The recruitment of journalists for both open and covert political work in the Caribbean is a longstanding practice that has spanned many years. No current political administration should feel overly targeted or victimised by the claim that they engage in this practice, either openly or quietly. They’ve all done it.
For journalists, the lure of better salaries, a sense of job security spanning at least a five-year political term and work in an area about which they are acutely aware are attractions that too often prove irresistible.
The subject was debated at the last International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress, hosted in Trinidad, without clear direction in the end, on the feasibility of moving freely from one such vocation and back.
But it has happened in the past and will continue to happen. If change comes at the end of a five-year term, journalists often swap places between the newsroom and the state house.
What is unacceptable, though, is the fact that some working journalists, broadcasters and media functionaries are known or suspected to be, with some degree of certainty, to be on discreet political payrolls.
This worsens the already bad situation in which small societies with close-knit communities are inherently prone to a high degree of self-censorship. So, journalists omit important facts, de-emphasise the importance of some developments in their reportage and provide advance warning of imminent journalistic interventions, even without the promise of a cheque.
This happens on all sides of the political battle-field.
Today, more sophisticated means are being found to mask the corrosive incidence of journalistic dishonesty. New media platforms are hijacked by partisan commentary, media phone polls are flooded by well-financed activists employed mainly to undermine the integrity of already unscientific opinion research and influential journalists are rewarded to offer manipulated views of the reality.
All of this poses, in my view, the most critical challenge to journalistic independence in the Caribbean at this time.
Much of the press freedom advocacy, training and media literacy work that need to be done can virtually come to nought if the hijacking of journalism by money and deals wins in the end.
So far, independent journalism, flawed and brittle as it is in this region is standing its ground. But only just …