On the rare occasion when I actually want a migraine, I’ll open up my web browser or my email and see what’s new in Caribbean regional news. Sometimes on Facebook, against my will, I’ll also be exposed to various local news sources. Often, what I encounter stimulates deep feelings of embarrassment and disappointment. I’ve finally put my finger on why that is.
Journalism should abide by a code of ethics. In fact, in other parts of the world, journalists codes of ethics tend to be agreed upon. Here’s a summary that was taken from the preamble of U.S. Journalistic Standards And Ethics (written by the Society of Professional Journalists):
“…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
Fairness is one of the primary values of journalists. This means that reporting should not embody a bigoted perspective or seek to further a bigoted agenda. Truth and honesty mean portraying situations with their full historical context. Journalistic integrity means that publications should seek to publish accurate information and take into account all the facts that comprise of a particular situation or news story. This journalistic integrity is totally lacking in regional news sources and some of the prime offenders are local, St. Lucian news sources themselves. Here are five ways that Caribbean journalism is unethical, with examples to illustrate my point.
1 Bigoted bias against marginalized communities like women and the LGBT community
In Barbados, the Nation newspaper came under fire for this headline, “‘Gentleman’ gets taste of male medicine” written to cover a story about a lesbian who was raped by a straight man. The fact that this headline was published (even in a gossip column), shows how easily casual homophobia, as well as misogyny, slips past editors. Even in the report of the “scandal”, the authors include the fact that the rape victim was under the influence of alcohol — a detail that is not relevant to the story and serves to further scapegoat the victim.
Another story published in the St. Lucia Times entitled, “Antigua: Gay men urged to get tested“, reassures readers that gay men are urged to come forward about their sexuality “not to put their lifestyle on display”. Small statements like this cement bigoted biases against the LGBT community in the Caribbean. LGBT identity is not a “lifestyle” and the language used here suggests that not only is LGBT identity something to be ashamed of, but it’s something that the Caribbean community should be policing by ensuring that it isn’t put on display.
Another St. Lucia Times story reports, “Barbados: Gays Reported Happy This Crop Over“. Using the phrase “Gays” instead of “gay people” or the “LGBT community” is another example of this seemingly small-scale denial of personhood that contributes to the Caribbean’s overall bigoted and violent treatment of such a marginalized community. I can’t go on ad nauseum with my news sources, but
I can’t go on ad nauseum with my news sources, but these three display a lack of journalistic ethics when it comes to serving the public — especially the marginalized public, which is in need of fair media more than the majority.
2 Classist Bias In Reporting Crimes Against Foreigners vs. Crimes Against Locals
Most local newspapers also send the message that crimes against foreigners are a greater travesty than crimes against locals. While news reports of sexual assault, brutal violence and the like against Caribbean nationals is written in quickly, foreigners receive lengthy diatribes describing all of their contributions to society.
We can all (hopefully) agree that all murder is wrong. But the death of foreigners is not more significant than the death of locals. Compare this article on the murder of Colin Peter or the hotel electrocution of a 20-year-old tourist to these articles reporting local murders [x] [x]. While the deaths of foreigners beg many questions, the worthless lives of St. Lucian citizens are diminished. Here’s your gossip bulletin. There is no cause for concern, no call to end bigotry. There is no call for public consideration about the worthiness of the lives lost. There is no mandate for public action.
The death of tourists calls for philosophy, but the death of black locals calls for a footnote alone. There is outrage for white deaths, but shoulder shrugging for black deaths. This is a blatantly unethical bias in reporting, and it would be disingenuous for anyone to claim that local lives are valued as much as foreign lives here. This belief in our own lack of significance permeates the St. Lucian (and Caribbean) psyche so heavily that it is almost invisible. However, it is present and it’s furthered by media that refuses to give black, local lives the same value as foreign lives.
3 Publishing Pseudoscience to Back A Personal Agenda
One of the main examples of this occurs regularly in a popular, regional media source, Caribbean News 360. One of the articles they publish — they publish many about the evils of marijuana — says that “Long Term Marijuana Use Can Make Your Teeth Drop Out“. They make these claims, only loosely referencing the “scientific study” that they refer to. But I did my research and got right to the source, a single study published in JAMA Psychiatry by an Arizona State University professor.
The truth is that the news published by Caribbean 360 is totally false. Not only does the study not make this claim, but the researcher’s most surprising findings (in her own words) were, “In the second surprising instance, we found no association between cannabis use and cardiovascular risks, (e.g., high blood pressure and worse cholesterol levels)”. There were signs of a slightly increased risk of gum disease, but this is hardly the biased fear-mongering statement that marijuana use “makes your teeth drop out”. Publishing such a claim is highly unethical. Not only is choosing a SINGLE study to make a global claim not scientifically sound, the claim that Caribbean News 360 published was not the claim of the researcher and they neglected to include other information contained in her article about chronic marijuana usage that portrayed marijuana usage in a different light.
This is an example of many such claims published by Caribbean News 360 as well as other media sources throughout the Caribbean. By not linking or citing the precise study where their clickbait headlines are drawn from, they deny readers the right to make informed decisions for themselves and publish false propaganda to further what I can only assume is a personal agenda.
4 Uncritical Support Of Tourist Industry Expansion
Media with integrity owes it to the public to report critically of unmitigated expansion of the tourist industry. No, we don’t need to hear more about resorts “saving our economy” (we already have so many and we haven’t been saved yet). We need to hear the truth about the economic impact of resorts. What about real investigation and research? (We don’t have this. Op-Eds here are uninformed opinions, not well-researched pieces.)
When you read reports on the tourism industry, you would think it’s all sunshine and roses. There is no critique of the large-scale environmental destruction that occurs when a resort is built. There is no word on the true economic benefit of resorts for locals. The truth is, most of the highest paying jobs as well as the profits go towards exploitative (and often foreign) land owners. The scraps of the hotel industry are left for locals.
Failing to report the truth of the tourist industry, failing to highlight the largescale environmental destruction as well as interpersonal exploitation that goes into these neo-plantations, does not serve the needs of the public and represents this continuing lack of integrity.
5 Inflammatory Headlines And Tabloid Newspaper Structure
All you have to do is look at the links included in this blog post to see what I am referring to by “inflammatory headlines” and “tabloid structure”. News is not for disseminating information, or informing the public, but for attention. It is entertainment in its purest form and all it takes to be a journalist is to have an opinion, whether or not that opinion is ill-informed or utterly ahistorical.
This need to have news be “entertaining” as opposed to “informative” lies at the center of the unethical nature of Caribbean journalism. Entertainment doesn’t require integrity. Entertainment doesn’t require critical thinking. All entertainment is supposed to do is stimulate your emotional hot buttons and get you to respond. This is a part of the reason why we see bigotry published so uncritically. This is a part of the reason reports on the tourist industry are unchecked by factual information. The media sees its role as entertainment.
As Caribbean citizens, our first order of business should be declining to engage with media that does not respect our history, our intelligence and our fellow citizen’s right to be informed about the condition and events of our country. We need to publicly demand better reporting and lambaste the blowhards who think they have successfully constructed a media that is above reprieve. Finally, we need to work on supporting media that does communicate with integrity and respects the rights of all Caribbean citizens for fair and accurate reporting.