Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell
Caribbean Broadcasting Union
Annual General Assembly
17 August 2015
My regional sisters and brothers in broadcast media, good morning.
Let me state how happy I am that this year’s General Assembly is being held here in Grenada, on this the hallmark 46th anniversary of the CBU.
That is indeed a reason to celebrate. It is a reason to celebrate how far the region has come in broadcast media, in the quality of the technology available to media practitioners, and in the services and programmes offered to our citizens.
Nevertheless, my friends, with all that you have achieved so far, the 45th anniversary should be a time for renewed vigour in quality broadcasting.
The world has markedly changed since the CBU’s inception, and indeed, since the last decade. New advances in technology have forced us all to take a new look at the way we do business and the way we communicate.
The CBU has to be seen as that vanguard organization, leading a trail that dares others to follow. The very sustainability of our Islands depends on how you present us to the world. It also depends on how you present what we do to our citizens.
The challenge of your role in regional development is likely second only to that of the politician. You have a tremendous burden, and you have tremendous opportunity and responsibility. The success of which will depend on how you balance that overwhelming task.
It may come as a surprise to many of you, but I admire your courage and you have my complete respect, as long as you are responsible in your work. Yours is a most honorable and demanding profession.
As broadcasters, you are charged with the public good. You have essentially signed up for public service, and with that, for all the other ills such as public pressure, and public regulation. Most of all, you have signed up to work for the public interest.
Public interest does not simply mean what interests the public. Public interests are many and varied, and you have an inescapable responsibility to serve all of those interests—not one side.
Your job is to not only sell to the public but to build the public’s character and intelligence—to expand the minds of the public.
You are, as far as I am concerned, the soul and conscience of the Nation. Mark Twain once said “be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.”
I have been in politics for over 30 years, during which time, I have had occasion to question the soul of some of our Media practitioners. There has been one too many an occasion of carelessness in what is presented to the public as facts, with no checks and balances.
Too often, some broadcasters have an agenda to hurt someone or a group of persons, and they carelessly pursue that agenda, with no regard for the public good.
Let’s be clear here: I am not talking about just myself. I am simply making a case for the public. The Media must see itself as a serious component in democracy and development.
I am talking about the many instances where people, from whatever sphere of public life, have had their reputations tarnished by stories that have been crafted and published about them, without their input or verification of perceived facts.
You must be reminded that no one is allowed to use you — not government or any other group in the society.
You are not in show business. Your job is not merely to be in a popularity contest.
Your role is to seek the truth so as to edify the minds of the very people you are called to serve; not simply to sensationalize stories for public consumption or financial gain. This is not in the public’s interest.
It is therefore under the ambit of the CBU to provide continuous training and professional support to its members, so as to safeguard against some of the “below-the-belt” practices that we have seen in the name of regional journalism.
In a region in which social and economic ills and natural disasters continue to pose serious challenges to development; where our students each day face challenges against their peers around the world; where technological advances are our best friends and worse enemies, complacency, irresponsibility, smear campaigns against certain factions of society for the sake of propaganda are and should be unacceptable to an organization of the caliber of the CBU.
Your industry and organization possess the most powerful voice in the Caribbean. The onus is on you to make certain that the voice is one of professionalism, leadership, truthfulness, and intelligence. We want you to adopt best practices and policies in the best interest of your media houses. That is your right. We only ask that you do it in a fair and a responsible manner.
I will be your biggest champion, as long as fairness and balance are your guiding lights because responsibility in journalism should not be compromised by anyone.
Journalism and politics are similar in some respects. When they are good, there is nothing better; but when they are bad, they can be really bad.
As Prime Minister and Minister for Information, I have made it a matter of policy that we, as a government, listen to alternative ideas and opinions, and that we adopt positions as necessary on certain issues. This Government has shown that time and time again, when the Media has reasonably called on us to do so.
For example, when we attempted to enact the Electronic Crimes Bill, and the Media was against certain elements of the Bill, while we did not totally agree on the basis of the specific protection of different segments of society, we listened and amended appropriately.
This is what I refer to as responsibility in leadership, in journalism, in politics. We have to be prepared to adjust our stance when dissenting voices call on us to do so, in the interest of the public. No one group of us has all the answers. It takes a collaborative effort for development to truly be realized.
Therefore, my friends, over the next few days, as you deliberate and share best practices, I want you to keep in mind your true purpose in this region, and indeed, within the borders of your individual countries.
As you make contacts with some of the Caribbean’s top reporters, editors, producers, and digital experts, I want you to recall the professional media giants that have gone before and have paved the way for many of you to be here — and indeed, many of us as politicians.
Last year, we lost one such giant in Grenada — the great Leslie Pierre. He was the epitome of my charge to you today. Leslie was as opinionated as journalists come, but he was fair and he was a fact-checker. Those of you who worked with him can attest to that. In my political career, he and I disagreed over many things, but he was never nasty, he was never irresponsible and he was never one to deliberately misinform.
I cannot forget here as well, the late Alister Hughes, who was in the same vein as Leslie Pierre.
I mention them here for what it’s worth, although there have been several others like them.
Over the course of this General Assembly, I want you to also reflect on innovative ways to broaden the Caribbean market, and develop areas in digital and social media. The world has moved in that direction and it is time that we move with it for the enhancement and competitiveness of all our products, including journalism.
News reporting is now more dynamic than it has ever been. You have to be able to keep abreast as the stories unfold. Social media and live-streaming have to become your best friends; but you must always bear in mind that they can be the worst enemies, as we all know. That is where the vigilance of your craft comes into play.
Media houses and reporters must accept that the public should no longer have to wait on the evening news to get the details of what happened that morning, or afternoon, for that matter. We must find ways to bring real stories, in real-time to real people.
These are my charges to you today: Be always conscious of the enormous responsibility that you carry and the bountiful and dutiful roles that you play in the future of our economies in this beautiful part of the world.
So, again, I welcome you all here, and I hope you enjoy much of what Spice Country has to offer.
I thank you.