Me­dia Ap­praised of Rights and Re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

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

Toni Ni­cholas

Sev­eral jour­nal­ists from Saint Lu­cia and the wider Caribbean ben­e­fit­ted from a two-day work­shop in Bar­ba­dos re­cently. The Fe­bru­ary 23-24 ac­tiv­ity fo­cused on me­dia law and was or­ga­nized by the Cana­dian-funded Im­proved Ac­cess to Jus­tice in the Caribbean (IM­PACT Jus­tice). Ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­i­sa­tion, the work­shop formed part of a se­ries of pub­lic le­gal education events for an IM­PACT Jus­tice pro­ject im­ple­mented by the Univer­sity of the West Indies through the Caribbean Law In­sti­tute Cen­tre at the Cave Hill Cam­pus.

Dr. Gail Miller, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of the Caribbean Re­gional Pro­gram Global Affairs Canada, at the Cana­dian High Com­mis­sion, Bar­ba­dos spoke at the com­mence­ment of the work­shop.

“Canada has sup­ported jus­tice re­form in the Caribbean since the 1980s and we main­tain that com­mit­ment to­day with fund­ing of just over Bar­ba­dos $62 mil­lion to two projects, de­liv­ered by two re­gional in­sti­tu­tions: the Caribbean Court of Jus­tice and the Univer­sity of the West Indies. Th­ese projects are the “Ju­di­cial Re­form and In­sti­tu­tional Strength­en­ing in the Caribbean Pro­ject” and the “Im­proved Ac­cess to Jus­tice in the Caribbean Pro­ject” both aptly known as JU­RIST and IM­PACT Jus­tice re­spec­tively,” Dr. Miller said.

Pro­fes­sor Velma New­ton, IM­PACT Jus­tice Re­gional Pro­ject Di­rec­tor, pointed out at the open­ing that IM­PACT Jus­tice wanted to hear from jour­nal­ists how they see their work, what they per­ceive to be their rights and what they con­sider re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism. “We also want to hear from the per­sons in­cluded who are not jour­nal­ists where they see jour­nal­ists fall­ing down; what they would like to see them do dif­fer­ently or bet­ter. We want to hear from both how jour­nal­ists can con­trib­ute to ac­cess to jus­tice, es­pe­cially be­ing the voice of the poor and marginalised,” she stated.

Par­tic­i­pants were drawn from 13 Caribbean coun­tries and the group of 68 in­cluded academics, me­dia spe­cial­ists, jour­nal­ists and law stu­dents. Some of the top­ics cov­ered over the two days in­cluded on­line re­port­ing, defama­tion in the con­text of me­dia law, the rights of jour­nal­ists, the me­dia and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and the re­port­ing on fam­ily mat­ters and gen­der is­sues.

The first speaker was vet­eran Bar­ba­dian broad­caster Ju­lian Rogers who set the tone for the day with the topic “Need to know - the chal­lenge of keep­ing the pub­lic in­formed”. Rogers gave a brief back­ground as to the de­vel­op­ment of the me­dia in the Caribbean.

“When you look at early jour­nal­ism in the Caribbean it re­flects a very strong and com­mit­ted ef­fort to en­sure that the pub­lic were fully aware of the key is­sues af­fect­ing their lives and I would en­cour­age the jour­nal­ists in this room, when they go back home, to talk to your se­nior peo­ple about the de­vel­op­ment of par­tic­u­larly the news­pa­per in your coun­tries. You are in a busi­ness that re­ally started in an en­vi­ron­ment that was a great chal­lenge as far as ide­ol­ogy was con­cerned,” Rogers said.

Ac­cord­ing to Rogers, the “pa­per” had to re­flect the na­tional de­bate more so than the news. “This is some­thing that I think you should bear in mind. When you look at the first four or six pages of the news­pa­per, you are get­ting the lat­est news but then you go to the edi­to­rial pages and the op-ed pages, the colum­nist, the let­ter writ­ers etc., that is re­ally the real value of the pa­per, I have to tell you, be­cause the de­bate, the na­tional de­bate, is re­ally at the heart of our democ­racy.”

Rogers spent the next twenty min­utes of his pre­sen­ta­tion cit­ing ex­am­ples in var­i­ous Caribbean is­lands of political forces seek­ing to si­lence the me­dia forces that grew even stronger when, ac­cord­ing to him, by the 1970s ra­dio had be­come the pre-em­i­nent driver of com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the re­gion. He pointed to the in­tro­duc­tion of talk shows and call-in pro­grammes as “na­tional re­lease valves - democ­racy of the air­waves” and the gov­ern­ments’ at­ti­tude to sup­press the views not con­form­ing to theirs.

“Govern­ment has of­ten re­sorted to covert ac­tiv­i­ties and in many cases has suc­ceeded on its own or in col­lu­sion with jour­nal­ists them­selves. There is a creep­ing phe­nom­e­non in the last decades and now rear­ing its ugly head with the cap­ture of jour­nal­ists by political forces whose in­de­pen­dence they sought to pur­chase to fill their cred­i­bil­ity gaps,” Rogers sounded. How­ever, in his fi­nal mo­ments he of­fered this: “We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the pub­lic in­formed. That’s it; that’s our state­ment of in­tent. How we do it is re­ally up to us and to be able to do so in the face of chal­lenges from sev­eral quar­ters.”

An­drew Smith later made a pre­sen­ta­tion on “The Rights of Jour­nal­ists”. Smith, who is a lec­turer in Ja­maica, used a global sur­vey of best prac­tices as part of his pre­sen­ta­tion. He also noted that the rights of jour­nal­ists could not be dis­cussed in iso­la­tion from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of jour­nal­ists. How­ever, he noted that by and large it is about the pub­lic’s right to have ac­cess to fact and opin­ion. “I al­ways tell my stu­dents that it is al­ways about the pub­lic, it is not about you,” Smith said.

Smith urged jour­nal­ists to seek out the truth in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic and in the pur­suit of free­dom of in­for­ma­tion and the in­de­pen­dence and dig­nity of the jour­nal­is­tic pro­fes­sion. “But let’s not for­get the ba­sics - don’t pub­lish any­thing you don’t know about. Photo jour­nal­ists, make sure im­ages you show are ac­cu­rate in the age of photoshop and dig­i­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion.”

Renowned jour­nal­ist Julius Git­tens pre­sented the sub­ject “Con­fi­den­tial­ity of Sources” while Jeff Cum­ber­batch, deputy dean of the UWI fac­ulty of law in Bar­ba­dos, spoke on “Defama­tion in the Con­text of Me­dia Law”. On that is­sue jour­nal­ists were unan­i­mous in call­ing on Caribbean is­lands where defama­tion is still a crim­i­nal of­fence for this to be de­crim­i­nalised.

Barry Ran­dall, man­ag­ing Editor of Caribbean News Now, ad­dressed the sub­ject of on­line re­port­ing. Ran­dall spoke of the many chal­lenges of on­line me­dia but noted that the same prin­ci­ples of law, fair­ness and ac­cu­racy must be ad­hered to. He also cited the “cu­ri­ous” case in Saint Lu­cia in 2014 where a news an­chor was threat­ened with law­suits for read­ing a story car­ried on Caribbean News Now. How­ever, the on­line news source has so far never been taken to task.

The ses­sions at the work­shop al­lowed for ques­tion­ing and in­ter­ac­tion among par­tic­i­pants and pre­sen­ters with fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tions com­ing from at­ten­dees at the end. Cer­tifi­cates were also pre­sented to par­tic­i­pants.

The work­shop was held at the Radis­son Ho­tel in Bar­ba­dos.

Some of the me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers from Saint Lu­cia who at­tended the work­shop.

Ju­lian Rogers ad­dress­ing re­gional jour­nal­ists at a

me­dia con­fer­ence in Bar­ba­dos.

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