Fifth Estate is dirty work


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Category: Reflections 19 Apr 15

Francesca Hawkinsí election as president of the Media Association of T&T this month at Ďone of the biggest turnouts in memoryí felt like a spark in a valley of shadows. In recent months we have spent too much time mourning our front soldiers.

Raoul Pantin, Marcia Henville, and now Sandra Chouthi. That gets me thinking of Anthony Milne, Keith Smith and George John. And others. No matter how intense or fleeting our relationship with our dead soldiers, we feel it in the gut. It doesnít matter if MATT lived out of a cardboard box for many years, lacking a home, lacking funds, we are a fraternity.

If law is a jealous mistress, journalism is a single minded soldier, a ferreter of truth, a 24 hour, 365 days, all of our lives love. Itís a sixth sense that never sleeps. There is no such thing as a Ďnine to fiveí journalist. Itís a gritty path. All roads lead to the deadline, to getting the news out.

There is no such thing as an excuse in a newsroom. No newspaper has not gone to press because someone has called in sick. It goes to press. Computers crash, children are sometimes left late in school, birthday parties are missed, Christmas gifts are unopened but the deadline must be met.

When we meet socially perhaps, we look at one another with crooked tired smiles of recognition. I donít know a single journalist who isnít perpetually exhausted. There are the all nighters in the studio to edit a piece for television, the heart thudding writing at five to seven to meet the deadline for the seven pm newscast, the frantic battle with the computer glitch to meet the deadline for the morning paper. We canít afford to simply close our eyes in the sun and let the breeze wash over our faces.

An accident. Must report it. An unusual roadblock, get on the phone. Tweet. E-mail, call, write, record. Someone says something unusual. Make a mental note. The main thing about journalists is that we have to show up, again and again and again. We donít have the luxury of an artist who can look back with satisfaction at his painting completed five years ago.

No. Our words are in the gutter the day after we produce them, wrapping up glass, in the garbage. We are only as good as our last piece of work. I remember this most acutely when my beloved brother succumbed to cancer after a five-year battle. What did I do?

I found an internet cafe and wrote my column. That is nothing to what full time news colleagues do day after day after day. Most people donít get what we do. Some think we are human purveyors of human foibles. That we live by skinning people. Yet, like TS Eliot would say, that is Ďnot it at all.í We are tiny cogs in the wheels of conglomerates and corporations. We know without us there would be no news, no current affairs. Without us we would live in a perpetual area of darkness.

Why do we do what we do, and why do we keep doing it? Words die, newspapers disintegrate, and news is forgotten. We do this because we are the fifth estate. We are the watchdogs for the people. So when people ask us, why donít we report good news, why donít we report the woman who kindly gave a beggar money, we say we would love to do that; except its our job to report the beggarís plight, how she got there, the responsibility and transparency of the government on behalf of the people.

We are not white washersówe donít hide the truth. We donít cover up rot with perfume. We expose it so it can be cleaned up. When one of us falls, we all feel it. We feel a chilly shadow. Weíve seen a lot. Weíve seen too much.

Being part of the fifth estate is dirty work. We see bullet-riddled young men, and the whores and the untouchable drug barons, the carnage on the roads, the remains of the rape victims, and the women who toil and walk up a hill at the end of the day to find a dead son. We see the corruption and the people who prey upon the weak. We interpret the statistics.

We sometimes get it wrong. In our haste to report the news we hurt victims. We make grammatical and spelling mistakes. We know we are not loved. But without us, there would be only darkness.

No mirror with which to see who we are, no map to show us where we need to go. Itís an imperfect map but itís there. I am thrilled that television anchor, film maker, documentary maker, journalist, colleague and a dear friend Hawkins is recognised for what she can contribute. The Hawk, as her friends call her, is a brilliant journalist who understands every level of the society, who has served the country as a media worker for decades, who has branched out as a lecturer at UWI, and served both the private and public sector who gets the complexity of our small society.

We need to throw some light around Ms Hawkins, and as media workers and a country support her so our mirror can be polished, so that truth and not spin will continue to inform us.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur