The Media Association of TT (MATT) is struggling to attract nominees for president and treasurer of the executive for its upcoming elections.
The deadline for nominations was originally set for November 15 but was postponed to November 25, as current MATT president Ira Mathur seeks potential candidates to take the baton.
There is a misconception by some that the lack of nominations is a result of a fractured organisation, Mathur said.
Conversely, speaking with Newsday on Monday, Mathur said journalists and editors in TT are simply overworked, often underpaid and contend with adversity in their professional lives without due recognition or respect.
“It’s not like journalists don’t want to do it (join MATT’s executive); I think every journalist has their heart in the organisation,” said Mathur. “I think the very nature of their jobs is so demanding and that it invariably spills over into their family lives, their health and their commitments outside of work. It’s a demanding role.”
She described journalism as an “unequivocal vocation.”
“When we do our jobs, we switch to a different mode. We want to get the story right and we want to be first. But as a group we understand that, collectively, we play a role much bigger than what we do as individual journalists.
“So many are out of work, suffer ill health, are not properly paid – but we love the work. It’s in our blood and it’s what we share.
“We are serving the country…We serve democracy, and that’s not something you can (bring about) with higher salaries.”
MATT was formed in 1988 by a group of journalists, including Wesley Gibbings and Andy Johnson.
To date, Mathur said, MATT "remains a powerful voice of the fourth estate and a pillar of democracy in TT.
“If anyone doubts our role, you just have to look at the role the media played during the 1990 attempted coup, to see the central role we played in upholding democracy as journalists risked their lives, not just as hostages, but to get to work daily, under gunfire, to report the news.”
More recently, she gave the orgnisation credit for pressuring the government to ensure journalists’ access to press conferences and important state functions after social-distancing restrictions were imposed during the covid19 pandemic.
“This bonding proved especially necessary during the pandemic, when we could quickly respond to threats to the freedom of the press that journalists brought to ourattention in real time, be it lack of media access in parliament or health conferences.”
She said before the pandemic, news media was a “vital but splintered group,” which came together under the current executive, which comprises Mathur, Mark Lyndersay, Clayton Clarke, James Saunders, Robert Taylor and Nicole Romany.
“Today,” she said, “our lively WhatsApp group of over 130 journalists is a critical resource to all of us for support, sharing essential information and creating a fraternity that works, shares, guides, celebrates and mourns together, and is bound together with a single purpose of guarding press freedom.”
Speaking on her tenure, she said she was honoured to have followed a list of presidential “luminaries” such as Johnson, Gibbings, Francesca Hawkins and Sheila Rampersad.
Mathur will not run for re-election, , however, but said she would be happy to serve as a floor member and support all incoming executive members.
“When I took on the position as MATT president, I promised myself, and made it clear to the executive, that I wanted to grow and nurture our organisation, and hand it over to the newer and younger generation of journalists. This I have done, with the help of my executive, of whom I am very proud.
“We pulled together a fragmented community. (Now we have over) 180 journalists and associate members in every field across all platforms.”
She said TT's positive press rankings internationally have merit mainly because “our journalists have remained vigilant, pushing back at threats to press freedom, strenuously guarding our rights and holding politicians to account.”
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Mathur issued a statement lauding local journalists as TT moved up six points (from 31 to 25 out of 180 countries) in the World Press Freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders.
“Reporters Without Borders and TT journalists recognise these numbers reflect a sharp vigilance to ensure freedom of the press, which continually comes under threat from the institutions over which it acts as a watchdog, and also greater threats to journalists elsewhere,” Mathur said.
A strong incoming executive, supported by previous executive members, she said, will ensure TT remains on the favourable end of world press freedom rankings.