Address by Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony at the Launching of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council
A Giant Step To Shape Ethical Standards
Address by Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony at the Launching of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council, Bay Gardens Hotel
Saturday, January 25, 2003
Mr Chairman, Madam Chairperson of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council, Lady Marie Simmons, Members of the Steering Committee of the ECPC, Visiting Media Executives, Members of the Regional and Local Press Corps,
Let me first of all invite all of you to Simply Beautiful St. Lucia, where, I trust, you were not asked at the airport “Where you’re from?” and “How long you’re staying?” If these questions were asked of our Barbadian friends, then I would say to them that Barbados must make haste to join its OECS family, so as to enjoy our policy of Freedom of Movement. Saint Lucia is honoured to have been selected as the site for the launching of the first-ever attempt by the print media of our sub-region to establish an Eastern Caribbean Press Council. This is really a giant step towards shaping ethical standards in a business that, by its nature and responsibilities, defies regulation. This initiative comes thirteen years after the demise of the Caribbean Press Council (CPC), then under the chairmanship of the respected and distinguished Caribbean jurist and great friend of the regional press, the late Aubrey Fraser. It is a welcome initiative, particularly as it springs from the efforts of the publishers and editors of the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados. The days of Aubrey Fraser were purposeful and exciting. This is not nostalgia speaking, but merely a wish to see the rekindling of the spirit that fired the press to seek a definition of itself in our evolving Caribbean society.
A WELCOME REGIONAL INITIATIVE
It is without reservation that I welcome the establishment of this Press Council in our sub-region. Several years ago, I called for the establishment of a similar council in Saint Lucia. An attempt by the local Media Association was torpedoed in its infancy. Clearly, it makes far more sense to establish a regional entity. The Council offers a wider protective umbrella, but more importantly, it is somewhat removed from the local domestic passions. This will engender greater trust and confidence among those who are compelled to turn to the Council for advice. Of course, the idea of establishing a Press Council is not new. Other countries have established similar mechanisms to insist on observance of agreed standards and conduct. Indeed, we are all familiar with the respected Press Complaints Commission of the United Kingdom. It is a Commission that, I understand, respected regional media figures such as the distinguished Editor-in-Chief of the Nation newspapers of Barbados, Mr Harold Hoyte, maintains a very close working relationship. The fact that Mr Hoyte has played a vital role to make today’s ceremony a reality adds to the credibility of the ECPC. I am also particularly pleased to note that in its composition, the ECPC encompasses the entire Eastern Caribbean and with citizens of our region of doubtless experience and integrity. Without being invidious, let me salute your distinguished chairperson, retired Justice Lady Marie Simmons. The ECPC is fortunate to have attracted the leadership of Lady Marie Simmons. She is known for her fairness, firmness and sound intellect. She brings to the Council great prestige, experience and capacity for independent judgement. Similarly, the Council’s richness of experience, integrity and depth of knowledge will also be enhanced by the presence of that little man who stands so tall. He was not too long ago honoured by the University of the West Indies on behalf of all of us Caribbean citizens, for his professional contribution to journalism in the region. I speak, of course, of Rickey Singh, who is also a member of the Council’s leadership. Clearly, with the other members, including Monsignor Patrick Anthony and the energetic Leslie Pierre, the leadership you have chosen is representative of a broad collection of minds, ideas and experiences that favours the ECPC.
NEED TO BROADEN JURISDICTION
I have noted that the ECPC will be concerned, initially anyway, with newspapers, news magazines and other print publications. However, in view of the increasing importance of the electronic media (that is, of radio and television) in communicating with the public, it is to be hoped that sooner, rather than later, the ECPC's mandate and functions can be extended to encompass all segments of the media in this sub-region and, eventually, throughout the Caribbean Community.
ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE MEDIA
There are other reasons why the establishment of the Council is so necessary and timely. Governments of the region have searched for mechanisms to engage the media in dialogue to shape policy for our Caribbean Community. The diverse and fractious nature of the Press in the region has made this difficult. There has been no representative body that the governments could tap for advice and guidance on matters pertaining, for example, to the rights and privileges of media personnel in our regional community. Speaking for myself, however, there is an even more compelling reason for supporting the establishment of the Council. It can never be in the interest of our democracy, or indeed the public, for the Press and the Government to sleep in the same bed. Indeed, there is good reason why the relationship should be conditioned by mutual distrust. The Press has an overriding responsibility to jealously guard the public interest, that is the right of the public to receive accurate, honest and timely information. While distrust is unavoidable and is at the heart of the relationship between Governments and the Press, the abuse and disrespect of public functionaries and citizens is an unacceptable trend. I fear that if the press is not careful, then its audience, in the words of Tocqueville, will become “deaf.” As he put it: “ If one wishes to know the real power of the press, one should pay attention, not to what it says, but to the way in which it is listened to. There are times when its very heat is a symptom of weakness and prophesies its end. Its clamours and its fears often speak in the same voice. It only cries so loud because its audience is becoming deaf.”
Media practitioners are public figures. As such, they must attract accountability – perhaps with less intensity than politicians, but accountability nevertheless. Of course, there will always be some debate about what accountability of the press means. The press cannot crucify behave as if they are without sin when some among them are guilty of breaching, personally and otherwise, the same standards they vociferously condemn.
If the objectives of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council are met, then it might help to reduce the temptation to haul media practitioners before the courts for defamatory statements. Until now, politicians have depended on the courts of law for protection. A functioning Press Council, one that is fair, just, balanced and courageous, can act as a buffer between the aggrieved politicians and the offending journalists. But it is not just the politicians who need the council. Media practitioners need it just as well. In my own experience, I have discovered that media practitioners hate to admit when they are wrong. Some are as arrogant and self-righteous as the politicians they seek to condemn. Apologies that are insincere and misguided only drive politicians to the courts to seek vindication. This council offers to media practitioners and media houses an opportunity to get another opinion, this time from an independent source. If this Council is to earn respect and engender confidence, then all of us must agree from the outset to accept its judgements and implement its recommendations. A commitment to that effect is vital to its credibility.
CODE OF PRACTICE
When defined ethical practices are adhered to, everyone benefits – owners or publishers of the particular media enterprise, practitioners of the journalism profession, consumers of information (or the reading, viewing and listening public, if you like). The Code of Practice induces a sense of comfort, if not security, for benchmarks exist to measure infractions and standards.
BROADENING OF MANDATE
I hope that once the Council is consolidated it will broaden its mandate in two directions. First, I would urge that the Council conducts, on an annual basis, a review of the state of the press in each country falling within its jurisdiction. This review should be published for public comment. The Reports of the US State Department on the state of the press in the region are helpful, but we need to develop an independent capacity to judge ourselves. Secondly, there is unfinished business. The late Aubrey Fraser constantly championed the need to modernize the laws governing broadcasting, access to information and defamation. Unquestionably, the extant legislation in the OECS is obsolete, archaic and irrelevant to the freedoms which our Constitutions have entrenched. I urge our Editors and Publishers to conduct an early review and join governments in enacting harmonized legislation across our boundaries.
SAVOUR THE BEAUTY
Having said all of the foregoing, it is only left for me, once again, to welcome our visiting friends and invite them to savour the best of what we have to offer in the short time they have here. We also wish you well at this conference and hope that its objectives are met in full, so that our sub-regional media landscape could be one that is more of our own making than one which tends to blow according to winds generated by others. I wish you well.
January 25, 2003
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