Serious problems in Dominica's press
The press in Dominica is coming under increasing pressure; it is accused of being ineffective and inefficient, like a toothless watchdog that has fallen asleep on the job, like a petulant boy entrusted with a man's job. All this is correct.
Some people have blamed the barely-alive Dominica Media Workers Association (MWAD) for the state of the press in Dominica but as we said in an earlier editorial dead or alive MWAD cannot fix the problem of Dominica's poor press. MWAD is a symptom of the malaise.
A few years ago Wesley Gibbings, the president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), at a function to observe World Press Freedom Day, advised MWAD to get its house in order. This was sound advice but we believe the press in Dominica need much more than a functioning association of media workers to become an effective institution.
Giddings himself pointed to that fact in a paper entitled the Looming Storm published in 2005. He wrote that media in Dominica, as well as the rest of the Caribbean were adversely affected by factors such as ownership of the press, political pressure, unprofessional conduct, laws and commercial interests.
In fact, Matt Peltier Jn., who has been sitting-in forever as interim president of the now defunct MWAD, presented a succinct report on the state of the media in Dominica during the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers held in Dominica four years ago. Things have not changed and may have gotten worse. When Peltier made the observation of the serious limitations of the press in Dominica his comments hardly generated a ripple.
For instance, Peltier was of the view that the effectiveness of the media was constrained by the woefully inadequately trained frontline personnel in all the media houses in Dominica. Dominican media workers are also poorly paid and work in severely cramped conditions. Yet, according to Peltier, the public regularly question both the quality and quantity of media content and there is a growing discontent with the work of the media. It seems to us that the Dominican public purchase straw but expect the delivery of gold.
Thalia Remy, the former MWAD president, said as much when she wrote, in that Gibbings article, that Dominicans are of the view that the Dominican press is excessively political, sloppy and unprofessional. But then what should you expect from a press corps that is badly in need of training, better salaries and improved working conditions as well employment opportunities.
We note too from an earlier ACM meeting, that regional journalists advised their local counterparts to pay particular attention to the proposed Broadcast Act because it could have serious implications for the day-to-day operations of the press. We whole heartedly agree. Everyone, it seems, has acknowledged that the media (audio, visual, electronic and print) has a vital role to play in these challenging times. But no single organisation has a better perspective on the issues affecting the media than the practitioners themselves. They are, therefore, in the best position to regulate themselves or to prepare themselves to play an active role in the regulatory framework that may emerge. But can the Dominican press regulate itself?
Lindsay Ross, the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Press Union stated recently in the book Imperfect Freedom: the Case for Self-Regulation in the Commonwealth Press that the media has been discussing the issue of regulation for some time but very little has been done to action this.
"Of course journalists demand a free press but with freedom comes responsibility – a moral perspective which often escapes them," she writes. "If they are not prepared to take responsibility for their own behaviour, then Governments are more than willing to implement regulations on their behalf, be it through statutory press bodies or harsh regulations."
What is frightening about the above statement is that Ross's prediction may become reality in Dominica; the process for regulating the media, by the Government, has begun. When the politicians begin searching for justifications to enact legislation to regulate the media, they have a myriad of examples of recent press violations to pick from. But the problem is not only a Dominican malaise. Jamaican columnist and journalist, Hartley Neita, in mid-April 2009 argued that there was a new breed of "non-achievers" passing themselves off as journalists in their capacity as radio talk show hosts. Neita claims that these individuals "have claimed authority over the public and profess to know more about certain professions than the trained professionals themselves".
In his critique of the press in Jamaica, the journalist argues that the noble profession of a reporter- journalist no longer exists, and news stories have become judgemental feature articles with unearned by-lines. Radio, he said, has become a medium of "suss" and personal spite.
All this suggests that media practitioners have to begin to do a lot of introspection, if the profession is to be given the respect it deserves and yearns for. To earn that respect, journalists must heed their own canon of commitment to truth, to accuracy, to fairness, balance and objectivity and to strive to clearly differentiate news from advertising, promotion and comment.
Whatever the various roles that the media may have, it must never give up its position as an independent force within society. It must never become the echo chamber of government officials or politicians or anyone else. Journalists should strive to be able to make judgements about the meaning of the information they gather and should not be unduly hindered in its dissemination to the public.
And why aren't Dominicans raising red flags (Oops! Sorry) about the increasing political interference in the gathering, dissemination and ownership of the press? MWAD cannot do that because it has no voice.