Media assessmentPOSTED: 08/6/15 6:47 PM
The integrity assessment from Transparency International sent my eyebrows skyward when I read the chapter about the local media. I certainly did not recognize Today and what our newspaper stands for in the picture the report presents. Reason for me to address this with the organization. This is what I wrote, and below is the reaction from Transparency International.
“I was quite surprised to read the media chapter in the integrity assessment for St. Maarten. I certainly do not recognize the work I do at the Today newspaper in it.
First of all, I have a Dutch passport and I do not need a work permit. I do not need a residence permit either because I live on the French side of the island. In that respect – the authorities are not able to cause me any trouble.
This could be different for the Daily Herald, where two reporters are Guyanese, but they have been here for years.
Then, our independence. I have been working at Today for more than 8 years, more than seven as its editor-in-chief. The owner of Today does not interfere with the newspaper’s content – in that sense I run a completely independent newspaper.
Today is the most critical newspaper on the island and we are not affiliated with any political party.
As far as standards and the “lack of a code of conduct” is concerned: I live by the code of conduct of the International Federation of Journalists as it was drawn up in 1954. It is still valid today and I see no reason why we need a local code.
I am adamant that our reporting is factual and balanced.
In terms of investigative reporting, I have done my part within the scope of my abilities, and I will keep doing that. In 2010, I wrote a series of articles about speculation with long lease rights that resulted in the downfall of our now former Minister of Public Health, Maria Buncamper-Molanus. Together with her husband and three others she stands trial in September, charged with money laundering, tax fraud and membership of a criminal organization.
In 2013, I wrote a series of articles that established the link between (now former) Minister of Justice Roland Duncan and the prostitution sector. As a result, the minister lost all credibility with his Kingdom partners in The Hague and when the government fell that year, he left in a hurry before the others.
I have been threatened on several occasions but I have never let those threats (from politicians) interfere with my work in any way.
Today has also extensively reported about the legal troubles of casino mogul Francesco Corallo.
I could go on, but I think my point is clear: Today writes what needs to be written and we are nobody’s lap dog.
Where other remain silent, we are the watchdog of our democracy – and we bark loudly when there is a need for it.
Whether this is different at other print media is not up to me to judge.
I’ll grant you that Today does not do as much investigative reporting as it would like to do. That is simply a matter of time and staffing. I am the only journalist at my paper with a career of 45 years behind me and another ten ahead of me. Finding local journalists is impossible, I haven’t seen any – with one exception – during the time I work here.
The remark that one of the papers is owned by ‘a political leader’ is beyond me. This certainly does not apply to Today; making such a statement in your report based on a single (anonymous) source is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. You give me reason to investigate the ownership of our competitor – and I will certainly do that.
I would very much appreciate a public statement from the authors of the TI-report that corrects the erroneous impression they have created about the print media in St. Maarten – at least about Today.
Editor-in-Chief @ Today
To which we received the following reaction from Alejandro Salas, regional director for the Americas at Transparency International:
“I understand your concern, which is valid and understandable.
It is important to not forget that the NIS assessment is not judging individuals but it is mainly a “photograph” of the institutional setup in the country that has to support integrity. In that sense, it does not look into specific individuals. What you say about the media pillar, applies to all pillars, just as there are independent and brave journalists, there are also honest and reform minded public servants, business leaders, politicians, etc.
We look at the laws and norms that regulate, facilitate or control the operation of a sector in what it refers to integrity, the vulnerability for corruption and the way they work in relationship with other pillars. Therefore, we are not judging a situation of specific individuals today, but looking at the institutional aspects of the sector. The way the pillar is regulated now, could open the door for some of the risks we describe in the study.
Hope this clarification is useful, as the concern you have about your own work and performance is also valid to others in other sectors, for example the business community, where some leaders at SHTA are giving steps in the right direction to support integrity, while others in other sectors don’t.
Please accept this explanation, as the study does not pretend, at all to judge the functioning or integrity of specific individuals.”