration on media productions;
  5. The use of journalistic exchanges among countries across the language groups in the Caribbean;
  6. Greater collaboration among NGOs/academia/community media and mainstream media in the coverage of immigration issues;
  7. Mechanisms for advocates to more efficiently influence media managers;
  8. Development of more comprehensive databases for accessing sources of opinion and information on immigration;
  9. Introduction of an annual Caribbean Forum to explore immigration and other relevant media issues;
  10. Mechanisms to promote journalistic training.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Death By Suicide

Freedom of expression is not under threat in Trinidad and Tobago. It simply does not currently subsist as a right upon which we can rely in the face of the state of public emergency. If something does not exist, it cannot be described as being threatened.

The real tragedy, though, is the extent to which a people who rely so heavily on the fruits of our collective and individual expression to establish our bona fides in the world are now prepared to ignore its absence. Almost everything that means anything to Trinidad and Tobago has been founded upon the renegade, pioneering, irreverent, creative genius of our people.

Yet, freedom of expression and the regulatory means to achieve its lawful derogation reside in the basket of current restrictions with precious little publicly-stated discomfort. In fact, there are those who are insisting on more active pursuit of their punitive application. No dissent, one partisan commentator went so far to remark, must be entertained.

The impact of the suspension of free expression has also not been a passive, benign threat, as has been suggested by some, but an active factor in the prevailing climate of awkward and unpracticed vulgar defiance, self-censorship, silence and undue restraint fuelled by fear. 

It is simply not true to say that only the criminals are affected by the state of emergency and that “freedom” can be a possible outcome of a derogation of freedoms. This is crooked thinking and a misuse of metaphor. Such an assertion is dangerous political sleight of hand often witnessed in established autocracies.

Indeed, even the ruling coalition has been minded to close its own doors to online expression. Its Facebook, Twitter and listserv dispatches have been shut down on the grounds of possible transgression. Could it be an inducement for others to do likewise? 

Lurking agents of suppression meanwhile dutifully share casual online banter and ole-talk for further action and voices of even the most remote flavour of dissent are cast in the dungeons alongside criminal suspects, dreaded trade union activists and the political opposition.

Suddenly, freedom of the press is viewed as eminently dispensable even by some in the press; as long as the curfew permits and advertising flow, I suppose. Who from among us, in this masochistic fantasy, dare fly a flag of freedom?

Freedom of expression is not remotely equivalent to Trini freeness and license. It is a foundation upon which modern societies erect democratic structures to ensure that laws bring justice, creativity brings solutions and dialogue brings action. Much of this is captured in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which asserts the application of such a right not only with respect to those who impart information and ideas, but also those who seek and receive it.

Free and unfettered dialogue is also important in building social consensus without which societies cannot go meaningfully forward in peace. But how many more from among us are there who are satisfied that free speech is acceptable only when it is their own clearly partisan speech?

This is nothing new. Short-sightedness and blinkered sycophancy are longstanding, enduring features of our political life. The situation would not have been tolerated by current proponents had the political balance been different.

None of this, by the way, has anything to do with the validity or invalidity of the current constitutional intervention – however unconvinced I remain about it. My advice from those far from the haze of the emergency is that this country may have a lot of explaining to do to its international partners regarding arbitrary use of emergency powers and the militarisation of civilian functions. Diplomatic good manners do not signify approval.

This also has nothing to do with the desirability of firm action to counteract extreme behaviour. I have heard no one attempt to defend the thugs, murderers and deviants who roam this land and no tears are to be shed by me for brutes and sub-humans who kill, rape and maim. 

The problem is in the midst of the storm, independent spaces remain almost completely unoccupied – victimised by the black and white of political under-development and under-achievement. Witness the futility of debate on the emergency in parliament. We all knew the outcome and we all could have written the script for the proceedings in advance. Nobody listened to anybody else.

This is more than a crisis involving our rights and freedoms, I fear. It is a death by suicide.

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