Saturday, 5 December 2015

Understanding Caribbean Immigration Issues

It's been five years since I wrote this, but I think it is worth some reflection now:

Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas – the Caribbean Migrations

Wesley Gibbings, Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers
University of Texas at Austin, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas
September 10, 2011

The first question that arises when examining the subject of international migration and the Caribbean is exactly which Caribbean you are referring to. Is it the Caribbean represented by the Association of Caribbean States – 25 states sharing the Caribbean Sea? Or is it the Caribbean as defined by the treaty establishing the 15-member Caribbean Community and Common Market?

Even within the Caribbean Community grouping, one may wish to make a distinction between French-speaking Haiti and the former Dutch colony Suriname and the former British colonies. I will focus on the 13 English-speaking Member States of the Caribbean Community, which includes the mainland territories of Belize and Guyana.

These kinds of distinctions, though not generally reflected in hemispheric studies, are important since the socio-economic dynamics at play are relatively unique. The United Kingdom, for example, does not feature prominently in the emigration statistics for Haiti and Suriname. The early dynamics of immigration also differ considerably since many British colonies in the Caribbean were once used as clearing houses for African slaves en route to the United States in the 17th Century. The eventual dominance of British colonialism also contributes to the fact that Caribbean immigrants today display a much higher level of English-language proficiency than other groups from the wider region and are today more easily accommodated into the education system and workforce of the United States than many other source countries.

Additionally, throughout the history of the English-speaking Caribbean, the only thing as profound as the effects of outward migration on our respective populations has been the centuries-long impact of a constant stream of inward migration – featuring both intra-regional and extra-regional inputs. We need not trace our steps back to the flow of the early Amerindian inhabitants or even the15th century conquests of the Portuguese and Spanish to make the point.

But it would be useful to note that our countries experienced net population gains as a result of immigration right through to the 1800s and that later growth in numbers included inflows related to the end of slavery in the British colonies, the nurturing of new settlements driven by increased trade and commerce with Europe and, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the transplanting of ex-slaves from what is now the United States of America.

To this day, for example, there are villages in Trinidad named for the military companies these early African-Americans fought under as soldiers for the British in the War of American Independence. A small number of freed American slaves also moved to several Caribbean islands, together with indentured labourers from Madeira, Germany, England and, to a much greater degree, from India.

The movement of significant numbers of people back and forth is therefore nothing new to people of the English-speaking Caribbean. With the exception of a small number of indigenous groups, few families can lay claim to longstanding genealogical links from within the Caribbean region. The Caribbean, in a sense, comprises quintessential immigrant societies.

Today, population outflows greatly outweigh immigration inflows – though we probably need to more closely examine the impact of Guatemalan and Honduran inflows into Belize, Brazilians into Guyana and Haitian refugees reaching Bahamian shores - to cite a few noteworthy examples.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are cited in the statistics as being among the biggest gross contributors within the English-speaking bloc to an overall legal Caribbean-born immigrant population of over 3.5 million in the United States. The wider diasporic community, including persons born in the US, is in the vicinity of 6 million.

The official figure for Jamaicans comprises 435,000 documented immigrants, though the general suspicion is that well over 1,000,000 Jamaicans currently reside in the United States – both legally and illegally. 

The official figure in 2009 for Trinidadians and Tobagonians who hold United States citizenship is a little under 165,000. The total figure for all immigrants is probably much higher, but the very nature of the official and unofficial processes to eventually gain residency prevents us from more specific figures.

With respect to Guyana, which is not counted among the ‘Caribbean’ countries in the official international statistics, it is estimated that more than 400,000 Guyanese live in the U.S. and Canada. This is more than half of the current population of a little over 770,000 in a country than spans more than 215,000 square kilometers – about a third the size of the state of Texas. According to one diplomatic cable dispatch, recently published by Wikileaks, more than 6,800 Guyanese legally migrate to the USA every year.


The “push” factors of political and economic conflict and hardship, coupled with the “pull” factor of familial and other links in the United States together with generally stringent immigration procedures combine to create conditions under which the US embassy in Guyana was moved to note what it described as “rampant” fraud in the execution of family-based and other petitions to secure settlement in the United States.

In all instances, though, outward migration to the United States and other developed countries invokes a number of key issues relevant to Caribbean development. The United Nations Population Division identifies the net migration rate for the Caribbean as being among the highest in the world. Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Lucia have, in per capita terms, been the front-runners. Caribbean immigrants as a group accounted for roughly 3.2 percent of unauthorised immigrants in 2009.

Among the major consequences has been a phenomenal loss of skills in selected areas. For example, the 2011 Report on International Migration in the Americas notes that between 20 and 30 percent of emigrants from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica and Grenada are employed in nursing. There are corresponding studies that determine the net financial loss on training investment in this area.

Caribbean immigrants have also been found to be more likely than other immigrants to have graduated from high school and a gender imbalance has been observed - Grenada (60.1 percent women), Barbados (58.3 percent women), Trinidad and Tobago (56.1 percent women) and Jamaica (55.7 percent women). This has a bearing on some peculiar features of Caribbean migratory trends including what Prof. Sheila Velez, an ACM associate and professor at the University of Pittsburg School of Law, describes as the “feminisation” of migration.

Among other things, this phenomenon as indicated by Prof. Velez, expresses itself in the nature of the financial remittances of immigrants. The statistics show that while women account for 52.5 percent of all migrants to the United States they are responsible for 58 percent of the remittances sent back home.

This is important, since remittances are, currently, among the most important sources of external finance to many developing countries. They surpass foreign aid in most instances and are second only to foreign direct investment. In Latin America, remittances from the United States account for about 75 per cent of all such financial transfers from abroad. The financial crash of 2007-2008 impacted directly on remittances with the figures for Latin America declining from US$69.2 billion in 2008 to US$58.9 billion for the year so far.

The region’s inherent vulnerabilities as small island states also predisposes it to peculiar challenges such as vulnerability to natural disasters, a shortage of resources to police coastlines to counteract human and narcotics trafficking, sovereign boundary issues because of the proximity of the islands to each other and limited economic prospects particularly on the part of younger members of the workforce.

Agencies such as the International Organisation for Migration therefore focus heavily on issues such as human trafficking, the promotion of inter-state dialogue, building capacities in migration management and operational procedures, promoting migrants’ rights (including access to health care), increasing income-generating options in post-conflict and/or post-disaster, unstable environments, and facilitating labour migration.

In such approaches, Caribbean journalists find abundant fodder. But among the more spectacular phenomena, regularly reported in the Caribbean media, associated with regional migration to the United States has been the high incidence of criminal deportations back to the islands.


A 2007 World Bank Report noted that between 1993 and 2004, Jamaica alone absorbed up to 1,200 criminals a year. This has presented a serious issue of social re-integration – in many instances involving people with limited knowledge of the countries to which they are being returned.
Members of the Caribbean diasporic community also play an important role in directing the social discourse not only on issues of immigration but on pivotal social and political issues. The contribution of overseas nationals to political campaign financing has also recently become a contentious issue in many Caribbean countries, the prevailing view being that such contributions tend to generate a disproportionate share of post-election rewards back to overseas political investors.
Journalistic coverage of these issues can benefit from a more wholesome understanding of the true nature of the phenomenon of Caribbean immigration into the United States. Caribbean governments are much more efficient at releasing figures on tourist arrivals than they are at publishing statistics related to those who leave our shores. This is understandable for a number of reasons including the fact that not all persons who leave without an intention to immediately return are required on standard immigration forms to do so. There is also a high level of political reticence by ruling administrations on the issue of citizens desirous of doing so on account of economic, human rights and other social reasons.
Some immediate issues that currently necessitate more ample coverage and journalistic understanding would include:
  1. The incidence of re-migration and degree of official and informal receptivity to persons who have live abroad and now wish to return on a permanent basis;
  2. The processing and treatment of criminal deportees – many of whom no longer have any meaningful ties to their home territories and some of whom have much better developed criminal skills than their domestic counterparts;
  3. The role of the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States is both significant and influential. There is an established link, for example, between political campaign activity and the financial contributions of overseas’ nationals at times of elections;
  4. There is fairly reliable, ongoing research on high levels of financial remittances, but little knowledge of retention rates – the extent to which remittance expenditures are repatriated on US goods and services;
  5. There is a need to more fully disaggregate the incidence of intra-regional migration, in part because of the existence of the CARICOM Single Market, and broader extra-regional inward migration to address the perception that Caribbean countries continue to host a burdensome disproportion of regional nationals;
  6. Within recent years, there has been an upsurge in new migrants from the African continent, India and, most significantly China. Much of this has arisen out new business and investment initiatives on the part of a growing number of Chinese businesses. The impact on inward migration has been noticeable.

The issue of Caribbean immigration, both the inflows and the outflows, represents one of the more remarkable features of the global people-scape. We are said to be present virtually anywhere, especially in the United States, where we have contributed richly to the political, economic, social and cultural aesthetic of one of a land so many of us call our second home.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Digital Security for Caribbean Journalists

Forum of Caribbean Community Media Partners
November 26, 2015
Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa, Montego Bay, Jamaica

It is one of the ironies of the modern era that our greatest technological assets are presenting some of the world’s more intractable challenges. It is, of course, possible to take the argument back to the impact of the Industrial Revolution in Britain during the late 18th into the 19th centuries and the emergence of a consumer revolution there which, in turn, helped galvanise and fuel the trade in slaves across the Atlantic right here in our lands where production for consumption in the colonial motherland was the primary activity.

I often follow discussions on what we have been calling a process of globalisation and wonder sometimes if people understand the extent to which our societies in these former colonial outposts have been a part of the internationalising of production, commerce and trade. Depending on the history class you attended, globalisation has been a feature of our lives centuries before the World Trade Organisation received its mandate 20 years ago.

I make this point to indicate that however much we consider ourselves immune or distant from both the benefits and the challenges of what the planet, its people and its resources have to offer the world is very much in us to the full extent that we are in the world.


When in 2013, therefore, Edward Snowden left his job at the National Security Agency in the United States and released thousands of classified documents to journalists, notably Glenn Greenwald of the UK Guardian, the subject of those leaks ought to have aroused the interest of people everywhere, journalists in particular.

Greenwald’s stories lifted the tightly compressed veil from a massive effort by at least two countries – the US and the UK – to coordinate efforts in a mass surveillance exercise the true scope and nature of which continue to unfold. One disclosure of not more than a year ago, for example, is that the NSA has been in the habit of monitoring every single mobile phone call being made to and from The Bahamas.

Whether we consider him to be a whistle-blowing hero or a traitorous criminal, Edward Snowden’s leaks welcomed a gigantic elephant into the room where we assemble to discuss the delicate intersection of privacy rights and national security imperative.
We will not be able to arrive at any conclusions here today, but we can certainly explore a number of dilemmas that confront us as media practitioners at different levels.

We have engaged a task which embraces two different seemingly contrasting processes. For one, our media have an interest in the shaping of an environment in which there is free and open access to public information. In fact, with very few exceptions, it is desirable that all publicly-held information should be available for accessing by all citizens including journalists.

On the other hand, we have an equally compelling motivation to resist intrusion into the conduct of our own professional affairs as journalists and, indeed, as citizens. Internationally, there are now organisations that work on uncovering surveillance practices around the world, and advocate for strong privacy protections.

This came home to Trinidad and Tobago when the government changed hands in 2010 and it was revealed that for at least eight consecutive years, the authorities had been compiling files based on the telephone conversations of labour leaders, social activists and journalists. This was followed by the passage of legislation which closely resembles an emerging menu of laws in developing countries dealing with official interception of private communications including emails, text messages and phone calls.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Interception of Communications Act prohibits such practices except in instances where there is a national security consideration or in instances where a crime punishable by 10 years or more in prison is involved. Within the first year of the new law, there were more than 250 reported interceptions – most of them linked to counter-narcotics investigations. We do not know how many convictions were achieved as a result. I suspect the figure would not be impressive. The state is not very efficient at prosecuting itself.

In Jamaica, a law bearing the same name has been in place since 2002 and was amended in 2011 to enable the authorities to disclose intercepted communications to other governments provided they meet set public interest stipulations. This followed the Manatt-Dudus Commission of Enquiry.

A closer look at this kind of measure merits another discussion at another time. But the point is being made that not all communications by citizens, among whom are our journalists, are, at law, subject to an absolute protection on the basis of the constitutional right to privacy.

But while governments are among the best resourced to execute such incursions into private communications, they are not the only ones. Both sophisticated international networks and petty cyber criminals are now known to be among the more prolific users of surveillance hardware and software in order to commit crimes including identity theft, cloning and other forms of fraud that are now known to contribute toward the commission of other crimes such as terrorism, the trade in narcotics and human trafficking.

Enter now the journalist. Not necessarily Greenwald with thousands of classified files courtesy Snowden, but perhaps an investigative journalist with the Jamaica Gleaner or Observer or Kaieteur News in Guyana or the Trinidad Guardian in possession of information that has the potential to shed light on the wrong-doing of public officials and thus help bring an end to corruption and other official malpractice.

Several challenges arise. For one, there is the question of protection of the source or sources of such information. There is no whistle-blowing legislation to protect people who wish to blow the cover on corporate or state malpractice, fraud and other wrong-doing in Caribbean Community countries with the exception of Jamaica with its Protected Disclosures Act which, of course, has to contend with the Official Secrets Act and its implications for disclosures related to information held by the state.

We have also witnessed a variety of legislative measures to address what our governments consider to be an exponential increase in criminal breaches online. It is understandable that the need to meet such a challenge through regulation is being treated as a matter requiring urgent attention, but there has so far been a tendency to legitimise official over-reach.

For example, Trinidad and Tobago’s longstanding attempt to introduce cyber-crimes legislation has been jeopardised by a fact common to other jurisdictions where new offences are being created in broad, uninformed terms that have the potential to capture otherwise innocuous online activities.

According to one analysis conducted by the Centre for Law and Democracy at the request of the ACM, there has also been a tendency to shift the onus unto users “to provide legal justification for activities which are only potentially harmful, instead of defining what is prohibited narrowly so as to capture only harmful activity.”
Much like the country’s Data Protection Act, a proposed cyber-crimes law in Trinidad and Tobago will have the impact of criminalising the otherwise innocent receipt of computer data by third parties, including journalists.

Similar challenges were experienced with respect to Grenada’s Electronic Crimes Act which essentially created an offence of “offensive” speech regardless of factual accuracy. The ACM joined with other organisations in condemning the law and arguing that the law could have had the effect of imposing a roadblock on information of public interest.

We have also argued that a public security justification for such laws ought to be precise and specific.

This might appear to be off the subject under discussion at this time, but it has a direct bearing on the ability of the authorities to legitimise incursions into both personal and corporate data sources. The threats to privacy and the integrity of journalistic data are thus, in this respect, subject to both open and surreptitious actions by the state.

So that, more or less, is the prevailing legislative environment and some trends in several countries. Some interception of private communication is permissible by the state under the law. Only in Jamaica is there a protection if the intercepted communication meets the standards set by the Protected Disclosures Act and the Official Secrets Act respectively.

The challenge now is how we operate within these parameters.
The irony is that the very technology that has become so useful to reporters in capturing and sifting information through digital means and has revolutionised the work of the investigative journalist, is what forms the basis for the development of surveillance software and other processes that provide access to the private information of media practitioners.

It is suggested that the rapid growth in the sophistication of such technologies owes much to a growing demand by governments to become more and more intrusive, often in pursuit of criminals but sometimes as part of an effort to gather information on the activities of political opponents and unfriendly states.

It has now become increasingly important for journalists and their news organisations to become more aware of the need to protect data and information and, very importantly, to protect their sources of news and information. Media development agencies are thus now working doubly hard to ensure that news organisations are equipped to counter an increasingly intense assault on the privacy of data and information received and stored by journalists and their organisations.

Awareness of this has in many instances impacted on the manner in which news sources now interact with journalists. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the 2010 disclosures led at least momentarily to a much greater degree of reticence by journalists and their sources when it came to the sharing of information. Freedom of the press was, in essence, under attack not through guns or official oppression but by the intangible tentacles of intrusive technology.

The challenge has also emerged at a time when newsroom operations in most of our territories in the region are beginning to shrink with declining investments in areas not deemed to be of urgent concern. There is virtually no investment in anti-surveillance software and few efforts made to promote greater awareness among our journalists of the need to address the increasingly prying eyes and ears of the state and also of criminal elements.

This leaves a heavy onus on individual journalists to ensure the integrity of the information they receive and disseminate is protected. This ought to be supplemented by media outfits ensuring that all technical requirements are in place once such information reaches their networks. This can include protected file storage resources and other technical back-stopping.

It would also be important for journalists and other newsroom operatives to acquire an understanding of what is required in the conduct of threat assessments and the use of encryption tools. Some training will be necessary and there are several possible low-cost online options.

There are also several basic precautions that can be taken with respect to the two main communications instruments: your mobile phone and your computer – these days invariably a laptop or tablet. In a newsroom environment, there is likely to be a networked desktop computer.

Let’s first deal with your hand-held device. It is now widely acknowledged that your mobile phone is a virtual tracking device. People who want to know where to find you can do so through the use of simple apps and by simply using your mobile number. In countries where some journalists are at risk, they develop the habit of switching SIM cards to make it more difficult to be tracked and monitored.

Additionally, you need to bear in mind that with the tendency to store a variety of information including contacts, appointments, photographs and documents, you would need to ensure that your handheld device is secure in the event it is stolen or left carelessly around.

Then there is the web browser you use to access sites that might be of interest to you when researching your story or checking the balance on your bank account or making that airline booking or checking email if you do not use a separate app – activities that require disclosure of information that should remain private.

The fact of the matter is that whether you like it or not, your browsing history always leaves a digital trail, whether you have cleared your cache and browsing history or not. That “incognito” function on your Chrome browser might offer you a level of privacy with respect to casual users of your machine at the office, but does not erase data saved in the browser and your Internet Service Provider can still record all of your activities on the computer.

A growing number of journalists now use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which provide a high level of protection for personal information including your IP address, data exchange and browsing history by using an encrypted connection to the Internet.

You can also use a Tor browser which uses a network of proxy services to beat tracking of your browsing habits and reduce the ability of hackers to get hold of data exchanged via the Internet. Even well-resourced government surveillance agencies have reported difficulty with tracking data on clunky Tor networks that move slowly but work well to mask your online footprint.

Its effectiveness has however made it a prime tool for use by criminals of all shades and it is truly a double-edged sword.
Now, let’s deal with your webmail services. I once attended a digital safety workshop in Austin, Texas put on by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. Well after registering for the workshop and sharing my Yahoo email address, the first presenter began by saying that using Yahoo mail is tantamount to leaving your car with the windows down and the engine running while you went away.

So, some of us switched to Gmail. Which is all well and good. It is recognised as being more secure than Yahoo mail and it works well. However, Gmail has now morphed into an integral part of the entire world of Google and your Google account. Outlook mail is considered relatively secure, except that as recently as last month, security experts picked up a vulnerability which leaves it as less than completely secure.

Increasingly, as well, journalists are using cloud file storage services not only as backup but as a primary platform for storing files. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Dropbox are among the most popular services. For the most part, these are generally secure services which encrypt your data while at rest. If you are concerned about the infamous iCloud hacks of last year, it was subsequently explained that the celebrities involved had been the victims of a concerted phishing attack through which hackers were able to secure log-in information.

There are also secure apps for instant messaging and for making voice and audio calls.

The brutal fact is that the best way to secure your data is not to use phones, tablets and computers at all. The bad guys, including snooping authorities, are at work morning, noon and night working on ways to find out more about you, for security, commercial and malicious reasons.

Journalists are particularly vulnerable not only as individuals, but as important links between sources of information and the audiences we serve. In the Caribbean, sufficient attention is not being paid to assessing the risks and taking action to mitigate their possible effects.

I would not prescribe a descent into systemic paranoia to which so many have already fallen prey, but would propose far greater caution than we have displayed within recent times.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Something Called Press Freedom

Accurately determining a country’s press freedom status has always been a difficult task. International human rights groups sometimes quibble over the precise metrics and there have been known to be interesting anomalies, particularly with respect to traditionally under-reported countries such as those of the Caribbean.

The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) has, since its inception, attempted to present a consistent, albeit nuanced picture of the press freedom environment through our biennial country reports prepared by national associations and focal points. These are often over-shadowed in the public space by the better known assessments of international organisations such as Reporters without Borders (RWB), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Freedom House which publish annual press freedom indices.

In times past, such reports were often prepared in the absence of meaningful consultations with practitioners on the ground and against the backdrop of a generally moribund trans-Caribbean human rights movement. Apart from a small number of special interest groups that do fine work in the areas of LGBT advocacy, gender equity, workers’ rights and environmental rights, there are few that appear to have the faintest interest in one of the fundamental pillars of the democratic process – freedom of expression.

This unpardonable vacuum has created conditions under which advocates in one category of rights – whether civil and political or economic, social and cultural – do not feel inclined to draw the connection between their individual causes and the need to foster an environment of free expression. As a consequence, free expression and press freedom advocates in the Caribbean often embark upon the lonely task of bringing to light the value of such freedoms to the polity as a whole.

It is by no means a politically neutral engagement. Press freedom is subject to fickle support. Opposition politicians focus on the inalienability of the right, but quickly remind us all of the need to be “responsible” whenever the political tables turn.

The fact of the matter, of course, is that freedom does carry with it a requirement to be responsible. But it is equally difficult to be responsible if one is not free.

If you have a situation in which accountability and transparency are not the norm, access to information laws are defective and whistle-blowers are punished instead of being protected, then journalists are drawn to the “leak” and the unofficial release of information often attached to less than honourable motives. Yet, our societies crave the truth and there is usually an outcry for more and more “investigative journalism.”

It is a campaign riddled with no shortage of duplicity. Many politicians, captains of industry, opinion-leaders and others in responsible positions may not survive properly conducted investigative journalism. In a sense, in our small authoritarian geographic spaces, nobody really wants this. It is sheer hypocrisy.

So this, to me, would be one of the important metrics to measure the degree of press freedom that prevails – a predisposition to speaking the truth not only to rulers, but also to the ruled.

The other variable, of course, would be the legislative and constitutional framework under which the society functions. It is clearly not enough for there to be a constitutional provision for freedom of the press, if social and cultural antecedents militate against the freedom to offend, to blaspheme, to defy sacred edict, to stand up against the powerful and, sometimes, to get it wrong without the guillotine of silence being gratuitously imposed.

For this reason, the first signs of a country serious about free expression and freedom of the press would include a commitment to decriminalise breaches of laws related to expression, protect those who blow the whistle on official wrong-doing and the opening of the doors and windows to officially-held information through real access to information laws.

In this regard, nothing heard across the political divide in most of our countries in the Caribbean is particularly encouraging.

All of this does not mean there is no freedom of the press in the region, but that in defining the processes we need to take us there, the legislative and cultural defaults have to increasingly focus on freedom and not, as is currently the case, on restriction and ultimate silence.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Press Freedom Advocacy in the Caribbean - the plight of the volunteer

In the English-speaking Caribbean, press freedom advocacy is left almost entirely up to voluntary organisations and individuals earning their incomes mainly as working journalists or, depending on the circumstances, is left to media owners and managers responding to a variety of general regulatory requirements and specific threats to their individual media enterprises.

During the course of the Grenada Revolution of 1979-1983, oppressive media conditions in that country stimulated action by a cross-section of regional publishers led by Ken Gordon of the Trinidad Express with important support from newspapers in Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica. Except for regional responses to the state advertising boycott of Stabroek News in Guyana of 2007-2008, there has not, in recent years, been a similar instance of significant, concerted regional solidarity by newspaper publishers for each other.

There is, as well, no serious culture of human rights advocacy which positions freedom of expression as central to either civil political rights or as a pillar of economic, social and cultural rights. In fact, with few exceptions in Jamaica and Guyana, there can be said to be no functioning human rights organisation that has withstood the test of political incumbency.

The Bar associations of the region, together with the legal fraternity they represent, have failed the people of the Caribbean badly through their lack of active interest in this area of human rights.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) has flown a generally consistent press freedom flag, together with the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) which has provided a sound platform for media solidarity in the face of industry-specific threats. But, apart from a floundering politically-volatile experiment in Guyana, through a Media Proprietors Association (GMPA), there do not exist concerted and cohesive efforts by the media fraternity to address press freedom challenges when they arise elsewhere.

The Curacao Media Organisation (CMO) which was recently admitted as a member of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) appears to be a hybrid association comprising both media managers and working journalists.

For the most part, the ACM has been the region’s premier press freedom advocacy group with critical support from its network of almost entirely voluntary organisations, some of which occasionally sink and emerge from significant organisational challenges.

There are current ACM-mediated “rescue” efforts in Antigua and Barbuda with respect to the Antigua and Barbuda Media Congress (ABMC) and the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) while the Barbados Association of Journalists (BAJ) is yet to hold a long overdue general meeting and the Sint Maarten Media Association which had a promising start under Marvin Hokstam is now defunct.

The volunteeristic nature of all of these organisations can be said to be among their sternest challenges. Because both their leaders and members tend to be busy journalists and other media workers, little attention is paid, or is possible, to attend to the second most important element of the game which is the availability of money to keep things going organisationally.

In Latin America, still in recovery from the dictatorships of the relatively recent past, and with a much shorter history of democratic governance than the English-speaking Caribbean, organisations that pay attention to freedom of expression and press freedom tend to be full-time professional outfits funded by development-support and human rights institutions primarily from the developed world.

In the Caribbean, such international agencies, trusts and foundations have not recognised how possible it is to have long traditions of peaceful democratic life while at the same time confront serious attacks on the ability of the press to function in an unfettered manner.

There is the added difficulty of many international organisations not recognising the vital distinction to be made between the countries constituting the geographical area of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In fact, there are United Nations agencies that do not make the distinction and are quite happy to report on the state of affairs of “Latin America” as a region without reference to the Caribbean, notwithstanding official mandates to disaggregate the two distinct sub-regions. I can say a lot about this particular feature of some international inter-governmental institutions but won’t provide such a distraction at this stage.

It seems to me that the challenge of volunteerism in press freedom advocacy is how to combine the best features of working journalists intervening on their own behalf while maintaining a sustainable, professional environment to facilitate expression of their concerns.

This perhaps requires a re-thinking of current approaches to include some elements of the following:

1. That Caribbean media workers associations consider formal, legal incorporation as entities with the ability to conduct research projects, training programmes, fund-raisers and campaigns that earn them an income to meet recurrent expenditures on staff and secretariat space. This, of course, carries with it the burden of corporate obligations to prepare financial and management statements, pay taxes and take care of staff needs;

2. That the state and corporate sectors be encouraged to establish independent philanthropic trusts from which funding from such enterprises can be derived for institutional support of media associations. The funding mechanism developed for independent support for the Caribbean Court of Justice is a fine example of how this can be achieved;

3. That media enterprises consider seconding full-time journalistic staff over limited periods to serve on a full-time basis with media associations. This can be a meaningful contribution on the part of media owner and manager organisations in an area in which there is mutual interest together with media worker organisations;

4. That trade unions active in the media sector play a role in lending operational support to national media worker associations;

5. That the constitutions of national associations re-consider the trend toward longer terms of office for elected officials. The recent trend has been toward extending terms to a period of two years. It might be that such a term is too long and that executive committees require more frequent refreshing;

6. The issue of entitlement to membership should be debated to determine the degree to which new media and other entrants to the industry can be embraced;

7. That national media associations play a role in developing national level frameworks for media self-regulation;

8. That, in some instances, where the national media landscape is small and limited, consideration be given to merging the operational and institutional arrangements for representing both media enterprises and media workers;

There is little doubt that the ACM, as the umbrella organisation and international interface for the Caribbean media worker fraternity also faces similar challenges of its own. But many challenges are associated with the fact that too many national affiliates are dysfunctional, poorly funded entities driven by a few devoted volunteers.

Opponents of the free press are wont to gloat on such a parlous state of affairs. So too do uninterested media workers who have proven to be their own worst enemies.

National media worker organisations are absolute necessities in today’s world. Those that continue to function well against all odds are to be applauded. Those that falter and fall need much broader and urgent support.