We were sitting in the studio of Freedom 106.5—journalists and editors Soyini Grey and me, for a call-in programme on World Press Freedom Day ably hosted by Satesh Mahabir, who I had worked with in the early days in television (now a dynamic radio chat show host) juggling us with Zoom participants—media powerhouses including Kaymar Jordan (Managing Editor, GML), Irving Ward, Suzanne Sheppard (editors/veteran journalists) and Jovan Johnson of the Jamaica Gleaner. There were five of us.
I suddenly thought of something I had read—we are the sum of the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I hadn’t spent time with any of these colleagues, but they felt like home. They were like the people I spend time with. It was May 3. World Press Freedom Day.
We were exploring challenges facing journalists, each coming at it from multiple viewpoints, including the corrosive effects of social media on journalism, lengthy explanations as to why we must cover “bad” news (As the Fourth Estate, we stand as watchdogs over all institutions) the fact that journalists are constantly accused of bias by people whose agenda the news doesn’t serve, the fact that journalism is a vocation, so often journalists die young, and on the job, work for relatively low pay, for long and odd hours to meet deadlines.
We spoke about the murder of our colleagues in Haiti, Mexico and Ukraine, and the constant vigilance and fight for information from government quarters.
We heard two newscasts while I was in the building read by Satesh, and with each hour, the number of murders went up from two to five to two wounded men.
Now we heard it from both hats on—as journalists interested in the news AND citizens wondering where this would stop. At that point, Soyini Grey said something that really struck me. Journalists need community with one another and be close to the people whose lives we cover.
That not only made good sense (thankfully, the media fraternity is stronger, stretches from rookies to veterans and is more united than ever), but I realised later it would help us live longer. Stick a pin there.
Later that day, I was accosted by a member of the public (we are like hairdressers and doctors—people tell us everything) who loudly went on about how important it was to own guns (something, worryingly, certain politicians are calling for).
I realised with a start that once that happened, our journalists would be on the frontline—covering more and more crime, with more guns about.
So let me just say what I told that loud man who wanted a gun against the bandits based on my research.
According to the magazine, The Scientific American, some 30 studies show that more guns are linked to more crimes, including murders and rapes. There is little research to show guns help protect people.
The claim that gun ownership stops crime is common (in the US—and a growing belief in Trinidad) and drives laws that make it easy to own and keep firearms.
David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center: Even if keeping a gun at home can put your family more at risk.
“It may mean you take chances you shouldn’t otherwise take, go to places where it’s not safe, but you feel safe.”
Where there are more guns, more opportunities exist for people to steal them and use them nefariously.
Now I like to join up the dots. Ultimately, all human behaviour is a desire to live long and satisfy human instincts and desires for love, power, and community. Young men get all three things in a gang, plus the prospect of infamy. (If not fame)
What if, instead of handing people guns, we hand them sports, art, or business, or simply hands they could hold?
I have this fantasy of government ministers led by the prime minister and the police force and community workers walking together into the areas where families feel isolated, forgotten, without purpose, where people die young, shoot and are shot at.
I thought of that studio again. Of how everything is connected.
How journalists and criminals, children, pensioners, the homeless, housewives, businesspeople, politicians and judges are also citizens.
How we all face stresses in our professions and community, how right now we all feel under threat and how with the right kind of love, we might just heal by coming closer together in safe spaces, by offering a leg up, a helping hand instead of shutting up our doors.
Columnist Ira Mathur is the president of MATT and the author of an award-winning memoir, Love The Dark Days.