Monday, 31 December 2012

Greetings to the Caribbean Media Fraternity


The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) is wrapping up its busiest year since about a dozen of us assembled in Barbados in November 2001 and decided that we needed to re-invent an organisation of Caribbean media workers to carry the flags of press freedom advocacy, journalistic networking and the promotion of higher professional standards.

This year tested the abilities we have developed over the past 11 years in unprecedented ways. We undertook, for example, to function as local organisers in Trinidad and Tobago for the 61st World Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI). It was one of the biggest media events ever hosted in the Caribbean with over 400 participants from North, Central and South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific.

I pay special tribute to Kiran Maharaj, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association who co-chaired the Local Organising Committee and made many things possible that would have otherwise not taken place. Nylah Ali, Adelle Roopchand, Naylan Dwarika, Wendy Sealy, Fazilette McIntyre and Frances Lakatoo also contributed meaningfully to much of the preparatory work that needed to be done.

This year, we also partnered with several international and regional organisations for subject-specific journalistic workshops on food and agriculture journalism, reporting development issues, the environment, international trade, reporting on violence against children and covering international human rights. Close to 100 regional journalists would have participated in these events sponsored by UNDP, UNICEF, UWI, CARDI/CTA, Caricom Secretariat and UNEP.

In 2012, we also participated in press freedom missions in Jamaica and Barbados led by the IPI, with which we have a meaningful cooperation agreement, signed in 2011. Special thanks to IPI Director, Alison Bethel-McKenzie, for ensuring that the Caribbean remains in international focus on matters related to media development. IPI remains an important resource for professional guidance and institutional support.

We also signed a cooperation agreement with the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) with which we share many things in common. We hope to work with PINA in 2013 specifically on development of journalistic training resources on covering food and agriculture issues and generally on information-sharing measures. Like the ACM, PINA is engaged in media development work in a region of island states facing very similar challenges. Unlike the ACM, PINA is on the road to financial sustainability through its dual role as press freedom organisation and news agency (PACNEWS). We have agreed that there is much to learn from each other and the ACM has shared information on our work with developing journalistic guides on covering elections and climate change and our effectiveness on press freedom issues.

During the course of 2012, we also continued our active engagement in the work of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) – another very important partner and generous source of institutional support. Through the IFEX Latin American and Caribbean Alliance (IFEX-ALC) we were able to contribute to the first publication of a report on impunity in Latin America and the Caribbean and also to launch it in Guatemala in time for international observance of International Day to End Impunity 2012. The ACM also sits as a member of the Council of IFEX and is currently engaged in planning for the next General Meeting of the body in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in June 2013.

We have also been elected as an alternate member from the Latin America and Caribbean region of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) which is an umbrella body of international media development agencies. Several Caribbean countries currently benefit from programmes extended by members of the GFMD. Our internal mandate has been to attract greater attention to the needs of Caribbean media outfits and their operatives. Most of these bodies are currently actively engaged in re-building media plant and operations in Haiti and several English-speaking Caribbean journalists have benefited from training programme and symposia hosted by other GFMD members.

But much more work needs to be done at home to build capacity and support for our national affiliates: Antigua and Barbuda Media Congress (ABMC), Barbados Association of Journalists (BAJ), Media Workers Association of Dominica - MWAD (dormant), Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG), Guyana Press Association (GPA), Association of Surinamese Journalists, Media Association of Saint Lucia (MASL, born in 2012), Media Workers Association of St Kitts and Nevis (MWASKN), Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) and Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ).

In the New Year, we hope to work more assiduously with colleagues in St Vincent and the Grenadines to help establish a national association; with journalists in Haiti to identify a new partner organisation and with the Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas of the Dominican Republic to determine the terms of its engagement with the ACM.

We have achieved much with very little in 2012. All of our work is done on a voluntary basis by persons otherwise engaged in journalism and other communication work. This is not easy.

The current executive committee has established a series of sub-committees with responsibility for specific areas of activity. I wish to identify one sub-committee in particular, led by Second Vice President, Byron Buckley, which has focused on training. Through Byron’s fine work, we have been able to develop our own online training curricula for application in courses to be offered via the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in 2013. My personal congratulations to Byron for the work he has done in this area.

As a result of commitments made by an international partner in 2012, our Assistant General-Secretary, Clive Bacchus, is also leading an attempt to launch a concerted programme of training on the coverage of food and agriculture issues in the Caribbean in 2013.

After 11 years of existence, there are a few people who merit special mention. Hopefully, we will someday recognise these colleagues in more tangible ways: Peter Richards, Bert Wilkinson, Nylah Ali, Clare Forrester, Angelica Hunt, Dale Enoch, Julius Gittens, Marvin Hokstam, Michael Bascombe, Tony Deyal, Lennox Grant, Raoul Pantin, Desmond Allen, Adelle Roopchand, Naylan Dwarika, Theresa Daniel, Nita Ramcharan and Vernon Khelawan come to mind.

We know we have not done everything as well as we should have and it is no great comfort that our international partners often marvel at what we achieve on an entirely voluntary basis. We are also aware that there are detractors who believe that our widening focus on human rights and freedom of expression is misplaced in the Caribbean context and that we would be better placed focusing exclusively on networking and strengthening the stock of journalistic resources. The fact is these imperatives are all highly inter-related and inter-dependent.

The ACM platform is also a Caribbean space which acknowledges a changing media landscape in which the new players are not only knocking at the door, but are actually shaping an entire infrastructure for the future.

The agenda we promote proposes greater freedom for all. We consequently oppose more restrictions under the dubious umbrella of “responsibilities” which, in most instances, has been code for self-censorship.

Press freedom, you see, is not an esoteric principle borrowed from libertarian “westerners” but an actual condition shaped by tangible laws, regulations, principles and practices. It is also not subject to cultural-relativism, now used as an excuse for human rights blindness and the belief that we are all too poor, too small and too ignorant to be free.

This is the broader challenge of the ACM as we enter 2013 and beyond – raising awareness, both within and without the new and old media industries, of the immediacy and pervasiveness of the threats that abound.

I wish all our members, friends and associates the best for the New Year and look forward to even greater support in 2013.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Intervention at OAS Permanent Council


Washington DC - December 7, 2012

Everywhere in the Caribbean we now reflect on times when persistent social, economic and political challenges had not as much tested our will and resilience as a people as they currently do.

As an organisation of journalists and other media workers, our members are close witnesses to all of this and prepare the first drafts of history not as passive observers but as active subjects of such change - freedom of expression being our principal asset.

Our interest in ensuring a future built on the foundation of unqualified support for human rights and the conditions that assure essential freedoms is thus not open to negotiation. Our partners within the Latin American and Caribbean Alliance of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange all share this uncompromising position.

We all view the role of the Inter-American Human Rights System as indispensable. However estranged from its processes Caribbean member states sometimes appear, had there not been such a mechanism for mediating questions of con-compliance with accepted norms, we would have had, in 2012, to invent such an institution.

Indeed, there is perhaps space for greater professional Caribbean participation and more direct acknowledgement of the contributions we already make, but there is no excuse for indifference to the requirement of a strong, independent and appropriately resourced infrastructure for monitoring and reporting trends and violations.

We are, in this regard, particularly concerned that Chapter 6 (of the OAS) recommendations will have the impact of significantly weakening the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression by compromising its independence and weakening its resource base.

We in fact propose a more concerted effort to elevate such a function of the inter-American system to a position of greater influence and prominence. Recent actions to repeal criminal defamation in some Caribbean territories and growing recognition of the need for access to information laws provide us with some confidence that this sub-region is ready to reflect collectively, as we often do, on a question of grave relevance to our future as sovereign states.

Development achieved in the absence of freedom and rights is guaranteed not to persist over the long term. This is especially so when we recognise the interdependent relationship between economic, social and cultural rights and the civil and political rights we cherish and are prepared to strenuously defend.