WEEK-LONG controversies in Barbados over a local newspaper report, accompanied by a still video photo showing two students engaging in sex in a classroom, were on the decline last week as this column was being written.
The source of the controversies was the Saturday Sun, a newspaper of the Nation Publishing Company that belongs to the Port-of-Spain-based regional conglomerate, One Caribbean Media (OCM).
Like other of their enterprises — in Trinidad and Tobago, for instance — OCM decision-makers have made available to management and relevant staff a reference document on 'Ethical Principles and Operational Guidelines".
Other newspapers for which I also work — including the Jamaica Observer — would have guiding ethical principles of their own, to ensure conformity with established norms of professional integrity and social responsibility.
The specific problem, as it relates to the Saturday Sun's article of October 26 — headlined 'Sex Scene (students caught in the act on classroom video)' — is that the outcries against the report were another classic example encountered by the media, not just in the Caribbean.
It is the tendency of citizens to "shoot the messenger" for bringing the "bad news", or simply telling it as it is, within the context of what's lawful and without violating personal privacy.
In the case under review, reporting on the alarming behaviour of the two Barbadian secondary school students — similar sad occurrences have been experienced in varying ways, by other countries within Caricom.
Jamaicans would also be quite familiar and depressed over media reports about immoral behaviour, some quite atrocious, involving not just students but even teachers, police, and, worse, parents/guardians in sexual molestation of children in homes.
Hence, they could perhaps empathise with the media's challenges in providing essential coverage, in the interest of the nation as a whole, when confronted with acts of moral depravity, rather than simply shooting at the medium of the 'message'.
In adopting this position, I make a distinction between a journalism that conforms to established norms of integrity and ethical standards in news reporting and commentaries, as distinct from media practitioners and employers who have no qualms in engaging in sleaze, thriving on rumours, immoral conduct and falsehood.
In a functioning democracy it is to be expected that there will be many voices competing for attention on issues of national importance, be it of a political, religious, cultural or social nature. And the role of the media – print or electronic – must reflect, with credibility, such views within the context of the rule of law and respect for personal privacy.
I have endeavoured to embrace this general concept as a practitioner of journalism over the many years that I have had the privilege – and still do — to work for media enterprises across our Caribbean Community in print, radio and wire services.
In the process, I came to better appreciate why it is wrong to shy away from reporting or commenting on events and developments as they occur.
Equally important is that the consumers of news — readers, viewers, or listeners — should avoid "shooting the messenger", as the saying goes, when they disagree with or dislike the particular "message".
I have reminded myself of this need for mutual respect against the backdrop of the emotional responses provoked by the news story published in last week's Saturday Sun.
Written by an established, award-winning professional journalist, it was accompanied by a video-originated photo — skilfully cropped to avoid exposing the identity of two secondary school students engaged in sex in a classroom.
It so happened that the photograph of that deplorable act was already in circulation, prior to publication by the Saturday Sun—thanks to the Facebook culture syndrome that has become so much a grim feature of our changing lifestyles, and located, for all and sundry, to access on the world-wide web.
Parents and grandparents may lament and even openly cry over the continuing immorality and callousness in homes and at schools as they point to vulgarities that are now standard fare on the world-wide web.
On the other hand, today's youth, some from primary school age, as well as some parents and guardians, seem ever-ready to rationalise immoral practices, often based on their own questionable lifestyles.
Some of the negative factors involve poor parenting, deficiencies in the education system and reluctance by sections of the media, as well as religious and cultural organisations to encourage and sustain ethical and moral practices — at all levels.
Those decrying the Saturday Sun's "sex scene" article were evidently more anxious to "shoot the messenger" for simply reporting, with much care, on a disgusting act that reflects a horrible, painful social reality.
It is grievous to note that the deplorable behaviour of the two students is not a peculiarity of the Barbadian social environment. The shame of spreading immorality prevails across this Caribbean region.
Much has to do with declining standards in parenting, weak supervision at schools and social organisations, as well as — let's face it — the foreign lifestyles and practices we seem so anxious to embrace while quick to blame the media. Granted, some sections of the latter undermine their own integrity by failing to be vigilant in enforcement of the ethical principles they themselves established for professional guidance.