|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 67 - Tuesday April 05, 2005
|Student Media Should Help Tame the Chaos in Dominica |
by Dr. Emanuel Finn
Coordinator of the Economic Recovery Program in Dominica, Swinburne Lestrade is reporting that the economy of Dominica has experienced real growth of some 3.4 percent over the past year.
Journalism and news reporting is chaotic and often times is not an orderly job. I learned that fact at Dominica Grammar School (DGS) during my senior in year 1978. That year as the editor of the school’s magazine, the Clarion, we addressed the issue of Dominica’s political independence from Britain. The Clarion’s editorial in May 1978 was entitled ‘Today versus Tomorrow: Independence must Come’.
My staff and I supported the pro-independence positions of the Popular Movement for Independence (PMI) led by Mr. Rosie Douglas, Mr. Pierre Charles and the ‘southern cadres’ from Grand Bay.
Surprisingly, on the same side of the pro-independence movement was the government of the day, ‘Colonel’, Honorable Premier Patrick Roland John’s Dominica Labour Party backed by his ill-trained, arrogant and unprofessional Dominica Defense Force (DDF). The ‘Colonel’ and his rum-drinking DDF commanders viewed the ‘left’ leaning PMI as public enemy number one.
As politically engaged students, our political party of choice was the opposition Dominica Freedom (DFP) Party which was led by Ms. Eugenia Charles. However, we did not support DFP’s position of calling for a referendum on the then divisive political issue of the day, political independence for Dominica.
DFP ‘s position was that whilst Dominica should get its political independence from Britain, Mr. John and his Labour party were incompetent to guide and rule Dominica as an independent nation. Do you remember the bumper stickers that read: 'Independence No, Referendum Yes’?
As expected, the pro-independence forces won the day and our island home achieved its political independence on November 3rd, 1978. As a young cadet corporal, I matched with outmost pride in the military parade on that day.
The significance of independence to me was self-determination and realization for Dominica and its people. Whether we have archived that goal is another question.
A few days after the Clarion’s May 1978 edition was released, the regional and well respected Barbados Advocate carried a story on its front page with headlines: ‘Students support Political Independence Movement in Dominica’.
This convinced us that we were contributing in a progressive way to a highly sensitive and politically charged debate in Dominica. Today’s emotional and divisive political issue of diplomatic relations with Taiwan or the People’s Republic of China is nostalgic of that confusing period.
Of course, the state radio announcers who were political appointees and ‘spin-doctors’ for the government got some political mileage at our expense and efforts.
Needless to say, we could not convey to them and to the island that we were nonpartisan and were just contributing to the public discourse in the most professional and respectable manner. Has anything change today with radio stations in different political camps? It has gotten worse according to media observers.
The observers said that the stations are doing a grave disservice to the island by taking political sides and inflaming emotionally charged issues and not discussing them in responsible and informed ways.
If one were to listen and objectively analyse our radio political call in programs, and talk shows, one may get the false impression that our country is on the brink of civil unrest. Nothing has changed politically since 1978, just different people are now on the political scene and time has passed by.
Reporting on political events in our island home will always be complicated and challenging. That daunting task can be best described as an attempt to package chaos and confusion. The true difficulty lies in trying to organize people, government and opposing sides, ideas, positions and actions.
It should be an attempt to make these stakeholders realize that news reporting is part of civil society and the overall democratic process. Our country is now in a state of utter confusion and pain.
Its the duty and responsibly of all organized forms of journalism to attempt to bring an understanding to the issues.
The DGS Clarion began the proces of my understanding of this seemingly impossible task of responsible journalism. During high school I always looked forward to reading the St. Mary’s Academy ‘Marion Messenger’, the Convent High School ‘Touch’, the Portsmouth Secondary School ‘Bombo’ and of course, the DGS ‘Clarion’.
I learned many important and encouraging lessons from these student publications during those defining years.
Our high school universe was small and we dealt with the challenge of trying to tame it. We reported on teachers who gave too many demerits. This was problem especially to students who traveled daily from as far away as Grand Bay and Colihaut who arrived at school late.
Being late on Monday mornings was also a problem for students who stayed in Roseau during the week but went to their villages (homes) on the weekends.
This was a frequent experience for me due to the fact that I went home to La Plaine or visited my grandfather and cousins in Castle Bruce on most weekends and left for the city on Monday mornings via the passenger vehicles.
Frequently we would arrive in Roseau long after the 8:00 a.m school assembly starting time on Monday mornings. The conditions of the roads that lead to the countryside were in terrible shape.
We also reported on teachers who were tough graders, who got promoted in the Cadet Corps and who excelled in the GCE exams. We covered the celebrated and colorful and popular DGS Sports Day and the junior carnival calypso king and queen competitions.
We would conduct investigative reporting issues such as the conditions of the school bathrooms and he DGS sports grounds. We gently tip toed into the forbidden, punishing, unforgiving and chaotic world of Dominican politics.
I learned that journalism is a tough business which requires hard work and courage. At he Clarion, we ran and supported our operations by selling advertising space to Roseau merchants and from magazine sales.
It is a sad commentary (to my knowledge) that none of the high schools in Dominica currently has a student publication. With the availability of computers ad the Internet, there may not be any excuses for all the high schools not having any publication such as a student electronic magazine, radio or television program.
The Ministry of of Educaiton and principals should support and put in place the logisitical and mentoring mechanisms to enable students to form journalism clubs as part of the innovative and leadership learning process.
The various media houses should conduct joint journalism workshops and sponsor frequent writing contests for high school students. These workshops will encourage and address student needs and pair them up with advisors and mentors and may inspire them to be journalists and leaders.
In addition, they will learn at an early age the importance of writing, public debate in professional and non-divisive ways.
Dominica is a nation in transition and is in state of confusiion and chaos. The up coming general elections will not clear that chaos who ever wins. That task of packaging that chaos is a long, and uphill climb.
During that transition, it is imperative that we recognize that we must engage our best and brightest young minds by encouraging them to write debate and publish. There are young, energetic willing hearts and minds in our high schools that have the ability to assist in tackling and negotiating that chaos.
It is imperative that that they receive the guidance, intellectual and professional journalistic nourishment and support, to try to address our island affairs and its complex, yet solvable issues.
Give our high schools youth wings and they will fly, give them the tools and charge them with responsibility and the will deliver the ‘goods’. In the end, they will be progressive and active participants in the development of our country. This we cannot afford to ignore because our future as a people depends on it.
When citizens of a democratic nation communicate (and engage) with one another in a respectable and responsible manner, something simple but magical happens. We begin to see each other as human beings and separate political views and affiliations from personalities.
We realize that political successes and failures, winners and losers are part of the process and it is cyclical. It is a given fact that politics is loud and emotional, but it does not have to be dirty and nasty as it seems to be the case in Dominica.
Until we question ourselves as a people, the political process and campaign in Dominica will always be described as an exercise in insanity and shame. We all bear full responsibility as a civilized society.