Journalists must be more responsible on sensitive issues
- CPU seminar told By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
January 23, 2007

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Journalists in the region have been urged to adopt a more responsible approach to sensitive issues in their multi-cultural societies, in order to contribute to peace, democracy and good governance.

The Commonwealth Press Union seminar on "Social Responsibility and New Sense" was organised to ensure that media workers have the appropriate knowledge and understanding to report with sensitivity and responsibility on issues that cut across cultural, ethnic or religious divides.

"The course as I see it is about good reporting. As society becomes more diverse and ethnically mixed, there is an increased demand for reporting that is accurate and fair about every group‚€¦" said Simon Rogers, deputy editor of the Guardian newspaper, who was the facilitator of the course.

The course was conducted from January 15 to 19 in Trinidad and Tobago. Its primary aim was to ensure that journalists are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and understanding to report with sensitivity and responsibility on issues that cut across cultural, ethnic or religious divides, while avoiding stereotypes and inflammatory language that could exacerbate conflicts after the cameras stop rolling and the headlines dry up. It emphasised the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the fundamental characteristics of various religions and cultures, so as to avoid mistakes that might cause offence or inflame ethnic or religious tensions.

"Truth offends," Maulaana Mustapha Kemal Hydal of the Aamidiya Anjuman, told participants, "‚€¦So good journalism is the art of saying the offensive in an inoffensive way." Hydal discussed reporting on Muslim communities, which have been stigmatised in the media regionally and internationally.

He felt it essential for media workers to be self critical, while at the same time developing respect for all cultures and religion on the way to developing a companionship with the audience. "You're readers are looking for something positive in a world of negatives," he added.

Father Henry Charles, a columnist for the Trinidad Guardian and a trained lawyer, lamented the media's failure to present a diversity of views. "Diversity is a good check on bias and prejudice," he explained. He added that the coverage of religion, in particular, is problematic. He described it as dreary, predictable and boring in lieu of a scandal, which for him does not pass muster at the bar of fairness.

Devant Maharaj, the head of Radio Jaagriti, shared similar sentiments in his talk on "How the Media Gets it Wrong."

He noted that the coverage of the culture in Trinidad reflects a distorted picture. He cited a Trinidad Guardian analysis that found that persons of African descent occupied the largest share of coverage, except in relation to crime, where Indo-Trinis are represented as victims and Afro-Trinis as perpetrators.

Maharaj explained that there are unconscious biases that might not necessarily be bad, although he warned that the media ran the risk of the negative implications, like the Indian community feeling shut out.

Meanwhile, Anton Lafond, a transport planner and advocate for the disabled and elderly, spoke about disability, which he said remains the forgotten aspect of diversity. He noted that for everyone disability is inevitable with age.

Participants at the seminar included reporters from the Trinidad Express, the Trinidad Guardian, 103 FM, Jaagriti, CNMG, Power 102, Gayelle, TV6, CNC 3 and 1-95 FM, as well as regional participants from the Barbados Nation, the Jamaica Gleaner, the Searchlight of St Vincent, the Guyana Chronicle, the Kaieteur News, and the Stabroek News.