The state of the media today

Karyl Walker

Sunday, December 04, 2011

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Observer Online News Editor Karyl Walker's presentation to this year's National Journalism Awards ceremony on Friday night at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

Despite a load of criticism being heaped on the media, especially by more experienced journalists, the state of the media is not as rotten as many would have us believe.

We have in fact lost great minds and the irreplaceable talents of the esteemed John Maxwell and more recently Tino Geddes and Aggrey Brown. But if we conduct an unbiased content analysis we still have a lot to be proud of.

This year alone we have used our good offices to expose corrupt acts and unfair practices.

Let's look at the winning series of stories in the recently held Fair Play Awards which exposed the inhumane treatment meted out to patients of the St Joseph's Home in East Kingston which prompted the Minister of Local Government to launch an enquiry and revamp the way operations are handled at that facility.

The media also highlighted the case of Shanique Myrie, who was indecently violated in Barbados and another Jamaican woman, who although nabbed with contraband at the Grantley Adams Airport, was allegedly raped and sexually violated while incarcerated in that country.

These stories threw the spotlight on the way Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals are treated in that sister Caricom country and have forced the Barbadian authorities to act while the world has taken notice of the violations.

In the case of the alleged rape, two Barbadian police officers were arrested and charged and a third has fled that island.

More recently, the outrage triggered by the publication of the case involving a man who was sentenced to three months for stealing ackees from King's House resulted in the guilty man being offered bail on appeal by the same senior magistrate who sentenced him.

In addition, the Jamaican media — and you will understand my resort to a bit of self-indulgence — led by the Jamaica Observer, have totally transformed the way the world views us with our approach to online news reporting, which kept the world and the diaspora glued to their computers through the Tivoli Gardens operation, to name just one incident.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the excellent coverage we gave to the two trials and subsequent sentencing of reggae icon Buju Banton, which topped esteemed media houses such as The Associated Press, the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel, whose representatives openly expressed admiration at the speed at which our twice daily reports were posted.

The media have also championed the cause of the environment and have been staunch in exposing the human rights abuses by agents of the state, in particular the cases of entertainer Robert Hill, also known as Kentucky Kid; Negril businessman Mickey Hill; Keith Clarke; and Tajoery Small, the 11-year-old boy who was blinded by a belt being used by a teacher to beat another student.

Tajoery, thankfully received eye surgery abroad after his story was published.

I wish to take the time out to mention some of my colleagues who I think have been standard bearers of the profession: Earl Moxam, Karen Madden-James, Kayon Raynor, Rohan Powell, Kirk Wright and Dionne Jackson-Miller of the RJR group readily come to mind. Arthur Hall, Darraine Luton and Tyrone Reid of the Gleaner, Garfield Burford and Andrew Cannon of CVM-TV, the incisive Cliff Hughes and George Davis of Nationwide Radio, the developing Kimmo Matthews, Corey Robinson, Paul Henry and the effective Petre Williams-Raynor of the Observer all being honed under the tutelage of the unassuming Vernon Davidson.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention columnists Mark Wignall, Ian Boyne and Kevin O'Brien Chang.

But instead of continuing to blow our trumpets and stroke our egos we still have not done enough and need to ramp up our efforts to keep the momentum going.

Firstly, journalism is failing to attract the brightest and best of our youngsters, mainly because salaries are unattractive. This is evidenced by the search with a magnifying glass to select a young journalist of the year to be awarded at this very banquet each year.

Very few youngsters see journalism as a career. If they even join the profession, after they establish themselves they branch off into public relations, which, in most instances, offers better remuneration and more sane hours.

This is an issue that media managers need to deal with if they intend to have media houses remain competitive, relevant and producing top quality work.

There is also another important issue that we, as journalists, need to collectively champion — legislation allowing the use of recording devices in court to allow for more accurate coverage.

The archaic law which only allows us a notepad and a pen needs to go.

Another albatross around the media's neck is the libel laws which effectively limit our exposure of corruption. These matters are not ones around which we should compete for market share, for as a colleague of mine once said, we are all slaves working on different plantations.

It is my personal belief that the media could have been, and still can be more active leading and charting the debate, especially at this time, on campaign financing reform.

The most burning issue, however, is the one of errors. We have dropped the baton when it comes to our use of the written and spoken word and we simply cannot, as persons who have been entrusted with the duty to inform, entertain and educate, be so loose with the language.

Too many errors creep up in the print and electronic media and I would implore bosses in the editorial departments to implement harsh punishments on those who don't take pride in their work.

The media also have to safeguard against elevating personalities, especially in the entertainment sector, into demi-gods by giving them heavy rotation and unlimited press, only to be reporting a few months later their suspected involvement in nefarious activities. Payola has also been an ugly sore on the face of the media and seriously compromises our ability to be fair and impartial in our coverage.

We have to pull up our socks. As journalists, our opportunities today are greater than ever, but so is the responsibility we bear. We must, in everything we do, be respectful of the public, our true bosses, and we must never allow the lure of fame or fortune to distract us from what it is we are here to do, which is to be the watchdog of authority, educator of the masses, and voice of the voiceless.

In closing, I implore my colleagues to strive for excellence, which to me, means simply getting the story right.


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