ECPC: The new Caribbean 'watchdog' body on ethics and freedom
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
November 30, 2002

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BRIDGETOWN - Some 13 years after the collapse of the first ever Caribbean Press Council, a new initiative is underway to launch a similar regional body for the sub-region of the Eastern Caribbean.

The Eastern Caribbean Press Council (ECPC), as it is to be known, will be an independent, self-regulating body, involved in promoting a defined code of practice to encourage and sustain professional ethics and freedom among newspapers and other publications in Barbados and countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

A five-page 'Code of Practice' for journalists of nine Eastern Caribbean states and territories, approved at a recent meeting in Grenada of publishers, editors and senior journalists, is currently being printed for distribution ahead of the formal inauguration of the ECPC.

Experiences of the former Caribbean Press Council, originally established in November 1976, as an initiative of the defunct Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association (CPBA), as well as the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU), have been drawn upon in shaping guidelines for the ECPC and drafting the related Code of Practice for Caribbean Journalists.

As discussed at two separate meetings of regional publishers, editors and senior journalists, the intention is to ultimately create a Caribbean-wide umbrella body to which existing press councils and those in formation could be affiliated without prejudice to their independence at the national or sub-regional level.

Trinidad and Tobago is the only member state of the 15-member Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) with a functioning Media Complaints Council (MCC).

Guyana is in the process of establishing a similar mechanism and media owners and editors in Jamaica are currently considering various options for fostering and upholding valued journalistic professional standards while following the progress of the ECPC prior to their own final position.

In addition to representatives from Barbados and the OECS sub-region -- Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Grenada -- journalists from Jamaica, Guyana and The Bahamas were also among participants at the first planning meeting for the proposed media body.

That meeting was hosted and chaired by the President and Editor-in-Chief of the Nation newspapers in Barbados, Harold Hoyte, on September 16. It was done on the basis of the work by a Barbados-based steering committee, established at a two-day seminar in June that was sponsored by the London-based Commonwealth Press Union.

Then followed, on November 9, another such planning meeting in Grenada, hosted and chaired by publisher and editor-in-chief of the Grenadian Voice newspaper, Leslie Pierre.

Significant progress made at the meeting resulted in the proposed structure of a seven-member ECPC to reflect the interest of the Eastern Caribbean sub-region.

It is scheduled to be inaugurated at a ceremony in Castries, St. Lucia on January 25, in cooperation with the "Voice Publishing Company".

The ECPC will be headed by a chairman of known competence and integrity and include one representative each from Barbados, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands; the OECS Secretariat; a publishers' representative and a journalists' representative.

The appointed executive officer of the Council will serve as an ex-officio or non-voting member. He will be responsible to a three-member Standing Management Committee.

Funding for the Council's work as well as training/seminars for journalists and a public education programme, is being sought from various sources, including the United Nations Development Programme for the 'Eastern Caribbean and the Commonwealth Press Union.

Publishers and editors of the Eastern Caribbean felt that having a self-regulating, independent body to address complaints against the media from governments, private sector, representative institutions and organisations and the general public, as well as foster and sustain ethical practices was the most appropriate step to pursue.

Prior to the decision to create the ECPC and arrange for its launch in January, when publishers and editors will be invited to formally sign the Code of Practice as their own commitment to support the Council, the OECS Secretariat had announced its intention to pursue a proposal for measures to regulate the media in that sub-region.

The Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Kenny Anthony, who was the first head of the OECS to endorse the initiative to create the independent ECPC, is expected to address the launching ceremony of the Council in Castries.

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