“Media in a Challenging World: A 360 Degree Perspective” – International Press Institute Honors Exceptional Journalists

Recently the British High Commission afforded me a chance to go to Port Of Spain, so I could learn in a specialised seminar forged between the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) and The International Press Institute (IPI) on honing my skills.

These workshops, which ran from June 23rd to the 26th, was crafted in such a way as to educate journalists new to their careers or refreshers for those who are seasoned veterans and to embrace the new arm of Social Media practitioners as well, the many courses provided allowed huge cross-sections to concentrate or broaden their media horizons – I was very grateful to participate in some valuable lessons.

An awards dinner, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad, honored IPI’s latest World Press Freedom Hero, David Rohde, a Thomson Reuters columnist and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Rohde’s notable career has included reports from Bosnia and Afghanistan where he was held in captivity by the Taliban for more than seven months. Receiving IPI’s 2012 Free Media Pioneer Award was the 34 Multimedia Magazine, founded and published by Iryna Vidanava. The youth-oriented publication was forced to change to a digital format to circumvent the repressive regime in Belarus which shut down its earlier print version in 2005. A special citation was also given posthumously to Sir Etienne Dupuch OBE, editor and publisher of the Nassau Tribune for 54 years, who held the record for being the world’s longest serving editor. His award was accepted by his grandson Robert Carron.

This was a well-attended event where scores of African, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, South & Central American reporters made comments or sought specific knowledge in particular classes geared to encompass those use English as a native tongue or not (Interpreters were available, however, the devices provided transmitted intermittently at best and so the the writer forewent such devices based on remarks after each gathering), the Barbados delegation were rather secluded during breaks as opposed to Nigerians and Zambians who were extremely charming and gregarious. This writer made it their objective to sit at as many different tables each mealtime so as to broaden their networking opportunities – in fact, I ran out of cards two days before the seminar concluded!

Certificates at end of “Covering Corruption” workshop – (L to R) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, GIJN’s Dave Kaplan with Grenadian freelance journalist Rawle Titus (himself victimised for uncovering corruption in the Spice Isle)

This course was immediately after Registration (which was simple, swift and relatively unbureaucratic), it looked at how public records can uncover private shenanigans of those entrusted with handling their respective taxpayers’ treasuries; Dave Kaplan (a brilliant discoverer of Russian public sector greed) provided the detailed background of how Investigative Journalism has mushroomed since the forming of IPI in 1952 while Sheila Coronel (who was instrumental in the cessation of corruption from Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos) explained where to look in public records at how money is being spent while the Moderator Brant Houston was a virtual library of free or nearly free websites which track Government spending and other similar records which are crucial for investigative journalists to ply their trade effectively. Lisa Gibbs of Money Magazine also advised on where and how to examine should a media house suspect something is not correct in how funding is disbursed.

In Kaplan’s view, the Media is the tip of the spear to lance Corruption before any worse festering can occur – while Coronel suggested ways to uncover bribery may not be a website alone, she suggested talking with Rival Contractors who did not get the bid, and all Panellists agreed the time for deep-core rivalries between media houses must end; sometimes if you fear for your own safety in breaking the news on Corruption then leak the data to another country or “rival” press so the info gets out there and when you decide to cover it, it’s because it’s already existing and officially not to do with you…

The advent of Social Media with the Internet has forged Media Alliances whereas before many houses operated like sharks or piranhas in looking to “scoop” the Opposition. Even the methods of presentation were interesting in and of themselves, Sheila Coronel used a Flash presentation which was Non-Linear in its structure (almost like a circular Family Tree which contained embedded youtube videos) and so she did not have to use a numerical progression like a typical Power Point, but could pick and choose her targets of her lecture based on time requirements.

Corruption seems to escalate the further away from USA or Britain you go, there were examples from not only Philippines, Russia or Libya & Egypt but New Guinea and Dubai among other excesses of lifestyle. The panellists and moderator even gave tips on how to script the level of rip-offs using terms the readers would be familiar with – e.g. Foie Gras, Louis Vuitton, etc. (Making the complex understandable)

One of the trainers at the seminar, Sheila Coronel, professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, told the delegates that one way to spot possible malfeasance was “to look at what was to be the ultimate product, how much was to be delivered and how much was actually delivered”.

Ms Coronel emphasised what you leave out is just as significant as what you put in, she then cited a CNBC video on youtube where a 9 year old son of an Azerbaijan official owns a condo in Dubai (it was the father of course, but she indicated this is typical when corruption is sought to be buried, since they have to rely on family or very close friends to store the ill-gained profits); there was also the citation of when The Nation (U.S. Magazine, not Bajan daily) proved the Taliban were funded by the United States Gov’t so the USA can continue the War Against Terror.

24/06/2012 Post-Opening Ceremony;- “Roundtable Discussion on Freedom of Expression Trends Worldwide”

This was a lively session, where veteran UK journalist Peter Preston interviewed four special envoys on freedom of expression, who represent the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on how Media’s freedoms and boundaries are changing in the 21st Century.

Pansy Tlakula is concerned at the high turnover of journalists not only in South Africa but globally, she would like to see journalists getting better wages for the risks they can be known to endure to get important stories… She sees many reporters with stories dying before they see light of day simply because those afflicted press decide what is news as they are either threatened personally or coerced financially to promote or ignore certain information they come across.

Frank LaRue‘s main concern is if Gov’ts decide to legislate Freedom of Expression or Freedom of Information without involving the people’s input then the next dangerous step on that slippery slope is to attempt to affix or deny based on what they deem as Official Media.

“The State of the State-Owned: A Look at the Role of State-Owned Media in Latin America, the Caribbean and Elsewhere” The Panellists included – Poonam Dabas, principal correspondent, Doordarshan News, India; Julio E. Muñoz – executive director, Inter American Press Association, USA & Attila Mong – journalism consultant, Mertek Media Monitor; editor, atlatszo.hu, Hungary… They were moderated by Enrico Woolford – Editor of The Capital in Guyana

Over much of the planet, mainstream and even Social Media outlets continue to be owned, controlled or funded by their Governments. Such branches may exist side-by-side with private or independent media, but often they are the sole repository of data and can be misused for personal ulterior motives to perpetuate power beyond democratic limits. This group examined the state of state-owned media around the world and looked at if government ownership is any good for public interests or if it seeks to encroach on liberty of choice in political or economic perspectives as it correlates to journalism at its best.

Julio Muñoz offered much to this session – he sees a fine line between Information versus Disinformation, and what he sees as Insult News, there is a difficult time when reconciling the democratic right to know which is inherent with a Free Press and freedom of expression. The director sees little difference between Havana & Caracas in terms of administrative rights and abuses thereof; Nicaragua and Argentina also adopt similar policies while not necessarily deploying draconian enforcement as Cuba or Venezuela.

Mong does not want to see Gov’t legislating Media period; he feels press can agree on ethics to attain when reporting all types of events. Hungary in Mong’s view has gone through from Communism to Conservatism while both sides wish to exert fervent control and if nothing happens soon then objective Hungarian media will soon be eroded from their landscape.

In the Q&A session, Poonam Dabas revealed in India it is not necessarily Government who tries to manipulate the News, but Permanent Secretaries or other officials of parallel rank who are oversensitive as to what may or may not offend their bosses, and therefore overreact before a story has reached the public. Ms Dabas even compared this to the popular BBC television character of Sir Humphrey in “Yes, Minister” and likening political appointees to the little dog for the logo of RCA’s “His Master’s Voice” – a very dry and astute sense of humour highly understated in her delivery.

Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev (jailed for close to 5 years for daring to show Police were corrupt), member of Nigerian delegation; IPI’s Azerbajani delegate Umud R. Mirzayev and some nut from Barbados, LOL!

IPI World Press Freedom Hero and Turkish reporter Nedim Sener spent 12 months in prison on allegations of aiding an armed terrorist organisation. Although released in March, he still faces trial and a prison sentence of up to 15 years if convicted. Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev spent four years in prison based, in part, on alleged violations of anti-terrorism law. This informal and interactive panel session was moderated by IPI’s Deputy Director and former CNN correspondent Anthony Mills, Sener and Fatullayev reviewed their respective experiences behind bars. Eynulla told the large gathering that if you decide to pursue Investigative Journalism then you must steel yourself for hardship. Never forget to fight and do not lose hope that someone will struggle to free you, like how IPI kept lobbying for his freedom.

Nedim also looked at his privileges removed – he was allowed only 3 hours per week the use of a laptop or PC to form his defense once on trial. Most of the time he filled notebooks by pencil and his hands got very cramped. Both journalists advised the participants to have solidarity across borders to prevent further cases like themselves and to keep monitoring places of Asia like Turkey and Azerbaijan so that Press Freedom can continue to grow and not wither.

“Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela: The Big Three and their Impact on Press Freedom in the Region” moderated by Davan Maharaj (extreme left), editor and executive vice president, The Los Angeles Times, USA

Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela loom large in the Caribbean region with regard to freedom of expression and press freedom. In Cuba and Venezuela, journalists endure threats of varying degrees under repressive regimes, while Mexico’s journalists are being caught in the crossfire between drug cartels and the military. Many Mexican newspapers simply do not look at crime, even bloggers have been murdered for their probing cartel’s operations.

AP’s Marjorie Miller says her staff call every hour when on assignment, if silence ensues then a rescue team is mobilised and these carry Non-Mexican cellphones just in case. Foreign journalists have a little more pull and are less likely to be murdered immediately – be it for ransom or coverage as to why to stay out.

Closest I get to CNN, ex-Anchor from Barbados with CNN Anchor… “Manipulating the Media: Government Advertising as a Reward or Punishment for Media Outlets” Jim Clancy was the Moderator of this passionate topic.

Panellists discussed how governments around the world use advertising to manipulate the media and influence news coverage, placing more government ads for positive coverage and pulling their ads from ‘negative’ media. Stabroek News was a case in point with the Bharrat Jagdeo regime, simply because Stabroek sought to examine new political parties emerging in Guyana. The discussion nearly devolved in to a “tit-for-tat” between Kaieteur News and Stabroek, however Mr Clancy was an adept Moderator and astute Diplomat – even so far as getting both sides to pose for photos with the audience.

Appearing like best buddies here – Kaieteur News’ Glenn Lall with Stabroek News’ Anand Persaud (during seminar they started to get acid over Advertising) and CNN’s Jim Clancy (who was more of a referee than moderator, LOL)

Stabroek in the end raised the price of print editions and kept staff with no lay-offs, would read of Tenders for Gov’t projects in other papers and treat as News stories and not expect Gov’t advertising.

Wesley Gibbings, president, Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers, Trinidad and Tobago chaired the session “Going Beyond Borders: Covering Breaking News in Your Own Backyard and Making Sure Your Story Gets Out to the Rest of the World”

When the big story breaks, Overseas newspapers and networks go into action, sending their veterans to the scene – The panel examined how to make sure your country can report the story happening in your backyard from your point of view and not be overshadowed by the foreign media. Canute James reviewed the Christopher “Dudus” Coke druglord crisis while Ahmad Ibrahim looked at the challenges Al Jazeera faced when covering Damascus’ civil unrest and the Bashar Al-Assad’s Government’s violent oppression of opposing coverage.

Yvette Walker of the Oklahoman making a salient point during “Online Media Ethics and the Promotion of Quality Journalism in a Changing Media Landscape”

As mainstream media increasingly find themselves competing with the Internet and as new technologies and social networking give rise to new forms of journalism, this panel sought to define how the core values of traditional journalism – such as accuracy, impartiality and editorial oversight – were affected? A case in point, according to Ms Walker, is the Travyon Martin neighbourhood watch murder where the photos relayed on Social Media were actually of the teenager as 12 not 17 as he really was at the time of his controversial death. This panel faced a heated Q&A as media practitioners seek to promote ethical, quality journalism yet remain relevant in a changing media landscape.

The African delegates were extremely active participants

Kwame Laurence from the Trinidad Express scrutinised the double edged sword of comments on newspaper items released on their website and where it is good or bad… Many audience members, this writer included, do not think commenters should be allowed unfettered access since what can be unleashed is not only tasteless but slanderous.

The closing ceremony is a story in itself and will be covered soon from now, so keep reading the Bajan Reporter

One Response

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  1. Thanks for covering this.

    Too often people forget that being a professional journalist can be a thankless and often dangerous business.

    Indeed, as the IPI Death Watch notes, journalists are literally being targeted in many countries. And globally, more than 70 journalists have already been killed in the first 7 months of 2012 alone.

    Read their stories on the IPI website here:


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