July 26, 2019
Lack of concern and respect for local journalists!

Most Vincentians, including leaders in the private and public sector, seem very clear about the role and responsibilities of the media, and they take every opportunity to remind us whenever they deem that we have fallen short. What they seem not so clear about is their responsibility in relation to media workers, especially when they invite journalists to provide coverage of their events.

Just last month, on June 14, another local newspaper carried an article headlined: “Lack of concern and respect, say journalists!” and we could not agree more.

The most common complaints have to do with failure to provide proper accommodation for journalists, including seating and protection from the elements; and very late start to events without proffering an apology or explanation as to why journalists are kept waiting.

As bad as those examples are, they pale in comparison to situations in which local journalists are made to feel like second class practitioners to foreign media workers when state visits or international events take place here.

Take for example visits to St Vincent and the Grenadines of members of the British Royal Family and heads of State. The local media are generally required to go through an accreditation process before being allowed to cover the event. Despite this, the small number of local journalists, photographers and videographers who are allowed access are routinely kept at a distance or boxed into a small area, while the multitudinous foreign journalists are generally allowed to get close to the action with much greater freedom to move around. What is particularly disturbing is that it is not uncommon for foreign officials to take it upon themselves to order local journalists about in clear view of local officials who seem unwilling or unable to come to their defence.

During the recent Exercise Tradewinds 2019, we were told that one of its main objectives was to build local capacity to act in the event of a national disaster. Local journalists were required to provide photo IDs in order to be accredited to cover the exercise, yet during the exercise, they were only allowed to cover the public opening and closing ceremonies. Apparently even the Government’s public relations arm, the Agency for Public Information was shut out from covering the simulations and desktop events! Whose capacity we wonder, was built during Tradewinds?

One wonders if during the planning stages of these events, if government officials make it their business to ensure that an enabling environment for local journalists to work is secured? Or is it that in an effort to be the consummate hosts, we kow-tow to the members of the advance parties, granting their every wish, much to the detriment of local journalists. As Vincentians, we have to do much better than this. We are a sovereign nation and there should be equity in the manner in which everyone is treated, including journalists.

These are serious issues and reflect the lack of appreciation of the role journalists perform and the importance of their profession. But this is also recognition that journalists need to organize in defence and protection of their rights. Over the years we have had journalists’ organisations formed, going into dormancy, re-established and then go into hibernation again. Is it not time for a concerted effort to revive the organisation and have the critical matters addressed?