Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

Dear MATT,

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The first time I heard about you was from Nazma Muller, an unlikely mentor but one of my first in the practice of journalism. There was a controversy–might have been the jailing of journalists after they defied a court’s gag order, but I’m not entirely certain–and a march in Port-of-Spain organised to raise awareness of the rights of the media. I didn’t know about the march or the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago and Nazma well bouf me. “Girl, you’re a journalist now!” she said in her inimitable way. Message was that MATT was for people like me and I should get acquainted with them for my own good.

I did, in time, and eventually stood for election as a floor member of the executive. We had our moments but I eventually stepped down in frustration from the post. I stayed a MATT member, though, because whatever the problems that might plague one executive or ten, we as an industry need MATT.

I was proud on Saturday gone, as I am every two years, to vote in the new executive of MATT. I think the people on the new executive are bright, enterprising and energetic. I will give them my full support.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter. You see, it has been burning me for the past few weeks the things people have been saying about you. They say MATT is useless, powerless and maybe even corrupt. They say Trinidad & Tobago has no “real journalists”. I don’t know why they’re saying those things, and I certainly don’t agree. Yes, MATT needs restructuring to better meet the needs of journalists and people working in media. But it can’t live up to its potential when only about 20 people are ever active in it. I’ve been to too many MATT meetings that had to be abandoned because of poor turnout, or training sessions with only about five or six people present–many of them seasoned professionals with little need of training (although everybody could use a refresher from time to time).

It frustrates me to hear the things people say about you, MATT. I hear these things and say to myself, “Why don’t they help build instead of tearing MATT down all the time?” We need MATT, or its equivalent. Who but a MATT is going to speak against muzzling journalists? Who but a MATT is going to keep an eye on the government and stop it from doing things like registering journalists, or putting prohibitive measures in place to keep public information private? Who but a MATT will provide affordable training for us?

People talk about MATT instituting a code of ethics. I used to be ambivalent about this, but I’m not any longer. I firmly believe now we need individual media houses to take responsibility for this, as there is room for all kinds of interpretations of the laws of publishing and broadcasting and to ask a whole industry to subscribe to one standard is undemocratic. The courts are there to protect citizens; the media ought not to stop itself from breaking the news if there is news to be broken. There will always be media houses that walk a thin line between libel and journalism, and I know from personal experience what a nasty, personal media attack can feel like. But do I want those papers to go away? No, because they sometimes in their temerity and audacity publish the things the “legitimate” media won’t. But it’s not for me to say. I think MATT should debate this, properly, openly, and let people be satisfied that they have had their say.

I know in a democracy it is only right for everyone to have their say. Even in criticising you, MATT. But when the criticism becomes mere target practice, it’s time for us to grow up and look at MATT not as the enemy but as a vessel for all of us in media to get on board. Nobody can fix MATT from the outside.



4 Comments on “Dear MATT,”

  1. 1 Caroline Taylor said at 6:58 pm on September 27th, 2010:

    Nice one, Lisa. I think sadly that is the state of affairs not just for MATT, but also for a number of other local associations & collectives. Many of the same concerns apply to all: the issue of standards, training and defining professional status; quality & integrity of leadership; and whole-hearted participation by industry workers and stakeholders. What I wonder is why the participation level in particular is so low with these associations? Is it an issue of trust, or an issue of people not wanting to be “regulated”? And how can some of these collectives function with “interim boards” without ever actually holding elections, and claim to be representative of their industry?

    In any case, I don’t think any of them should be responsible for providing affordable training, but perhaps for working with accreditation bodies to ensure the quality of the training on offer. They also serve as important lobbying bodies on particular issues & concerns of industry workers. Perhaps most importantly, they should help to work toward certain professional standards… And that’s only scratching the surface of the good they can do. In the case of MATT, I’m optimistic that the new executive can make some really positive changes.

    Thanks for opening up the discussion, Lisa. 🙂 I look forward with hope….!

  2. 2 dale enoch said at 7:33 pm on September 27th, 2010:

    thank you so much lisa. well said. I say no more.

  3. 3 Global Voices in English » Trinidad & Tobago: MATT’s Role said at 1:28 pm on September 28th, 2010:

    […] up and look at MATT not as the enemy but as a vessel for all of us in media to get on board”: Lisa Allen-Agostini supports the new executive of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago and is ready to roll up […]

  4. 4 Sasha Mohammed said at 2:21 pm on September 28th, 2010:

    The last time I had faith in MATT was that very year I seconded your nomination as a floor member. That was when we were told to come and vote and revitalise the Association. In later years I saw MATT turn into a non entity under the leadership of some former TTT people, I think. The I saw it say nothing in the face of some of the most aggressive attacks on media freedom from the former PNM Government because of what people said was direct bias and control of the organisation by PNM heavyweights. I saw ME and my company taking groundbreaking action against that said Government, which included threatening the former House Speaker with legal action for bringing us before the Privileges Committee of Parliament to fulfil a political agenda (and mind you he backed down so fast we didn’t have time to gloat) and then stand up to said administration numerous times via legal action or the threat of such and thus defend the independence of the media. And again, silence from MATT. I have never bashed MATT in any forum save for an argument under JR’s post. But I must say it will take me a long time until I can regain confidence and hope in the body. In the mean time, it seems that those who bash MATT do it for various reasons and may be out of the profession. But either ways, their issues, it appears, is the same as mine—how can any organisation run by members who let their personal dislikes and biasness for other media people or media houses have any credibility?

Leave a Reply