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Guardian Media protects our democracy

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar demonstrates a point during her feature address at the launch of Guardian Media Ltd on Tuesday.

Delivering the feature address at Tuesday’s launch of the Guardian Media Ltd new corporate image, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in this excerpt, noted the huge debt that the country owes to media practitioners and pointed to the role the media plays in directing a spotlight on society’s ills.

Ladies and gentlemen, the media itself can only be free if it exists in a society that fervently demands that it be so. And in making that point, I am reminded of some interesting perspectives by Professor Petras who has authored several books including one called Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire.

He makes an interesting argument that when some authoritarian regimes control the media, the world knows but he postulates that when the Western press, under the control of special interests, offers up lies through a media that appears to be free, the bias is well hidden to a largely unsuspecting public.

In this context, may I say we are fortunate in Trinidad and Tobago to have a media that in my opinion remains fiercely independent, and I dare say that our media is among the freest in the world and each of us, no less so myself, as Prime Minister, must ensure that it remains that way. Having addressed the whole concept of an “independent” media and what is truly “freedom” of the press let me state my own government’s views.

Our media has faithfully and diligently exercised its duty to the people of Trinidad and Tobago without fear or favour. It has kept democracy alive in our nation and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the faithful, fearless media practitioners. My government and I have been held up for careful scrutiny by the media on so many issues including the independence of the media.

But the reality is that the media too has a sacred role in this evolving world of business and mass communications and it is no longer only the duty of a Government to ensure that its privileged freedom is protected.
The time has come for the media itself to realise that its role is itself sacred and it must now ensure that it truly reflects the philosophical basis on which a media house and its publications—be they newspaper, radio, Internet or television-exists.

Today I challenge all media owners and all members of the profession to identify why do you exist? Only to turn a profit? Or for another purpose? Do you exist on the basis of the philosophical roots that were the founding principles of journalism—a caring about the way things are for the ordinary person, caring about the way the world is, the way the country is, the way the city is. The first newspaper, remember, was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in a just society.

It cared about the things that would make this new community a just society—affordable bank interest rates, land for settlers, an honest court system, cheap electricity when it arrived and clean water, trees and parks, good schools and fair treatment for the ordinary man.
Simply put, the media has a crucial role to play in contributing to what we become as a society. I laud the recent examples of the Guardian network in developing a series on the environment.

This was a noble and responsible initiative that had a positive impact I am sure on educating the public on such a burning national issue as the environment. In a society plagued by so many issues, domestic violence, youth gangs and crime, child abuse, drugs, the media can play a critical role in helping to address these concerns. And I seek a partnership with you in this regard.

As a developing country we are in a state of transition. We are a nation in need of ideas, inspiration, fundamental changes, and shifts of consciousness, enlightenment and hope. Never has our transformation been more important and crucial than now. But it will not occur without the help of the media.

You help to fashion the way people think and behave, you prompt and nudge their thinking, you help to create the society we happen to be. Please embrace the opportunity to better educate and responsibly inform the public cognizant of the urgent needs of our society particularly our young people. Any young impressionable mind can be positively moulded and persuaded to become someone he or she never thought possible before.

Remember, all of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society. We can brutalise it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level. I know that there are economic realities and that your role cannot be to simply create a product that seeks to create positive influences in your society but one that is marketable and financially viable yet one can be achieved without compromising the other.

It could be a positive ten second sound-byte that when repeated often enough becomes someone’s personal philosophy or outlook, it may be a riveting, moving documentary on drug addiction, it may be a series of well written essays on how someone turned adversity into opportunity; you are the writers and producers, you have the ideas and know the strategies but the power of the media can create major changes in the way our society develops.

And to encourage this initiative in the media I formally announce today that I wish to work with you in borrowing an idea I have seen applied elsewhere and that is for the establishment of a Positive Images Media Award program. It will seek to encourage the use of positive imagery/material for young people created by youth themselves and journalists or producers. A panel of media networks, youth organisations and an international contributor who specialises in the area will guide and determine the award programme.

As an example, the programme which is run in the United Kingdom saw one of the winners being a North London teenager for her moving DVD production based upon her response to seeing her friend stabbed to death.The teenager said she was frustrated by the intense media coverage on violence among young people and decided to do something about it. The Ministry of Education will be integral in the development of this programme to ensure that it is integrated into the school environment. I respectfully seek your assistance in developing the Positive Images Media Award and remain open to ideas and strategies which all media houses and youth organisations may wish to contribute.

In closing, may I congratulate what will henceforth be known as the Guardian Media in acknowledgment of the broader involvement the Group now has with its radio, television and press components. The name Guardian as I said at the beginning of my address has been a landmark media institution that has outlasted several administrations and even the ravages of a fire in its long illustrious history. Today the brand will no longer just refer to the newspaper but the evolution of this media giant that is so iconic in Trinidad and Tobago.

Your success is a tribute to all who make up the Guardian. Thank you all for extending this invitation to me and I am honoured to be here sharing in your achievement. God bless you all and may God bless Trinidad and Tobago.

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