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Journalists warned: Be aware of being manipulated

Election workshop: Stephen Weeks, right, US Embassy public affairs officer, addresses participants in yesterday’s Journalism Workshop on Elections Coverage at the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section, Briar Place, Sweet Briar Road, Port of Spain. Seated from left are Patrick Butler, Vice President, Programmes, International Centre for Journalists, and Keith Gilges, Chargé d’Affaires US Embassy. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

BE AWARE of when you are being manipulated, Vice President of Programmes at the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) Patrick Butler urged local journalists yesterday. In an effort to avoid being placed in a comprising position in this regard the media personnel who travel with United States President Barack Obama pay their own way, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy Stephen Weeks said yesterday. Association of Caribbean Mediaworkers (ACM) general secretary Wesley Gibbings yesterday said he was ashamed to hear accusations of journalists being paid to write stories by government officials. “Shame on you, if it is true, if there is anybody here or outside shame on you that is my message to those people, all that will do is help to destroy the quality of the journalism that is practised here,” Gibbings said. The statements by Butler, Weeks and Gibbings were made yesterday on the opening day of a two-day training workshop for journalists entitled “Covering Elections in Trinidad and Tobago”. The workshop was organised by the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) and the Association of Caribbean Mediaworkers (ACM) in collaboration with the United States Embassy and IFCJ. It was held at the meeting room of the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section in Briar Place in Port of Spain. Among the topics discussed yesterday were “Journalistic Ethics and Coverage of Elections”, “Conflict and Elections”, “Achieving Journalistic Balance and Fairness at Election Time” and “Citizen Participation through Social Media”. “News media are often the most important channel of communication that exists between sides in a conflict, they will speak to each other through us and that is a good thing and a bad thing, it means that we are playing that important role of being a conduit of information between the two sides but it also means it is easy for us to be manipulated,” Butler said. “So we have to be careful in the media to make sure that we are not letting the sides in the conflict use us to their own ends without questioning them on what they are trying to do”. “Be aware of when you are being manipulated, when you are being used by the candidates in the campaigns to advance their ends. It does not mean you don’t report on what they are saying but it means that you ask questions, tough questions of the candidates and the leaders of the (political) parties about why they are doing what they are doing,” Butler said. Paying your way Last year the national spotlight was placed on several local journalists with respect to their relationship with the government. On the heels of allegations that selected journalists were offered $1,000 vouchers by the government at Christmas, came word that the Ministry of Communication offered cheques, ranging between $13,000 to $15,000 to reporters and cameramen who accompanied Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on a trip to China during the period February 23-28 last year. The cheques were offered as a “per diem” during the media representatives’ coverage of the Prime Minister’s official visit.

Question political parties

By Darcel Choy Tuesday, March 10 2015

A journalist’s job is never easy but it becomes difficult when accusations and counter accusations are made by political parties during campaigning.

Patrick Butler, Vice President, Programmes at the International Centre for Journalists, said this is when it is most important for a journalist to question claims being made by one person against another.

He was speaking yesterday at the two-day workshop for journalists on covering elections, held at the United States (US) Embassy’s Public Affairs Section, Sweet Briar Road, Port-of-Spain. The workshop is hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association, Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the US Embassy. Butler was addressing the topic of conflict and elections where he said the media’s role was to correct misconceptions.

“Media often encourages the disputing sides to revise their views and move closer to reducing conflict by showing where they are wrong. So when a party makes an accusation against another party that is simply not correct, you can show that. Don’t simply report it and not challenge it, you have to challenge when accusations are logged against the opposition that are not really true,” Butler said.

He added that another very important thing for journalists to do is to humanise their stories.

“If there’s conflict over a specific issue like corruption we try to humanise that by showing somebody whose been the victim of corruption, who has paid a bribe and is suffering economically because they were forced to pay a bribe,” he said.

Butler also told journalists in attendance that describing the problem in a different way can sometimes reduce tension, so editors and reporters should always look for a different angle that would still attract an audience to the story.

“Good journalism can help re-frame the conflict from various sides,” he said.

Newsday’s Editor-in-Chief Jones P Madeira said elections are the quest and conflict is the by-product of that quest. He said it was desirable that everything be done to eliminate conflict, but professional journalists do not set out to reduce conflict. “As a journalist you seek to present accurate and impartial news,” he said.

MEDIA WORKERS GET REFRESHER COURSE ON ELECTION COVERAGE

While politicians are gearing up for the country's 2015 General Election, so too are media practitioners.

On Monday, media workers from across the nation gathered for a refresher course in election coverage to ensure the public gets adequate coverage at all times.

Hosted by the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, the two-day election coverage workshop is aimed at ensuring coverage is precise and accurate.

ACM President, Mr. Clive Bacchus, said election time is when the country sees different sides to political parties but journalists must ensure the publication is fair.

His sentiments were echoed by US Embassy Charge d' Affaires Keith Gilges, who reminded journalists that they have a responsibility to inform the public accurately and not be discouraged when faced with ethical challenges.

"Journalists must always strive to honour codes of conduct. All of these rules are clear and easy to observe while others are only recognised when they’ve been broken, when someone has gone too far. Yours is a public service. You uncover wrongdoing and investigate malfeasance. You give voice to the powerless and a pulpit, often, to the powerful."