Prime Minister laments calibre of local, regional journalism

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

The Prime Minister has lamented the calibre of journalism in TT and other parts of the region.

He described the profession as being largely based on what he called “publish, beat down, ‘gotcha’ or simply ‘he say, she say,’ all largely, frequently, without context or recorded history.

“A listener, reader or viewer is not helped or educated through the democratic process when a journalist has a story that searches for a counterpoint. Full stop. That is it.”

Dr Rowley argued there must be context, a wider, deeper background within and to that story which helps the receiver.

He was delivering the keynote address at the opening of the 53rd general assembly of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) on Monday night at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort, Lowlands, Tobago.

The theme of the two-day event, held in collaboration with the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), is Media and Information Literacy.

Rowley said journalism today must go beyond “attempts to reach Mr and Mrs So and So for comment failed.

“Again, that is it. Story gone.”

Rowley said regional journalists must see every story they write as reporting on the history and uniqueness of Caribbean condition.

“What’s been argued as free and independent reporting has to be seen wider than the metropolitan model or context and carrying that flavour of our West-Indianness.”

He said journalism must visit and keep revisiting the volumes written on the dangers of cultural imperialism and what it has done and continues to do to the minds of West Indian people, particularly its youth.

Rowley also complained that radio stations’ schedules are “predominantly American pop or worse, American gangster, as opposed to meaningful conscious, West Indian music, art and drama.

“Worse, there are sections of the radio frequencies dedicated to the illiterate musings of the hired hitman, spewing indignation and libel for free and a fee.”

Rowley applauded the CBU and UNESCO for promoting the discussion on media and information literacy for journalism, “as a clear relevant counter to the clear and present dangers of misinformation a disinformation.”

He noted that the handbook for the assembly referred to highlights of the misinformation and disinformation dating back to the era of Cleopatra in ancient Egypt to Cambridge Analytica.

Rowley said according to verifiable reports in the British media, Cambridge Analytica’s misinformation originated in TT ten-15 years ago, then went on to the “larger playfield” in the US presidential politics.

“Interestingly, as I speak to you today, those wheels are still turning in Washington, Arizona, Georgia, New York and in some quarters here in TT.”

He urged media practitioners not to take information at face value without precautionary fact-checking.

“This is the era of the big lie or just avalanche of the common or garden lies, since shame has been reduced in its societal tempering role.

“We are now required to spend so much of our time and resources debunking lies in search of the truth.”

Rowley said TT is not only known for steelpan, calypso and soca music, but “we… in part are responsible for the modern-day popularisation of misinformation and disinformation.”

Journalism in the developing world, he suggested, should focus, investigate, interpret, educate and report on the development processes of countries.

Rowley added journalists must be guardians of the Caribbean’s history and be understanding and sympathetic to the realistic challenges confronting developing islands.

“Most importantly, journalists must be able to do so without any government guidance or intervention. As such, they must cultivate and view their world with the so-called jeweller’s eye – interpreting, educating and helping their fellow citizens to locate themselves and their interests in the wider world.”