CODE OF ETHICS - GOOD FOR GOOSE AND GANDER
By Rickey Singh
May 9, 2004
(The following column is reprinted from Friday's weekly `Our Caribbean’ column, courtesy of the 'Weekend Nation' of Barbados)
YET another Caribbean Prime Minister has considered it necessary to call for a Code of Ethics for professional practitioners of the media to avoid abusing peoples' rights and undermining the very freedoms journalists wish to defend and foster.
This time, it was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, who was lamenting perceived sins of the media in his address on Monday at the opening session of a three-day Commonwealth-Caribbean Media Conference which concluded at the St. Augustine Campus of the UWI on Wednesday..
Similar concerns had previously been expressed by the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Kenny Anthony, at the time of the official inauguration in January 2003 of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council (ECPC).
Anthony, who has lead responsibility for Governance and Justice among CARICOM Heads of Government, in welcoming the initiatives that resulted in the formation of the ECPC, for which some 14 newspapers of the sub-region had committed themselves to support, had noted in his feature address:
"Everyone benefits from ethical practices - media owners or publishers, practitioners of the journalism profession, as well as consumers of information". He said that a Code of Practice, such as advocated by the ECPC, "induces a sense of comfort, if not security, for benchmarks exist to measure infractions and standards..."
For his part, Prime Minister Manning, in underscoring the value of media practitioners adhering to defined ethical professional practices, warned that "considerable amount of bias, character assassination and slander" should not be made "synonymous with professional journalism".
There are some well-placed media practitioners and decision-makers who frown on statements by politicians, particularly those heading governments, when they point to deficiencies in the media and complain against a "disregard for truth". It may be tempting for journalists to call for a code of ethics also for politicians. But that would not excuse the media deficits known to the public.
Some of the worse violators of established ethical practices are those within the region's media who often passionately beat their breasts as "champions of press freedom" while displaying callous disregard for codes of ethics, or willing to give meaningful support for independent bodies that seek to foster ethical standards - in the interest of the media and society.
Today, as the fledgling ECPC struggles for survival amid the prevailing apathy of those who fail to match rhetoric with practical support, the new President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), John Victor, in reacting to Prime Minister Manning's plea for ethical behaviour, said the association was "giving serious consideration" to establishing a code of practice for local journalists.
Good for this latest MATT assurance. But I have heard that before. MATT, as a former affiliate of the now defunct Caribbean Association of Media Workers (CAMWORK), that was my privilege to lead for some ten years, had initially resisted signing on to the code of conduct that accompanied CAMWORK's constitution, and then continued its foot-dragging on a code of ethics of its own.
There are Directors of Public Prosecution and Judges in CARICOM who have also pointed to the need for the media to establish code of ethics. Establishment is one thing, enforcement is, of course, another.
To ensure compliance, it is necessary to have vibrant, functioning bodies. There is the rub. It would seem that once created, such bodies, national or regional, fail to get the level of support required to function effectively and with any certainty of purpose. After the demise of the Caribbean Press Council, the jury is still out on the future of the ECPC. We must keep hope alive.