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.