Vi­sion Com­mis­sion Chal­lenges Me­dia To Come Out the Box!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Toni Ni­cholas

As I told Ron­ald “Boo” Hink­son and Adrian Augier last Sun­day, I can­not think of many things ca­pa­ble of at­tract­ing me away from home on a Sun­day. Other than church, that is. Or per­haps a prece­den­tial na­tional event. It was with some trepre­da­tion, then, that I ac­cepted the Na­tional Vi­sion Com­mis­sion’s in­vi­ta­tion to join its dia­logue with the me­dia. I ac­tu­ally ar­rived at the venue bang on time: 3 pm.

The Na­tional Vi­sion Com­mis­sion was es­tab­lished last year by a Cabi­net mem­o­ran­dum with a man­date to mount a Na­tional Dia­logue by en­gage­ing a broad spec­trum of Saint Lu­cian so­ci­ety; the ar­tic­u­la­tion of a Na­tional Vi­sion—an ex­pres­sion of a fu­ture Saint Lu­cia. That’s the of­fi­cial line, as pre­sented by the group’s PR man Vin­cent Small.

The Com­mis­sion had cho­sen the me­dia as its first point of con­tact in can­vass­ing the views and opin­ions of cit­i­zens, on a Saint Lu­cia of to­mor­row.

In ex­plain­ing the com­mis­sion’s func­tion, En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and Com­mis­sion mem­ber Bishnu Tulsie said: “Ev­ery year there is a call from the gov­ern­ment for var­i­ous agen­cies to sub­mit pro­pos­als for the bud­get. Sub­mis­sions go to the min­istry of fi­nance, the min­istry of eco­nomic plan­ning, fol­lowed by dis­cus­sions among the min­istry of fi­nance and the var­i­ous sec­tors, and then a bud­get comes out that’s pre­sented to par­lia­ment and passed. Then a year goes by and the process re­peats it­self.” There is next to no in­volve­ment of the peo­ple, said Tulsie and lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity.

Dur­ing the first open dia­logue, mod­er­ated by Stephen King and Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion Prez Clin­ton Reynolds, jour­nal­ist Jerry Ge­orge ex­pressed a mea­sure of cyn­i­cism. “Seven­teen years ago,” he said, “the CARICOM sec­re­tariat did some­thing like this. The out­come was two or three vol­umes of in­for­ma­tion col­lected. You ask most cit­i­zens about this vi­sion of CARICOM and they will tell you min­is­ters gather, eat a lot, spend a lot of the peo­ple’s money, then go home with noth­ing for the peo­ple. So, this is the fear I have: that we will talk and talk and the same peo­ple who should see the process through will stymie it. We call th­ese peo­ple politi­cians.”

What very of­ten hap­pened, Ge­orge went on, is that “as soon as a new party comes in af­ter an elec­tion they shelve the plans of their pre­de­ces­sor.”

Dr. King chal­lenged the me­dia to hold politi­cians and their sys­tems accountable. “This will only work if the peo­ple de­mand an­swers. We are the ones to fix things that are not work­ing.”

RSL’s Keisha St. He­lene shared Ge­orge’s con­cern. Voice edi­tor Guy El­lis was less pes­simistic. “I like what I see here to­day, a group­ing of peo­ple closer to the ground,” he said. “The po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is the most wor­ry­ing as­pect of life in Saint Lu­cia and I am just won­der­ing whether we in the me­dia would be right in ex­pect­ing that when this com­mis­sion makes its rec­om­men­da­tions they will be acted upon speed­ily.” He ref­er­enced the con­sti­tu­tional re­form doc­u­ment that is yet to be tabled be­fore par­lia­ment over three years af­ter it was sub­mit­ted to the gov­ern­ment.

King shot back: “What is the me­dia do­ing to ed­u­cate peo­ple about what is in that re­port?”

Film pro­ducer Dale Eliott spoke of the in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity of elected of­fi­cials. “It seems we are ex­pected ev­ery morn­ing to chase af­ter politi­cians for in­for­ma­tion. How do we hold them accountable if we can’t find them?”

RSL’s Shel­ton Daniel: “You do that by over­look­ing them. You see this thing about want­ing to have politi­cians ac­count for them­selves? It’s like ap­peal­ing to the very same court that con­victed you in the first place.”

Said Shel­ton; “I want to see some po­lit­i­cal growth and ma­tu­rity in our coun­try . . . in­stead of politi­cians play­ing to a gallery of largely un­e­d­u­cated, un­so­phis­ti­cated peo­ple. Politi­cians are peo­ple we pick out from the gen­eral pool of who we are as a peo­ple and put them up on our shoul­ders, so to speak, in the hope that from that van­tage they can see fur­ther than we can.”

If the peo­ple, as well as the me­dia, don’t ask the right ques­tions of the politi­cians then the politi­cians will con­tinue to play to what they imag­ine we want. “We still have a very dis­ap­point­ing cal­iber of politi­cian be­cause we still have a very de­fi­cient cal­iber of cit­i­zen, in­clud­ing those in the me­dia. We are too plugged into the politi­cian. We seem to be­lieve our news and our talk shows can­not go on with­out politi­cians.”

The au­di­ence was asked to ad­dress the one thing they loved best about Saint Lu­cia. For many it was “the nat­u­ral beauty of our coun­try, the warmth of the peo­ple.” Reynolds and El­lis con­curred: what they loved best is the re­solve of Saint Lu­cians to come to­gether in the face of ad­ver­sity.

Not STAR pub­lisher Rick Wayne: “There is no one spe­cial thing I like about Saint Lu­cia. I hate that ev­ery­thing wrong is be­ing done to Saint Lu­cia. And let no one dare tell me how to show my love for Saint Lu­cia. I alone de­cide that. And my way is by tak­ing on those hyp­ocrites who seem to be say­ing I can love this coun­try only by say­ing how won­der­ful ev­ery­thing is in Saint Lu­cia when that’s far from true.”

Skeeta Carasco, who mod­er­ated this seg­ment, al­most echoed her close rel­a­tive Rick Wayne. If we want a bet­ter Saint Lu­cia, she said, then we’ll do well not to leave ev­ery­thing to the gov­ern­ment.

The group was then charged with com­ing up with one thing they would change about Saint Lu­cia. For El­liott it was the Con­sti­tu­tion. This writer opined that the coun­try was over-gov­erned by in­ef­fec­tive peo­ple, and that must change. I firmly be­lieve con­stituency votes alone do not qual­ify a can­di­date to op­er­ate a min­istry.

“I would change the peo­ple and their at­ti­tudes,” said Rick Wayne. “I would like peo­ple to stop laugh­ing even when the joke is on them. I would like Saint Lu­cians to get an­gry once in a while and stop pre­tend­ing ev­ery­thing is won­der­ful.”

Lus­cious Dox­erie Jr. of Rise Saint Lu­cia called for a more so­lu­tion-based me­dia rather than one that ex­ists only to pass on in­for­ma­tion; Keisha St. He­len wanted change in the way we’ve been so­cial­ized.

Be­fore the end of Sun­day’s ex­er­cise there were group ses­sions aimed at com­ing up with news sto­ries and PSA’s about the pro­ceed­ings.

Adrian Augier had the fi­nal word: “This meet­ing can turn out to be the same old crap if you want it to be. Or it can be some­thing dif­fer­ent. It is re­ally up to you guys if you want to write dis­cour­ag­ing sto­ries; you can shoot this ef­fort down; or you can make this some­thing dif­fer­ent— some­thing new, and give this process a chance. We can­not con­tinue to com­plain about the Saint Lu­cia we live in un­less we our­selves try to cre­ate some kind of change.”

Ref­er­enc­ing a STAR ar­ti­cle by Wayne about a woman, her 12-year-old daugh­ter and her daugh­ter’s 3-month-old baby, whose home was “a very large wood box,” Augier said: “You don’t have to put the fo­cus on the politi­cians and the public of­fi­cials. You can make the plight of the sub­ject of your story speak vol­umes. You can raise ques­tions. What bet­ter way to cre­ate in­ter­est in health, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial is­sues? You can take the very peo­ple that you would nor­mally hold accountable and make them ir­rel­e­vant just by deal­ing with the facts; the statis­tics; the angst. Deal with the re­al­ity of that woman in a box.”

The mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to Augier, come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, with a wealth of in­for­ma­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence. They stand ready to be en­gaged by the me­dia, he promised. Com­mis­sion mem­bers present Sun­day, be­sides Augier (chair­man), were youth leader Skeeta Carasco, Merle St. Clair Au­guste (deputy prin­ci­pal SALCC), Ron­ald “Boo” Hink­son (mu­si­cian and phi­lan­thropist), Dr. Stephen King (pathol­o­gist and Se­na­tor), Bishnu Tulsie (en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist), Brenda Dun­can (ac­coun­tant) and For­tuna Hus­bands An­thony (ed­u­ca­tor). Oh, I al­most for­got to men­tion I thor­oughly en­joyed my time with fel­low jour­nal­ists and the NVC!

Dur­ing one of the ex­er­cises last Sun­day var­i­ous groups for­mu­lated press

an­nounce­ments about the ac­tiv­ity.

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