The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) issues it's Report on the Trinidad Guardian Incident
In the wake of the Guardian debacle, the MATT created an Advisory Committee to investigate the matter and create a report, as it regards to best practices in the future. The committee was led by veteran journalist Tony Fraser. It also comprised of Dale Enoch, Jones P. Mederia and Paul Charles.
As posted on the Association's Facebook page, the report is as follows:
MEDIA ASSOCIATION OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Protocols for Issuing Public Statements
We exist to promote freedom of the media as enshrined in our constitution, and to foster its entrenchment by those who govern and are governed as inalienable rights of all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago whose interest, trust and confidence we hold to be paramount. In so doing we subscribe to the adherence to the highest standards of practice by our membership in their quest for truth and the delivery of products to inform, educate, entertain and persuade the national public. Accordingly, in the practice of the profession, we demand of our membership responsibility, independence, truth and accuracy, fairness, and impartiality. These considerations should guide how we represent ourselves either by behavior or in pronouncements to our membership and to the wider citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago.
II. General Principles
• In taking a decision to state its position on any issue, MATT should strike a balance between speed-of-response and a more deliberate gathering of the facts so that the statement would be definitive and less likely to be subject to the need for retraction subsequently when the facts are established.
• The Association should identify a representative/s of the Executive to act as the official spokesperson/s for MATT; messages should be harmonized to ensure consistency of statements, especially if and when representatives are speaking to the media.
• All written statements must be vetted by the quorum of the Executive with the President and/or Vice President signing off on statements before they are released.
• In making statements, MATT’s executive must be conscious of not reporting and or investigating an issue like a reporter would. Rather, MATT should adopt the position of analyst who is aware of a given situation through a measure of research, and, for example, where there is a perceived threat to freedom of the media, makes a declaration against such incursions. A similar approach should be adopted in other situations which may warrant MATT’s attention.
• In the event of an evolving situation, where all of the facts are still to be ascertained, MATT should issue a preliminary statement to make everyone aware that the Association is monitoring the developments and gathering the facts, and will respond, if necessary, at the appropriate time to defend freedom of the media and the right of the national community to receive information without strictures.
• MATT should establish an advisory body of senior journalists, who are not part of the Executive of the Association, to provide counsel on a range of relevant matters including communicating to various audiences in difficult circumstances. This does not mean that the Executive would routinely consult with the advisory body, but rather only in circumstances when fundamental issues are at stake and there is a measure of uncertainty amongst the executives on how to proceed. The Executive, however, retains the right and responsibility to make statements as it deems necessary.
• Whenever members of the Executive are in any way involved in an issue that is being researched for comment, such persons should recuse themselves or be recused from participating in taking decisions on such critical matters. Members of the Executive must also take the initiative to declare their interest in a matter when such possible compromising interest is not readily apparent.
• MATT’s executive should be increased in numbers to expand participation and with it, responsibility. However, the quorum for decision-making should not be significantly increased to avoid the organisation being paralysed without the power to act due to any inability to field a much larger quorum. Serious consideration should be given to having a quorum with an odd number to ensure against a deadlock in voting.
• While members of the Executive must retain the freedom to express individual views, they following considerations should apply when so doing:
They should be sharply aware to make a distinction between their individual views and that of MATT;
As far as possible, such individual/s must make every effort to inform the wider MATT executive that they are making an statement as individuals
In this particular context, MATT’s President and Vice President should be particularly aware of the difficulty in separating their office from their individual status, and are advised to seriously consider restricting themselves from publicly expressing individual views for the period of time they remain in office.
III. Process to be Adopted for Making Statements
Any member or number of members of the Executive can trigger and engage the process to warrant issuing of a statement by bringing a matter to the attention of the Executive individually or as a group. A non-Executive member or any number of non-Executive members acting as a group, or any journalist (whether or not the individual is a member of MATT) are similarly entitled to bring a matter to the attention of the Executive. The following will then apply:
The Executive must meet in a quorum to discuss the matter and take a decision to issue a statement.
Any such statement should also be circulated either first or simultaneously to the general membership of MATT.
In the instance of already stated difficult and complicated situations, the Executive may call on the Advisory Committee for advice and direction. It must be emphasized, however, that the final decision on and ownership of what is to be done always lies with the Executive.
When possible and necessary in the instance of a major development, a meeting of the general membership should be called to discuss the matter before action is taken or declined.
IV. Internal and Public Communication
• It is the ultimate responsibility of the Executive to keep its membership abreast of all developments and with the activities of the Association. The creation of an internal vehicle of communication electronic or otherwise, is recommended.
• MATT must continue to find ways to engage the largest number of journalists possible in its membership and in the work of the Association.
• MATT must continue hold the responsibility of keeping the national community apprised of its general activities to enhance the capacity of journalists and to protect the enshrined constitutional right of freedom of the media.
V. Advisory Group
The above is recommended for the consideration of MATT by Members of the Advisory Group convened by the President of MATT:
Mr Tony Fraser, journalist, Chairman
Mr Paul Charles, former journalist, Communications Advisor
Mr Dale Enoch, journalist, former president of MATT – 199-2003
Mr. Jones P. Madeira --- special advisor