Friday, October 16, 2009

No license, no registration

Yesterday, Wesley Gibbings, president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), sent the following message to media associations around the region:

This is to advise of the imminent introduction of a Model Professional Services Bill to Caricom member states which calls for, among other things, the registration and licensing of media workers.

The bill is meant to 'regularise' and harmonise standards among professionals in a wide range of categories under the ambit of the CSME.

The subject was raised at a CSME workshop in St Lucia on October 12 by Caricom officials.

I have already advised that this matter is not subject to negotiation. It is a well-established fact that the licensing of journalists constitutes an outright threat to freedom of the press and other rights. There is also a growing body of international judicial precedents which determines its unlawful nature.

The ACM is moving quickly to nip this in the bud. We are inviting a senior Caricom official to discuss this matter with us at the forthcoming conference and fifth biennial general meeting in Grenada on December 10-12. Hopefully, the outcome will be a very clear message to have this withdrawn as a proposal to Caricom member states.

This is dangerous territory and I am urging all of us to use the tools at our disposal to publicise this issue and to act decisively to ensure the model Bill, especially as it relates to media workers, does not reach anywhere near our parliaments.

We will be mobilising international support for the campaign.

Georgia Popplewell links to a copy of the draft bill here. She urges her readers to publicise this issue, and I want to do the same. (Georgia also notes that the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, which forwarded Gibbings's message to its members last night via Facebook, does not have a "proper, public-facing web site" — their blog hasn't been updated since May 2007 — which, for a group of media professionals in AD 2009, is almost unbelievable. I want to add that although the ACM does have an informative website, they are yet to post anything about the Model Professionals Bill there.)

I also want to urge interested readers — and I hope you are all interested, not to mention alarmed at the possibility of regional legislation for registering journalists — to read the draft bill. It is meant to apply to a wide range of professions, but it takes no account of the circumstances and principles that make, say, medicine or engineering different to journalism. The draft bill, which is meant to be adopted by all Caricom states and leaves various blanks to be filled by respective governments, if applied to journalists and media workers, would:

= set up a professional council with some members chosen by media workers and some appointed by the government — the proportions of one to the other are left to individual governments;

= require all media workers to apply to that council for registration;

= further require all media workers to apply and pay for an annual license to practise their profession, with the fee to be determined by individual governments;

= require media workers to "display such License in a place in the facility where he operates, that is normally accessible to the public";

= forbid unlicensed persons from practising journalism, on pain of "summary conviction to a fine of [ ] or to imprisonment for [#] years". (Imagine the glee with which the Trinidad and Tobago Cabinet would fill in those blanks.)

With a few simple manipulations, this bill could essentially give Caricom governments the power to determine who can and cannot practise journalism. And it leaves citizen journalists — who the Caribbean mainstream media still don't quite understand or respect — in limbo. Would I be legally required to apply for registration and a license to continue writing on this blog? I don't "cover" "news" per se, but I have reported and commented on current events in the past, and insist on the right to do so in the future. Does that make me a journalist under the terms of the bill?

I don't have court clothes, and I don't intend to buy any. Please spread the word about this misguided piece of possible legislation and let's make it clear to Caricom that, as Gibbings writes, "this matter is not subject to negotiation."

No comments: