Sunday, 5 July 2009

Covering Elections in the Caribbean

On July 3, the Election Handbook for Caribbean Journalists, published by the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), was launched in Jamaica. It was the first in a series of launches, some of them to be accompanied by training in the coverage of elections.

Here are some of the remarks I made on the occasion:

I bring greetings from the ACM network of journalists and their representative organisations in the Caribbean region on the very significant occasion of the launch of the Jamaica Press Institute. There are also few better qualified persons to deliver the Institute’s inaugural lecture than Claude Robinson and I pay tribute to him this evening as an icon of Caribbean media practice and as a leading light in the ongoing work of crafting a Caribbean media aesthetic and frontier.

But this is hardly the brave new world our forebears thought would accompany notions of equity and freedom and political independence. Instead, the decay and decline Huxley envisioned in his novel of the same name more closely fall into alignment with present day reality.

At the core is a people seemingly gone astray and lost. Around the outer crust the declining superstructure of First and Second and Third and Fourth Estate. If there was ever a time for us to re-create ourselves it is now. If there was ever a time to take a new mark at the wicket and survey the field it is now. Caribbean society resides in the kind of pre-collapse civilizations greater than ours found difficult to negotiate.

Somewhere in all this is a brave new journalism waiting to enter the arena and to influence the kind of change needed to rescue us from ourselves. It is a journalism unfettered by the past, however valuable many of its antecedents. It is a journalism that promises to bring the brashness and irreverence of the iPod generation together with a grasp of our reality that transcends otherwise simplistic formulations that have led to a diminution of our rights and freedoms.

We cannot censor ourselves out of our current situation. Our current condition is a classic instance of needing to build a capacity to recognise the truth – a truth that has the potential to set us free.

This is the context within which the ACM approaches our mandate to network, train and advocate on behalf of Caribbean journalists and media people. It is an approach to addressing our present condition that recognises, in this particular instance, the ineluctable connection between democracy and the practice of journalism.

We also introduce our Election Handbook for Caribbean Journalists in the knowledge that the independent work of journalists in covering elections can serve as a catalyst for promoting the democratic conduct and outcomes of such exercises.

As you would recognise, especially from very recent experience here in Jamaica, the coverage of elections is much more than reporting on campaigns and the counting of ballots. Adequate coverage of elections is very much a part of the process that instills confidence in democracy and spans a much wider variety of political interaction than we sometimes care to believe.

It is our hope that this Handbook will prove useful in attempts to improve on our coverage of elections in the region. It is by no means an entirely adequate resource, nor is it the only of its kind. But is the only one that I know of that has been produced by journalists for journalists.