BARJAM wants access to info

There is a call for Government to take the promised Freedom of Information Bill to Parliament for approval this year.

It has come from President of the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers (BARJAM), Emmanuel Joseph. In his New Year’s Message Joseph, expressing frustration at the blocks often put in the way of media practitioners when trying to access even basic information that should be made available, said with the efforts being made by Government to implement a suite of integrity legislation, he believes the Freedom of Information Bill “would be a fitting climax in the coming year”.

The veteran journalist is going even furthering and appealing to Government to amend the Constitution to provide for access to information.
“... I am urging the Government to even take the bold step – as now exists in the United States – to enshrine in our Constitution the citizens’ right to know, where access to “public interest “information is no longer a mere discretion of those public officers who hold it close to their chests like it were their personal bedroom business. A Free Press can only help to strengthen our democracy in which we take so much pride,” he said.

The BARJAM president added, “... I am well aware that with freedom comes responsibility and that there is a line which has to be drawn when it comes to access to information. That is a no-brainer.”

But, he lamented that at present there is too much red tape as well as legal or self-imposed obstacles which stand in the way of media practitioners getting information from Government agencies and their technocrats. He added that the frustrating thing about such situations, is that quite often, what is being requested is basic information that taxpayers need to know.

“The situation even makes you angry to think that many of these public officers – and private sector officials as well – either can’t take your call now and do not respond to your messages; bluntly refuse to talk; give you the run-around or in some cases tell you ‘there is no story, so why are you calling me’. But when they have information they believe makes them look good, the same media practitioners who they treated with scorn suddenly become the greatest asset. This must stop! We all have critical roles to play in this democracy and we would do well if we worked together and cooperate as far as practicable,” he insisted.

With that in mind, Joseph indicated that in 2020 BARJAM will intensify its efforts to raise the level of professionalism and capacity of its members to carry out their duties. In addition to focusing on training and re-training, promoting a sense of integrity, rewarding practitioners for exceptional work done, he revealed that a programme will be put in place to cater to the financial, material, social and emotional needs of members who fall on hard times.

“The Board of BARJAM has agreed, for example, to establish a Benevolent Fund which would assist members experiencing medical crises and are unable to pay their bills. We will also be examining initiatives which would allow us to provide counselling and emotional support for bereaved media professionals whose have lost loved ones. I will go further and announce that only recently a bereavement expert reached out to me with a view to assisting BARJAM in also conducting workshops for members who cover tragic events, so as to help us better manage the emotional fallout and provide best practices in approaching sorrowing families while still being able to get the story,” he stated.

Joseph said he believes this is a great opportunity, especially for those media workers who are often assigned to cover deaths. He made the point while noting that even though media practitioners are taught not to allow their emotions to get in the way of their reporting, they are still human beings.

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