The Media Association of T&T’s (MATT) Facebook page states that the organisation is the leading industry body for journalists and media workers in T&T. It will also tell you that MATT’s work focuses on press freedom, advocacy, networking and public literacy, among other things. However when asked, many journalists claim they have no idea what MATT does. Some will even ask if MATT does anything at all. The association was formed in 1986 and, according to CEO at the Government Information Services Ltd Andy Johnson, who played a key role in the group’s formative years, MATT’s objective then was to provide professional development for journalists and other agreed groups of media workers. Johnson, the first president of MATT, served four terms. “We agreed at the time that people who were in public relations or related fields at the time were eligible for associate membership. “We stressed that this would be a professional body and not a trade union,” said Johnson. He said in the early years MATT did a lot of good work by raising the public profile of the profession. However, over the years members’ interest in the affairs of the association has dwindled. Another former president of MATT, Wesley Gibbings, who is now president of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), said even when he was president many media people were confused about the extent and quality of representation. “There is a general sense that MATT exists to generally promote the networking of local journalists, improving the practice of journalism and to promote press freedom,” said Gibbings. Some people, he said, believe MATT can be substituted for a trade union.
“There has also always been confusion about the role of state media personnel, people working in media-related fields such as public affairs officers at private and public institutions and the role of photo-journalists and videographers.
“Latterly there is confusion about the status of talk show hosts in particular,” Gibbings said.
So what exactly does MATT do?
Interim president Suzanne Sheppard, who has been a member since its inception, said MATT’s main purpose is to facilitate professional development of journalists at all levels. “MATT facilitates workshops and training programmes. We also monitor press freedom and generally look after the interests of journalists, working with a range of regional and international organisation to maintain and protect the profession,” Sheppard said. In the past year MATT has spoken out and condemned the police raid on a media house and expressed it’s disapproval of the graphic content shown on a popular television talk show. Sheppard says MATT has defended the media profession in significant ways. “Some years ago, when a previous government put out a green paper that would have severely hampered press freedom, we were able to speak out and prevent that from happening,” she said.
Who can join MATT?
MATT is inherently an organisation for journalists—the people who gather and disseminate the information that goes to the public. However, this does not mean that only journalists in the traditional sense of the word can join. Even in it’s early stages people in public relations fields were allowed to be associate members. Recently MATT took a decision to extend its membership to students and lecturers in the journalism programmes at tertiary education institutions in T&T, as well as people involved in new media.
How does MATT benefit T&T?
Sheppard is encouraging more journalists to come on board and support the initiatives that will move the profession forward. “MATT is important because a free, unfettered press guarantees a people freedom and development and access to the information that they need to continually progress. “Look at countries where there is no press freedom. Look at Syria. Journalists don’t have full access there and people continue to suffer,” said Sheppard. “In every part of the world where there is dictatorship and oppression of people, bet your life they don’t have a free functioning press or even any press that is not controlled by the State,” she said. It is a journalist’s job, and perhaps “job” is too tame a word, to educate and inform the public in order to allow and encourage a free-thinking society. MATT has undertaken the task to equip journalists and media workers with the tools to do this as accurately as possible.