Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Fighting Ignorance and Bigotry

Mainly as a result of negative publicity received via the internet, Cayman Islands Health Minister Anthony Eden has issued an apology for atrocities committed against Jamaican, Shellesha Woodstock, who was ushered out of the country even after there were signs that she was giving birth. She eventually gave birth to a girl child on a Cayman Islands flight to Kingston.

The unholy haste to get the “foreigner” out of their country cost the tiny British colony in the Caribbean some brownie points from prospective tourists and investors after the ensuing bad press. That is the ONLY reason for the apology, make no mistake about it.

“The conclusion of an independent clinical auditors’ report is that Ms Woodstock did not receive optimal medical care or the support she needed in accessing medical resources,” Eden is quoted by Cayman Net News as saying.

As previously mentioned in this blog, the Cayman Islands is one of the few countries in the world with the kind of oppressive immigration laws it now has. It is impossible for a child born of non-national parents in Cayman to automatically become a citizen of the country. Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals are also openly discriminated against, leading some years ago to the imposition of visa restrictions against Jamaicans – a move quickly countered by the Jamaican government which imposed its own visa regime.

Apology notwithstanding, my question stands: What the hell is Cayman doing as an Associate Member of CARICOM?

While this happens, there is a steely silence on the issue in the Jamaican press, save for one lame editorial in the Gleaner which noted the apology “with a sense of relief, then, not victory, that we note the Cayman government has conceded to an error that led to the birth of Lateisha Julene Clarke on a flight from Cayman to Jamaica on October 2, 2007.”

Relief? What is there to be relieved about? Not long after the Woodstock incident, an attempt was made to similarly get rid of a woman about to deliver twins by hustling her back to Jamaica. The children DIED. What followed was an obscenely irrelevant debate over the adequacy of health insurance for the woman.

When this small-island-big-ego nonsense reaches deadly proportions then it is time to shout at the top of our Caribbean voices: “STOP IT!”

The countries of CARICOM need to make serious decisions about these rogue nations and territories hanging around the regional corridor. Every single country that has visa regimes to block Guyanese and Jamaican visitors should be asked the question: What the hell do you want with CARICOM?

Then we need to turn to the question of Haiti and why the discrimination against them, even by countries not threatened by the undoubted stresses of a refugee situation.

Why is it still necessary, for instance, for Haitians to get a visa before entering Trinidad and Tobago? Is this prudent action to promote greater security or plain, old-fashioned ignorance and bigotry?

Do we condone this as a region? Or do we express "relief" that something worse did not happen than the mere birth of a child in the aisle of an aircraft 20,000 feet off the ground?

Saturday, 8 December 2007

At Last ...

The half-hearted response of Jamaica to atrocities committed against its citizens in the Cayman Islands is continuing with a rather curious Jamaica Gleaner editorial on December 8, 2007.

I sincerely hope the Caribbean Community is looking on closely, at least more closely that Jamaican authorities and my media colleagues.

For what it's worth, the Gleaner editorial is keeping the issue alive ... somewhat.



EDITORIAL - Acknowledging an error
published: Saturday | December 8, 2007

In international affairs, even between countries as physically close and with a shared history as The Cayman Islands and Jamaica, an outright admission of error can be very hard to come by.

It is with a sense of relief, then, not victory, that we note the Cayman government has conceded to an error that led to the birth of Lateisha Julene Clarke on a flight from Cayman to Jamaica on October 2, 2007.

Her mother, 19-year-old Shellesha Woodstock, was giving birth for the first time.

As was reported in The Gleaner, yesterday, The Cayman Islands' "Minister of Health, Anthony Eden, conceded that errors made by the staff of The Cayman Islands' Health Service Authority (HSA) led to Ms. Woodstock giving birth on a Cayman Airways flight en route to Jamaica. Ms. Woodstock did not receive optimal medical care or support she needed in accessing medical resources. It is noted that these failures in clinical care occurred despite the fact that the facilities, staff and operating procedures are generally more than adequate to handle a case such as the one presented."

At the risk of being repetitious, this is a dramatic turnaround from the HSA's initial position, as reported in The Gleaner on Monday, October 8. It was stated then that "fitness to travel was issued after a thorough medical examination confirming that the patient was not in active labour. As a point of interest, ruptured membrane in early pregnancy is not a contra-indication for air travel. The risks and options were explained to the family who chose to travel off-island to deliver the baby and requested a medical certificate allowing clearance by the airline as being fit to travel."

The horse may have already gone through the gate (or, in this case, the baby), but the fact that there is an acknowledgement of error means that should similar circumstances arise, there is a precedent to which those in a position to make the decision can look for guidance.

Although the child, born prematurely, is thankfully in decent health, in this case there is injury of more than the physical kind to take into consideration. Ms. Woodstock's dignity must have suffered a bruising, as she gave birth to her daughter on the floor of an aeroplane, high in the sky. Those could not have been the circumstances under which she envisioned bringing new life into the world.

There is a matter that has not quite been resolved, though, that of the Lateisha Julene Clarke's nationality. At the last report, in early November, the Jamaican authorities had been leaning towards nationality in the land of wood and water, this after the child initially had no nation, both Jamaica and Cayman effectively rejecting her.

Still, it is so regretful that the situation had to arise in the first place.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Guest Contribution - Julius Gittens

My Barbadian colleague, Julius Gittens, and I do not agree on many things. We argue endlessly about most everything. However, I have to give Jack his jacket regarding the appalling performance of the Caribbean media - radio in particular - following the earthquake of November 29.

I therefore give you (drum roll, please) Julius Gittens - my quarrelsome, argumentative, (most times wrong) friend and comrade ...



SHAKE, RATTLE… AND ROLLING NEWS IN THE CARIBBEAN



For once, the Caribbean was integrated. Three o'clock, November 29th, 2007.


Following radio news coverage on Thursday's earthquake produced some fissures and wobbling of its own.

Most newsrooms, luckily, had access to the Internet. But where did we go? Not to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit but to the US Geological Survey. No follow up. Not a call to anyone at UWI Seismic Unit, certainly not by any radio or television reporter in Barbados, where I was, or in a few other places I was monitoring.

The coverage seemed to suffer in other countries where the journalists' lack of media experience was a greater issue than whether they'd been through an earthquake. I was appalled that in Antigua, for example, which has had far more experiences of earthquakes, it was treated as a little five-minute report inside a regular show of music and chatter ( N.B. Having been live and continuous on radio through a quake and a flood there in 2001, I know how much the community appreciated - and expected - our presence).

Then there's what I call The CXC Essay Approach. Young journalists rip off the Internet for as much text as they can find, throw in one or two clips from officialdom and wait for the next news bulletin. One journalist in a newsroom I called told me some other journalist was "on it". Everybody needs to be "on it", covering different angles and checking different sources, then coming and telling what they know and have gathered to the audience.

And where was Martinique, the island off whose coast this quake started? No where. After all, they're French, right? What need of us to reach RFO's Marie-Claude Celeste or Caroline Popovic who could have led us to the right people, or speak themselves?

All in all, a less-than-earth-shattering exercise in live continuous news coverage, especially by radio, in too many cases.

To those of you who went the extra mile, and responded to the needs of the communities you serve by staying on the air throughout fielding calls, making calls and imparting emergency information, I say well done. Let's do better next time. Much better.

1. NOTE THE TIME WHEN S___T HAPPENS. It was on the stroke of three where I was, yet a radio station in Barbados was talking about minutes BEFORE three. Check the time, as you reach to make that cell phone call to a loved one. Maybe it's an old hack's reflex. Make it yours.

2. SEND REPORTERS OUT! Too many stations think the best place is right at the office in such an environment, just so they can call the authorities - emergency managers, police, hospital, fire etc. GO WHERE THEY ARE. GO WHERE PEOPLE ARE. Talk to the people on the street about their experiences. Or at least go and describe them BEING on the street, scampering out of buildings. You won't have any traffic problems going into town. Journalists, like firemen, are people who run to trouble as people run from it.

3. MAKE HISTORICAL REFERENCES. A good use of the UWISEISMIC (www.uwiseismic.com) and USGS ( http://earthquake.usgs.gov) is noting major events in history, whether they happened in Antigua or not. UWI scientists, NOT the Americans, noted the historical significance of yesterday's event.

4. EXPLAIN EVENTS. Whether by dint of your own research (NOT Wikipedia) or by talking to English-speaking scientists (good luck), explain events and the region's vulnerability. I heard a leading Barbadian broadcaster, inductee of the Caribbean Broadcasting Hall of Fame saying that as far as he knew, "Barbados is not in the hurric... er... earthquake ... er .. belt." Really? Explain, for example, why the magnitude of a quake is not an indicator of destructive capacity alone, as if the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. The depth of the quake is a significant issue. How big, yes, but how deep? Mr Hall-of-Famer is yet to tell us. Don't give me a reason to switch off the radio and switch on the Net. Be comprehensive, explain and repeat.

5. RADIO IS COMMUNITY. BE THE COMMUNITY. What was the first thing that people did when the earth moved? Ok, the next thing? They turned on the radio. Not the TV, the radio. They want reassurance, information, help, whether buildings toppled or if they just felt someone moved the car. Be there for them by staying on the air as long as possible, punctuating the news you are gathering with their eyewitness accounts. NOBODY hears that wonderful five-minute report you did 30 minutes to an hour later. It might be as shaky a broadcast as the tremors, but be there and STAY there. You don't have to be a 24-hour news channel to do live continuous NEWS.

6. IF IT'S A LITTLE SHAKE HERE, IT'S APOCALYPSE NOW SOMEWHERE ELSE. Ok, so you felt something. You can't be the official gauge for either a nation or a region. We are inter-connected thanks to the Earth's tasty crust. So whether your prime ministers aren't speaking to each other, WE need to be speaking to our fellow Caribbean nations and bringing our colleagues on the air. A ripple here may be a major event somewhere else. Also make the connection between what people do and disaster. An earthquake is a hazard, an event, not a disaster. A disaster happens when people die or are injured or are displaced by what we do - like build crappy buildings in crappy areas. Make the connection. Kudos to you who did. Too many did not.

7. PLAN FOR NEXT TIME. And there will be a next time. It might be an earthquake. It might a freak storm. It might be a mass casualty event, like a bus or plane crash (God forbid). It's funny; if a geriatric governor general or an ailing prime minister finally meets his/her maker, we are on the radio like white on rice. But when sudden weather or earth movements roll, how prepared are we to go on the air, link up with the community and feed them information? There are newsrooms that work only to the next newscast. Those days are long gone, friends. The deadline is now, not six o'clock.

8. RECAP. REPEAT. RE-TELL. Don't get off the air because you've spent an hour and you think that's enough. That's why our listeners switch us off and go watch CNN to learn what's happening in their backyard. Thanks to such simple, cheap software like Cool Edit, we can record off the air and turn a clip around in seconds. We can turn around a vital live interview we did with the emergency chief and repeat it, until new information becomes available. We can simply repeat the basic details that will form the basis of our major news programme. In other words, we are writing the story as it happened and telling it and re-telling it. I did not hear too many instances of information being repeated.

9. HOW NET-SAVVY ARE YOU? REALLY? If you have Internet access, consider assigning a web-savvy reporter to monitor the web, for solid information, bloggers, message boards etc. Make sure that the reporter knows where to go for authentic, authoritative information. Don't quote some website in Kansas because it was first on the Google search list.

This is not the benefit of hindsight. Those who know me well know that I've been urging stations to adopt a rolling news plan, either for significant events or significant periods of the day. Give the raving lunatic talk show host a rest and let the newsroom take over next time.

Let's get news directors, seniors and juniors together to write a rolling news plan. Radio won't kill the newsroom star. It might just make one - and keep us informed when we need it most.

Let's not kid ourselves. Really ask ourselves if yesterday was broadcast journalism's finest hour. Search ourselves not just for the answer but the solution.

--
Julius P.A. Gittens, MA
Media Consultant/Producer/Journalist

#2 Bannatyne Gardens,
Christ Church
Barbados, West Indies
BB17030

Mobile: 246-242-6870
Home: 246-437-0263

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Making Sense of Noise and Hubris

Public relations advisors to the Jamaica Labour Party can be excused if they express some discomfort over the candour of their party’s General Secretary and Minister of Industry and Trade, Karl Samuda.

The spin doctors like keeping matters of strategy on the down-low, just in case. Just in case …

However, at a November 22 discussion on political advertising in 2007, hosted by the Mona School of Business, Samuda seemed to tell all about the party’s plan during the recent general election campaign to, among other things, clinically isolate People’s National Party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, from the flock and then proceed to slit her political throat.

The strategy appeared to work.

“Timing was everything,” he said to a gathering of political pundits, a group of PNP partisans, pollsters, journalists, students, lecturers and other not so innocent bystanders.

I wondered then whether post-election Trinidad and Tobago had not meanwhile been preparing for similar introspection and open discussion on the conduct of the November 5 elections. I rather doubted it then and continue to do so.

By the way, none of the T&T party strategies of 2007 appeared to match the sophistication of the JLP campaign so that there would be no cohesive plan to reflect on in the first place.

The Congress of the People with all its MBAs and MPhils never thought that both Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday could have been extracted from their flocks for special treatment.

Panday, for one, is a far easier target than Portia. The PNM campaign which projected the “leadership” of Patrick Manning stretched his neck way out onto the chopping block. But the axe never fell at the hands of a highly vulnerable UNC, with its eyes on the Opposition benches and nothing else, and a faltering COP armed mostly with Excel spreadsheets and competently designed Microsoft Project files that told them they would win convincingly.

But who is leading the effort to collectively look back and reflect? To disaggregate the political advertising and attempt to make sense of what actually happened?

Who is measuring the contribution of state-funded media advertising to total advertising spend?

Will the media industry get together to discuss the ethical dilemma it confronted when media houses were invited to share in dubious partisan largesse? If it does not do so, media owners and managers will have great difficulty explaining to reporters that they cannot accept free phones or lunches in exchange for favourable stories.

An effort by John La Guerre and Selwyn Ryan of the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies back in 1996 sought to explore some of these issues following the election of 1995 (in the process granting me space in a subsequent UWI publication to write about Journalism and the Political Process during the General Election.).

Even so, the political parties had then sent low-level functionaries who clearly did not sit with the strategists who designed the respective campaigns. By contrast, in Jamaica last week, Samuda was there, together with Sharon Haye-Webster who was at the forefront of election planning for the PNP.

I am not sure a similar attempt is being made in time to analyse and record the ins and outs of campaign 2007 in Trinidad and Tobago. We have long moved away from reason on such matters. Radio and television noise and hubris undoubtedly prevail. But that is hardly an “analysis” of what happened.

This is not to say post-election “cas cas” has disappeared in Jamaica or that the “ro ro” of St Lucian elections almost a year later is done or that bacchanal is not about to reign in Grenada when they go to the polls next year. That’s par for the course.

But the Jamaicans certainly led the way last week in conscientiously trying to get to the bottom of pertinent issues excavated by a long, contentious election campaign.

I was not entirely impressed with the research presented by the Mona School of Business as it attempted to describe the nature and impact of political advertising during the campaign and I was very uncomfortable with the remote but distinct suggestion that such information be used to advise some kind of official policy on political advertising.

If as societies we need to intervene officially in such matters, we certainly need to be equipped with far better qualitative outputs than were presented at last week’s seminar. Otherwise, political advertising would lose the protection of free speech it needs to be effective.

But, who cares, really?




Sunday, 11 November 2007

Jamaican Babies in Cayman

I have decided to stray a bit from the issue of press freedom in the Caribbean to draw attention to a tiny British colony in the Caribbean – the Cayman Islands.

I have been following developments in the territory more closely since the advent of Cayman NetNews and its attempt to function as an independent media enterprise in the midst of what appears to be an environment not conducive to such freedoms.

On October 2, 2007, a Jamaican woman called Shellesha Woodstock gave birth to a baby girl on board Cayman Airways Flight #600 en route to Jamaica as Caymanian authorities hustled, frantically, to ensure that the child was not born on Cayman soil.

Details of the attempt to get the woman out of Grand Cayman ought to have alerted human rights advocates to gross violations of the rights of the woman and her unborn child. But there have been few lines in the Jamaican press highlighting the issue and even fewer in the Caymanian media asking serious questions about the circumstances leading to what amounts to the ‘expulsion’ of Ms Woodstock in an advanced state of pregnancy.

Now comes news that yet another Jamaican woman, unidentified by officials, gave birth in the midst of desperate attempts to ensure that her twins were not born on Caymanian soil.

Caymanian health official, Lizzette Yearwood, is quoted in Cayman NetNews as saying the measure was necessary because “the level of expertise needed for the babies’ care is not locally available.”

One would therefore assume there has been a constant flow of Caymanian women to Jamaica seeking such care for their newborn. I would like to see the statistics. Surely, the same level of care sought for the Jamaican woman and her twins should be extended to Caymanian women.

Is it just me? Or is something very, very wrong with this picture?

How far can small-island parochialism go? How uncaring? How deadly can it become?

Those with a little knowledge of the Cayman Islands would know that it is Jamaicans who have helped, more than any other group including indigenous Caymanians, to develop the tiny British colony through their work in a wide range of fields – not the least being those jobs native Caymanians resisted doing in the early years.

Today, Jamaicans need a visa to enter Caymanian territory. In an inspired move, the former P.J. Patterson administration imposed Jamaica’s own visa regime on Caymanians wishing to visit the island.

It was unfortunate that the situation had to come to the stage of tit-for-tat diplomacy, but perfectly understandable that discrimination was met with firm action.

The same has not been true in the case of discriminatory immigration policies in Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, where Jamaicans and Guyanese are not welcome.

How these countries remain evenly remotely associated with CARICOM is beyond me. Discriminatory immigration policies targeting Jamaicans and Guyanese deserve expulsion from the CARICOM circle.

To be fair to the Cayman Islands, they aren’t interested anyway, though they became an Associated CARICOM state in 1991. But what the hell are they all doing as part of the CARICOM process?

In any event, the Cayman Islands are one of the few countries in the world in which place of birth does not automatically signify citizenship or nationality.

The actions of the Caymanian authorities ought to be highlighted at the next CARICOM Inter-Sessional meeting of Heads with a view to securing the abolition of the current visa regime against Jamaicans. Same story for Turks and Caicos, BVI and Anguilla.

While I am on this subject I also want to ask the question: Why do Haitians still require visas to enter most CARICOM countries?

If we did not want Haitians among us, why were they invited to join CARICOM in the first place?

It is high time we get these anomalies out of the way. We are already seeing, courtesy the Cayman Islands, how callous and potentially deadly regional fiddling with an important issue can become.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Let us not let Guy down

New threats against Guy Delva in Haiti reinforce the fact that the situation remains dangerously tense in a country that has recently been through extremely difficult times.

Guy has been one of the most optimistic people about Haiti I have ever met. His work with SOS Journalistes and, before that, AJH, proves his credentials as a proud and committed Haitian journalist.

As a member of the regional journalistic community, through his affiliation with the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers, he has helped us understand the challenges journalists face in Haiti.

I firmly believe the rest of CARICOM can do much, much more to assert itself as part of the solution in that country. The presence of a CARICOM Office there cannot, by itself, make a difference. The region has been there before and done that … to absolutely no effect. It has been a waste of time and money.

It has been a matter of years now since I wrote the CARICOM Secretary-General offering the services of a cadre of Caribbean journalists, many of them with language competencies, to work with regional officials on a way forward for Haitian journalism.

Our colleagues in Haiti, Guy included, have looked on in anticipation for far too long now.

It is utterly frustrating to some of us that the regional secretariat with a stated commitment to facilitating the flow of information amongst Caribbean people is yet to be convinced of the value of such an alliance.

It is true that we sometimes stand against the political stakeholders – as we certainly do at this time against the act of vengeance against Stabroek News in Guyana by the Jagdeo administration and as we have in several other Caribbean countries.

But this is no time for pettiness with regard to Haiti.

I met and spoke at length with Guy recently. His optimism and willingness to make a difference must not be in vain. Let us not let Guy and his people down.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

MAKING OUR WAY IN THE WORLD

The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) has been able to keep the Caribbean firmly on the international press freedom agenda over the past six years of its existence.

I believe we have done so by capturing, in our own clumsy way, the vital connections between the work we do and the work left to be done by our societies.

This often means that the sounds of the street, the songs of the farmers, the cries of the higgler and the pain of our youth often enter the studio. Engaging the job as we have, invites dissonance and discomfort. It is both an inherent peril and a benefit of free expression.

The ACM is also, in another regard, singularly important as a Caribbean beacon. The recent meeting of Latin American and Caribbean press freedom agencies and international institutions covering the region, in Austin Texas, was one example of how ‘out of sight’ could so easily mean ‘out of mind’.

It was instructive that many delegates attended the meeting, as in the past, with a version of what comprises Latin America that excludes Caribbean islands states beyond Haiti and Cuba (and to a lesser extent, Puerto Rico).

It took my own intervention in Jordan a year and a half ago, at the first Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) to impress upon participants, not only from Latin America, that while the Caribbean and its mainland neighbours might be friends and even brothers, but we are not the same person.

The distinction is not meaningful for jingoist purposes (though this is certainly the case in some Caribbean quarters) but as a means of capturing the nuances of a region whose cultural antecedents are so similar, but at the same time decidedly different from the Latin American experience. Indeed, the same would certainly hold between countries of South America. Argentina is not the same as Uruguay and even Colombia is not the same as Venezuela.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, led by Brazilian journalist and academic, Rosental Calmon Alves and based at the University of Texas at Austin, has made a critical and perhaps unprecedented difference in this matter.

The recent LATAM/Caribbean meeting of press freedom agencies, hosted by the Knight Center with support from the Open Society Institute, provided a meaningful forum for discussions on methods currently employed by the international organizations concerned with monitoring press freedom issues.

The English-speaking Caribbean stood out for the manner in which our experience showed that the silencing of journalists is not only a function of the assassin’s bullet or the kidnapper’s mask.

The Caribbean media are being slowly suffocated by political cultures, economic circumstance, social disabilities and official policies that scavenge on our misfortune as emerging nations that survive without enduring and ancient democratic and cultural habits.

The insidious nature of the assault and the fact that it is not readily recognised even by Caribbean journalists makes the task of the ACM even more difficult.

In the end, we may have to make it in the world on our own, but only if we choose to do so.

Press freedom and its parent, free expression, are absolutely essential for our survival as viable societies. There is no natural reason, inherent in the history of the world why we should exist on our own. That we speak of independence is a wonder. That we dare speak of achieving it is more.

Had we not already had the ACM in 2007, we would have had to invent one. Independence in the field of journalism is to be earned. There is no lottery here.

Friday, 14 September 2007

DEFAMATION LAWS

One encouraging sign from the new administration in Jamaica is the promise by Prime Minister Bruce Golding to reform existing defamation legislation.

Hopefully, the Caribbean journalistic community will monitor very closely the undertaking expressed during Golding's inaugural speech to: "review the libel and slander law to ensure that it cannot be used as a firewall to protect wrongdoers."

This brings some context to current difficulties being experienced by journalists in Grenada and Dominica who are now (if they were not before) acutely aware of the "firewall" impact of such legislation.

In the process of removing this impact of civil defamation, I hope in the future all governments move on to completely eliminate criminal libel.

Monday, 23 July 2007

CARICOM OR NO CARICOM?

THE CLOAK OF INTEGRATIONIST RHETORIC

Wesley Gibbings

One of the most important aspects of the CARICOM Single Market project is the fact that international convention and domestic legislation are meant to be supported by a philosophical commitment to broader social, economic and even political integration.

Even the protracted hangover produced by the failure of the political union of 1958-1962 was eventually overcome by a sense of overwhelming economic necessity and the slim prospect that survival through critical mass might somehow be achievable. This made believers out of many. The prospect of economic death is one helluva thing.

There is no doubt, there have been both the open and quiet non-believers in the CARICOM platform (though, not necessarily its goals) - Jamaica’s Edward Seaga and Trinidad and Tobago’s Basdeo Panday being the two most notorious over recent years.

“CARICOM,” the former Jamaica Prime Minister wrote in a newspaper column last December, “is likely … to face a slide, not a climb, in the future.”

Panday’s lethargic performances on the CARICOM stage and at wider hemispheric fora always had the potential to portend his eventual, hypocritical about-turn on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and his lack of commitment to an interactive, regional paradigm beyond 15,000 voters in the Couva North constituency.

Today, we are witnessing an equally disturbing trend which bears unfortunate witness to the claim that Trinidad and Tobago’s continued engagement in the single market process is entirely a function of enlightened self-interest. In this event, resort to law and convention and not to the philosophy of regional unity seems to suffice. It’s like the ‘work to rule’ strategies of trade unions made public policy.

This indeed is the product of Antigua and Barbuda’s official response to the expulsion of journalists Vernon Khelawan of Trinidad and Tobago and Lennox Linton of Dominica and the pronouncements of this country on the issue.

Continued reference to the ‘letter’ and not the ‘spirit’ of the regulatory provisions to facilitate the free movement of CARICOM nationals through the region is ample proof of a lack of political commitment.

What has been worse, in this particular instance, has been Trinidad and Tobago’s response to the expulsion of a national of this country from another nation whose leaders have time and again sounded the integration trumpet. Foreign Affairs Minister, Arnold Piggott, has responded by reference not to the ‘spirit’ of the free movement arrangements, as has Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, but to the ‘letter’ of the law.

The best that Piggott has offered is the view that “there is the right of any immigration authorities in any country to deny entry, if they have good reason or if they grant entry to an individual and later decide otherwise, to revoke that entry.”

Skerrit, in contrasting style, immediately phoned his Antiguan counterpart and went on to publicly declare:

“We are hoping that agreements taken at the heads of government meeting when we head back to our respective countries we can in fact pass the required domestic legislation to give effect to it from a national standpoint, because people are already experiencing difficulties where we have agreed to proceed with the free movement, but there has not been a commitment in terms of our own legislation within the member states with respect to allowing for the free movement of persons.”

The entire scenario, is also, of course, in direct contravention of a 2006 CARICOM decision that where existing facilitative legislation does not exist, countries can exercise a regulatory prerogative to facilitate the entry of CARICOM citizens in the recognised work categories.

That neither Piggott nor CARICOM Ambassador, Jerry Narace, has prima facie given the benefit of considerable doubt to Khelawan might well be more a function of treasonous indifference than a lack of knowledge and commitment to single market aspirations. But their inaction contrasts sharply with Skerrit’s and, subsequently, Bharat Jagdeo’s vigorous defence of their nationals.

It is noteworthy, that at the last CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Barbados last week, Antigua and Barbuda was the only country that expressed reservations about a plan to introduce an automatic six-month stay provision for CARICOM nationals and said it would not immediately accept an expansion of the work categories to benefit from free movement.

To invoke the other, not unrelated issue, it is not that Antigua and Barbuda is any less committed to press freedom than the other countries in question. In Guyana, the Jagdeo administration is trying its best to bring the Stabroek News to financial ruin; in Dominica there is a looming broadcast code and in Trinidad and Tobago we have only for now beat back a proposed code that imposes new levels of official censorship.

The Khelawan/Linton issue has provided the entire region with an opportunity to see through the cloak of integrationist rhetoric. It is a phenomenon not unmitigated by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas whose public service framers sensed, and therefore anticipated hypocrisy and impunity.

It is to our discredit that none of the countries party to this situation has at least subscribed to the role of the CCJ as a court of original jurisdiction on matters related to the Treaty. This way, Khelawan would have had the option of a binding response much more effective than the lame and disgraceful reactions we have witnessed from Knowsley up to now.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Thou Shalt Not Be A Hypocrite!

Now, read this editorial from the state-owned Guyana Chronicle. Good going, President Jagdeo (though you need to keep your word on the Stabroek News state advertising boycott). As for you, Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, your underwear is showing.

GUYANA, HOME of the CARICOM Secretariat, is clearly on the offensive to give more practical meaning to what is a most vital people-oriented issue---free intra-regional movement of nationals of our Community.


Having made quite an impressive impact at last week's 28th CARICOM Summit in Barbados with his criticisms against the continuing hassle and prejudices being experienced by Guyanese at some airports, such as Barbados and, to a lesser extent, Trinidad and Tobago, President Bharrat Jagdeo played an influential role in the significant decision for Community nationals to stay as long as six months on arrival in any member state.


While discussions were taking place over the recent expulsion of two regional journalists from Antigua and Barbuda, one of them armed with a valid CARICOM Skilled Nationals Certificate, and on wider concerns for expansion of categories for such certificates and more effective monitoring, President Jagdeo went public with his call for removal of existing discretionary powers of immigration officers in determining length of stay for nationals with valid passports.


Subsequently, on the final day of the Heads of Government Conference, the Communique released by the Community Secretariat was to announce the "agreement" reached--except for a "reservation" entered by Antigua and Barbuda--for all Community nationals to be "allowed an automatic six-month stay on arrival in another CARICOM member state".


This should prove quite a relief to Community nationals, and particularly Guyanese, Vincentians and Jamaicans, who have had harrowing experiences at some ports of entry for holiday or business, when confronted by unfriendly and even hostile immigration officers.


Anxious as he evidently is for this new six-month stay policy to be implemented, President Jagdeo has lost no time in announcing that Guyana would take the lead by making a reality of this significant development in intra-regional movement of nationals effective from this week.


The intention is for reciprocity for Guyanese by other CARICOM partners, consistent with the collective decision taken at the summit.


In the absence of details on the framework arrangement for enforcement of the six-month stay agreement, it is assumed that the Guyana Government would have in place the necessary regulations empowering immigration officers to automatically stamp "six months" in the passport of an arriving national from another CARICOM state.


The example given for this new policy is that of the United States of America where a common stamp is used to indicate a six-month stay, even if those arriving would be gone, in a matter of days, or weeks, back to their respective countries.


However, those on a "watch list" for security purposes, or who violate the laws of a CARICOM state by any criminal act, should not expect to benefit from this new umbrella arrangement for an automatic six-month stay on arrival.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

MISLEADING LEADERS

CARICOM leaders clearly have a problem keeping their word, especially on matters related to the integration movement. Take the recent expulsion of Trinidad journalist, Vernon Khelawan and Dominican broadcaster, Lennox Linton from Antigua and Barbuda where they, without doubt, helped to add value to the media landscape there.

It is particularly irksome that at the time of these painful events, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was making preparations to put on the best regional face for George Dubya in Washington DC.

Had there not been a regional platform ie. CARICOM for him to make his grand stand, Antigua and Barbuda would not have enjoyed its few seconds in the American sun and the photo-op lapped up by the Antigua press would not have been possible.

I shall be following the upcoming CARICOM Summit very closely to hear what praises to the regional movement Mr Spencer makes.

I am also gravely disappointed that Trinidad and Tobago has abandoned Vernon Khelawan as a citizen against whom a great wrong has been inflicted. Nowhere has there been the urgency or pain as expressed by Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt following the expulsion of Lennox Linton.

Once again, Trinidad and Tobago has failed an overseas citizen.

I have not forgotten the manner in which appeals from my cousin, Richard, to Foreign Affairs Minister, Arnold Piggott, were absolutely ignored when my family thought the murder of Richard's son, Robert, was being covered up by Bermudian authorities last year.

A letter written by Richard to the Minister was neither privately nor publicly acknowledged. No political points at stake, I suppose.

Eternal vigilance remains the key.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

CHALLENGES TO CARIBBEAN JOURNALISM

Overview of major developments affecting the practice of journalism in the Caribbean

Wesley Gibbings
General Secretary
Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers

Rodney Bay, St Lucia – May 2, 2007


The ACM has found that in order for freedom of the press to be pursued there need to be permanent institutions concerned with addressing issues of professional development, interested in developing mechanisms to promote institution-building and engaged in highlighting the need for enlightened commercial and political environments conducive to free expression.

It can be surmised that most difficulties currently associated with real and perceived threats to the free press emanate both directly and indirectly from these factors. For example, deficient professional performance and standards can be linked to oppressive official sanctions designed to rein-in elements in the media deemed to be reckless and recalcitrant.

Political pressure can take the form of actions distinctly commercial in nature. For example, the withdrawal of state advertising to CaymanNet News in the Cayman Islands in 2004 was in response to politically unfavourable journalism, so too the current withholding of state advertising in the Stabroek News of Guyana.

There is also evidence that commercial advertising is frequently used as an instrument of effective prior censorship and that the concentration of media ownership in some instances, particularly by business conglomerates, can lead to a high incidence of self-censorship to protect business interests.

There appears to exist a thread of connectivity among all these elements of the media dynamic in the Caribbean. Low professional standards, defective media institutions, adverse political circumstances and uncompromising commercial interests, conspire severally and collectively to create conditions that militate against the free press in the Caribbean.

Consequently, there cannot be a discussion on the current stream of restrictive telecommunications regulations in the Caribbean without also examining questions of professionalism in the practice of journalism and institutional capacity within broadcast media houses. This is not to suggest that the penalty for poor journalism or undeveloped media outfits should be punitive laws and regulations, but that an essential connection exists and should be recognised.

It is certainly preferable that, however imperfect, the media ought to be free to publish and journalists ought to remain unfettered in the exercise of their duties.

The debate on broadcasting regulations in Grenada is not, therefore, without strong relevance to the 2006 debate on the introduction of a Broadcast Code in Trinidad and Tobago. The objective antecedents appear to be the same. So too, must we regard a proposed media policy in Guyana and the effort by the government of St Lucia in 2005 to formulate sanctions within the country’s criminal code against communication that could have the effect of “injuring the public interest.” The controversial amendment was later repealed.

It is no coincidence that some of these new measures occur at a time when the broadcast media, in particular, have expanded at an unprecedented rate without a corresponding enhancement of professional capabilities. More has not meant better – though more always presents a better possibility of greater things emerging. The more frequencies you have, the greater the chance that the diversity this medium offers can be realised.

There is a way of making the point that more has not meant better which borders on resentment of the new voices that have emerged and the suggestion that the traditional platforms have recently played a superior role in advancing the cause of freedom and democracy. With few exceptions, can anyone tell the difference?

Now that we understand some of these basic submissions, we must consider what needs to be done to ensure that this combination of sometimes complex factors do not undermine the freedoms to which we are committed.

Should the cost of free speech remain limited to passive professional tolerance of the indiscretions and malpractice of some in lieu of official intervention?

Needless to say, censorship including situations of prior censorship through licensing regimes, needs to be resisted. There is no question about it and we should never yield to the temptation to release the cross that we bear – the high cost of a free press and free speech. There is no room for compromise on this.

Most certainly, this is not a prescription for anarchy since we also assert the value of longstanding legal principles which pronounce on questions of defamation, privacy and exceptions to the coverage of selected matters related to court and parliamentary proceedings and the safety of individuals and groups.

However, it must be our prerogative to challenge such provisions and to build rational cases to support our various contentions. For example, the modern world is finding less and less space for the prosecution of criminal defamation cases. Outright censorship of books and movies and music is also an anachronism not accommodated in the age of the internet and new multimedia technologies. Even so, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago signalled in 2006 that its sights were also set on internet content for regulation. Nothing more needs to be said about this. The same language has emanated from the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica.

Some of our countries have correctly adopted ratings systems that are steps in the right direction. As far as the monitoring of media content goes, there are statutory agencies such as the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica and the various telecommunications agencies and non-governmental, self-regulatory mechanisms such as the Eastern Caribbean Press Council and the Media Complaints Commission of Trinidad and Tobago.

In an ideal situation there would be none of this. But such a condition does not now exist.

It is preferable that we find internally-generated mechanisms to provide the obvious direction we require. We must continue to insist that the best media law is no media law and the strongest, most effective regulation is self-regulation.

If we begin the debate from the perspective of how much freedom we need to surrender we miss the point of its inherent value in shaping better lives and better societies. There are too many examples of the failure of official regulation to create the conditions for more enlightened, democratic societies.

The best journalist is the free journalist, which is not to say that all free journalists are good journalists, but that those who are free are best positioned to excel and to serve the public interest in the way the profession was meant to do.

A VISION FOR CARIBBEAN PROGRAMMING

NOTES ON A VISION FOR CARIBBEAN PROGRAMMING – Wesley Gibbings, San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 11, 2006

It is extremely difficult to discuss a vision for regional media programming without addressing fundamental issues related to a broader vision for the Caribbean. The difficulties we have had in bringing indigenous media outputs to the broadcasting mainstream owes as much to questions of production values as to an underdeveloped sense of self.

It is not that we have been completely oblivious to the requirement of a new Caribbean aesthetic in the development of our own media, but that we have somehow always embraced issues of marketability in terms solely of what is externally acceptable. This now happens even as the global market is turning in on itself to the extent that internal/external dichotomies are fast disappearing. It would however appear that cultural products remain among the last bastions of continued discrimination … some say protection.

I have never, in this regard, supported official regulation as a device to guarantee airplay for domestic programmes and music. It contravenes basic principles of free expression and fair business practice and vainly attempts to legislate taste. Hopefully, greater numbers of Caribbean media people will strongly repudiate attempts to impose quota systems in their respective radio and television systems.

Current parochial formulations also willfully dismiss notions of a Caribbean paradigm. The current formulation in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, would place the music of Bob Marley – the greatest West Indian that ever lived - in the category of foreign content. No one has also thought about where we would place externally-located musicians such as Sean Paul and Heather Headley or filmmakers Horace Ove, Menelik Shabazz and Isaac Julien.

This belief that we can be in the world and not of it betrays a deficient sense of self-worth and our people would do well to snap out it sooner rather than later. West Indians understood and defined the global system long before almost everyone else. Our past was founded on the principle of a global marketplace. We participated both as subjects and as objects of the process.

There are few lessons of globalisation we can be taught but yet so little we seem to understand.

Our approach to tourism as a viable source of income and a generator of economic activity suffers from the same malaise. There is no way we can reasonably address questions of service in the sector without understanding the psychology of entrenched servitude. If you also want to talk about branding and selling you have indeed come to the right place! The double entendre is absolutely intended.

This is why, for example, the dissonance between indigenous food production and tourism in most of our countries. There is no sense that the activities of the past can so intrinsically contribute to imperatives of the present and future. Instead, we continue to display a far more remarkable ability to feast our visitors than to feed ourselves. The tourists bring the foreign exchange in and our food import bills take it out again. In the language of the Trinidadian school child, we are spinning top in mud.

The vision must first turn inward to see what we can see of ourselves. This is not to suggest that we repudiate the vast contributions of those who have sped along the highway of development, but that we also look now at the footprints we leave in the wake of the steps we take on our own narrow, dusty path with far more confidence than we have in the past.

Our mass media and our own faltering, uncertain and sometimes maddening steps also provide cause for concern for some of the same reasons. Cable television, satellite broadcasts and the Internet have helped defy attempts by our societies to impose regimes to control and regulate what we see, read and listen to. The new technologies have, gladly, made nonsense of attempts at regulated cultural protectionism, censorship and other forms of official control.

So concerned have we been with imposing new and higher levels of regulation and control that we as societies have abandoned the injunction to seek the creation of better societies – people equipped with the skills to distinguish between trash and treasure. This, to me, is our task. Not to write more laws that stifle free expression. But to reach the hearts and minds of people under siege from violence, inequity and poverty.

My vision for Caribbean programming thus embraces all that there is in the world, because we are in the world and the world is in us. Here in this oasis of movement and sound and colour and great love, it is a vision of a better place. A place that is free. A place the songwriter calls the land of hope and glory.

There is much for our cameras, sound recorders and pens to capture and much more for us to set free. It is time for us to move forward with far more confidence than we have in the past.

Pablo Neruda said these words when he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971:

“Each and every one of my verses has chosen to take its place as a tangible object, each and every one of my poems has claimed to be a useful working instrument, each and every one of my songs has endeavoured to serve as a sign in space for a meeting between paths which cross one another, or as a piece of stone or wood on which someone, some others, those who follow after, will be able to carve the new signs.”

Writers, producers, broadcasters, these are your marching orders for this century as a Caribbean people, engaged in building a future, committed, confident and free.