“The scourge of poverty” by Jeremy Dear or What ails Jamaican journalism?

A UK magazine features the Jamaican Press as a pitiful thing, hobbled by poverty and corruption.

scourge

 

A few days ago the June/July 2013 issue of The Journalist, a magazine of the national union of journalists in the UK, carried a sensational article titled “The scourge of poverty” by noted British journalist, Jeremy Dear. In the article Dear, who was the main speaker at the annual National Journalism Week Forum put on by the PAJ and the National Integrity Action last year, outlines the parlous state of the Jamaican media with journalists so poorly paid that they die in poverty and while alive, are susceptible to bribes, threats, and gags of all sorts. In effect the impression is given that the Press corps in Jamaica has been castrated, and is ineffectually limping along, while going through the motions of aping a free and dynamic press.

 

If what is claimed in the UK article is true then this is an extremely serious situation. Yet top journos like Ian Boyne have scarcely mentioned it or warned the public about this  in their columns; Dancehall, it would seem by the inordinately high number of column inches he and other esteemed columnists regularly devote to the subject, is a far more pernicious threat to Jamaican society not the virtual bankruptcy of the media!

 

In fact instead of trying to rescue this crucial democratic institution Jamaican leaders are busy trying to find better ways to censor dancehall lyrics. You really have to scratch your head wondering about such blatantly misplaced priorities.  But maybe there’s some method to the madness after all. For if the media has effectively been gelded (look at the number of posts I’ve written pointing out its inadequacies) into submission by corrupt interests then the next step is to suppress the voice of the people, nah true? And that would be dancehall.

 

But read the article below for yourselves and see what you think. I had to  reproduce it in full as it’s not easily available to post and circulate otherwise. Thanks to Debbie Ransome for originally bringing it to my attention.

 

It is a universal truth that there can be no press freedom

if journalists live under conditions of corruption,

poverty or fear.

 

Little wonder then that Jamaica’s journalists are

increasingly concerned that their cherished media

freedoms are under serious threat as low pay and precarious

employment stalk the media.

 

Five of the last seven editors of Jamaica’s biggest newspaper

have died in poverty, unable to afford the care they need after

a lifetime serving an ungrateful media. Journalists called

out to cover a job are sometimes unable to respond because

they do not have even enough money for petrol for their

car. Others out covering hurricanes have had to leave their

children alone at home in the raging storm because they

cannot afford proper childcare.

 

And these journalists, fearful about losing their jobs, have

suffered in silence. In Jamaica such issues have only been

whispered about.

 
Corruption is rife in Jamaican society. In December,

Jamaica was ranked 83 out of 174 countries by Transparency

International. Journalists are the targets of vested interests

– from corporations to politicians to criminal gangs and

even media owners promoting their own business interests.

Widespread poverty among the country’s media workers

opens up the possibility that such vested interests can exert

an undue influence on journalists.

 
But today, the Press Association of Jamaica, which is

bombarded every week with requests for loans and financial

support from journalists who have fallen on hard times, is

finding its voice. Alongside campaigns to create a joint press

council with media companies and for an end to punitive

criminal libel laws which restrict journalists’ ability to do

their job, it is to launch a nationwide campaign to fight

against the poverty of journalists as a way of working to

improve quality and tackle the possibility of individual

journalists being susceptible to corruption.

 
The PAJ Executive has declared 2013 the year it “takes the

message to all stakeholders that the under-compensation of

journalists is a threat to the freedom of the media which we

all so treasure”.

 
Its says: “Any journalist worried about their next meal is

cannon fodder to the corrupt who want to ensure that their

deeds do not make it into the pages of the newspaper or on

the radio and television newscasts. This is an issue which

everyone who wants to ensure a free, fair and independent

media in Jamaica should rally around and one which the PAJ

will champion”.

 
I heard first-hand stories of journalists who had accepted

money for petrol or loans or financial and other gifts or

discounts from politicians, corporations or other vested

interests while researching this article. Payola is seen by

many businesses as a legitimate way to get things done – and

by some journalists as a way to supplement meagre salaries.

 
Sometimes the request to handle a story a particular way is

explicit, sometimes implied. But in every case the journalists

know the intention is to attempt to corrupt media coverage.

The International Federation of Journalists recognises that

the poverty and precarious employment of journalists

means journalism is too open to corruption, too reliant on

corrupt practices so its independence can be challenged.

 
The link between journalists’ working conditions and

their ethical stance is not absolute — but conditions play a

significant part. If journalists feel insecure they are much

less likely to challenge dubious editorial decisions. If they are

very low paid, and journalism is for the most part very low

paid, then they find it harder to develop the independence of

mind on which ethical journalism depends.

 
That’s why the PAJ’s President Jenni Campbell is so

committed to tackling the financial well-being of her

members. Ms Campbell said: “At the heart of what journalists

do is asking questions on behalf of those who would not

otherwise have access and provide information that allows

people to make critical personal choices.

 
“But in our quest to be objective at all times, we often

fail to stand up for our own causes. Our failure is in not

recognising that press freedom is as much a matter of

providing access to the public to express themselves freely

and maintaining firewalls to guard against boardroom and

special interests’ abuse, as it is also the ability of journalists

to do their jobs without the deliberate and sometimes

systematic pressures of eking out an existence way beneath

the poverty line.

 
“We must stand firmly against working in a climate where

payola and other forms of corruption become almost a

necessary consideration as we are called upon to do more,

simply because new and emerging technology demand it,

without any thought of how these new realities impact on

our own already meagre personal resources.

 
“As role models, we put on a positive face of prosperity

even as we struggle to feed young families and grapple with

too-long working hours.

 
“We fight for changes to libel laws, we speak out firmly for

the right of freedom of expression, the right to know, then we

go home and suffer in silence….we must be prepared to speak

up for ourselves. It is only then that we can speak up for

others with confidence and without fear or favour”.

The PAJ is already winning widespread backing for its

campaign. Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director

of National Integrity Action, has backed the association’s

demands for more ethical training and support for

journalists so they can increasingly challenge government

officials and others.

 
And Sandrea Falconer, Jamaican Government Information

Minister and a former journalist, says her government has

listened to the PAJ’s case and will reform the country’s libel

regime – which currently opens the door to media being

sued for criminal libel and facing unlimited fines – before the

endof the current Parliamentary year. But she also challenged

media to provide journalists with practical support to help

them tackle corruption wherever it may appear – including

in the media itself.

 
“Private power has increased enormously over the years in

our society and private actors have the means to influence

media content and output. Media practitioners themselves

have to exercise considerable moral courage to resist unjust

enrichment. They need support to do that”.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

18 thoughts on ““The scourge of poverty” by Jeremy Dear or What ails Jamaican journalism?”

  1. Wow. I’ve often lambasted Jamaican journalists for sensationalist, unethical and unprofessional reporting but now I’ll review content in the two dailies with this understanding in mind.

    I suppose it’s a similar story with the JCF. The pay cannot be enough because we’re broke, so our police officers – who are supposed to be working for the state – can easily be bribed to serve other interests. In the end, Jamaica loses.

  2. Mr. Boyne works for the government and would never comment on journalists’ tendency to self-censorship. He lives in his own little world. Personally I would not regard him as a “top journo.” And many stories do not see the light of day as I am sure you know, because the editor, at the request of the media owner, puts a red line through it. Yes, journalists are quite often gagged. And they are more susceptible to political and other influences because they are paid so poorly. This is actually pretty well-known and I have been told that by many journalists. Of course they are subject to media owners promoting their own business interests – there are one or two very obvious examples. A female journalist also told me in detail about threats from a political activist. So YES, journalists are doing their best. They do need support, and for some reason (I wonder why?) successive governments have been afraid to touch our iniquitous libel laws.

    1. Well, Its not whether YOU consider Ian Boyne a top journo or not Emma…he has that status in this country. He pontificates about the ills of society on a regular basis. The UK article suggests a crisis…not just censorship but a completey dysfunctional and docile media which we all know and realize but the thing is to make a noise about it not just treat it as business as usual. And how dare the media criticize other areas of life when it is so corrupt and feckless itself?

      1. I agree. It is rather a broad brush. But it is true that some journalists have succumbed to the temptation of inducements from politicians and others. Boyne may have had journalism training but now he is paid by the government and is more interested in religion than anything else, seems to me (this isn’t just my opinion). Self-censorship is a common practice because of the fear of our iniquitous libel laws. I have got these things from “the horse’s mouth” so to speak, having worked with journalists for many years, talking to them every day (up until 2011, at least). They have often told me that they cannot or will not report on certain matters or individuals – they would not be allowed to anyway. So it is NOT a pretty picture, although I agree this speaker does seem to have exaggerated quite a bit. I agree with Sandrea’s final comment too…

  3. Emma, you seem to forget my own immersion in the journalistic community. wrote for the Herald for 13 years…Boyne is not just a religious writer, he writes speeches for politicians, he holds forth on the state of the country, and occasionally provides the religious community with leadership. Did you see his recent piece on the changing landscape of gay rights etc? It was a good one.
    Self-censorship should never be condoned. i think its bizarre how Jamaican media pats itself on the back for ranking high in terms of being a ‘free’ press and simultaneously gags itself at the slightest pretext. The libel laws are used as a convenient excuse not to touch anything remotely problematic. It certainly wasn’t libel that kept our media from reporting on Novlette Williams’ double mastectomy! And then they tamely report it after the UK Daily Mail does a smashing inspirational story on it…pathetic…

    1. Yes, Annie – I am aware… Boyne writes speeches for politicians because he works for JIS. But anyway, putting him aside…(and yes, that column WAS a good one!) I totally agree with you on the self-censorship issue. I think if we ever do get round to the libel laws and make them more sensible I think that will help. I remember how Desmond Richards campaigned on this… (talking about the Herald!)

      1. Boyne doesn’t get the plum spot in the Gleaner by virtue of working for the JIS is the point I’m trying to make. He gets it because he’s a highly regarded columnist. That is all. And not all JIS honchos write the top speeches either, Boyne is in demand coz he’s basically a good writer.
        ..

  4. There’s also the issue of colonial retention to deal with among some journalists in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. When the National Association of Caribbean-American Journalists held its 2010 conference in Jamaica, we–a small organization with few members–had a front row seat to the feckless media you speak of. They have since teamed up with the International Federation of Journalists. That’s because they benefit from that relationship with IFJ team members, who are not from Jamaica and know little about the nuances of life and relationships in these countries. So the fecklessness continues with the same people who are now talking about they need help. Really? Let’s have a candid discussion with Jenni Campbell and Professor Trevor Munroe. If they are truly serious about having media reform, they will have to take the Jamaican Diaspora media into consideration–just like the government is now envisioning the diaspora as a part of its overall economic development. Both Campbell and Munroe should invite themselves to the NACAJ conference in June 2014. It will be in South Florida–only 1 hour and 20 minutes away. Our website will be relaunched late July with more information. The NACAJ has been providing transportation and hotel cost to Caribbean journalists since our inception. We are serious about media reform in the Caribbean-American diaspora in North America, as well as the Caribbean region. Let’s work together in earnest. Enough with the posturing.

    1. Thanks Jurnogirl, you bring an important point to the table. I completely agree, there is an inherent conservatism, a pro-establishment bias among many journalists and also academics at UWI. And engagement with their counterparts in the diaspora would certainly be one way to challenge some of these unfortunate tendencies. You do have to wonder how serious this reform effort is.The irony is that while many academics preach about the diaspora and prescribe greater engagement etc, they absolutely don’t practice it. In fact there is a harmful territorialism or protectionism which doesn’t always ensure that the Jamaican public gets the best quality available. It’s just the best quality available LOCALLY which isn’t saying much.

      1. Thank you, Ms. Paul, for articulating an observable fact. I’d like to see examples of that engagement, too. No one in the Diaspora wants to speak for journalists in Jamaica. And the Diaspora doesn’t want journalists in Jamaica speaking for them. Because of territorialism, I find these journalists think we want to speak for them instead of focusing on collaboration. #backward kind of thinking. Journalists in the Diaspora want to speak for themselves. But since the Diaspora is an extension of Jamaica, we are all one. I don’t think they got that memo and know how to bring out the synergistic relationship needed to accomplish much more than they are doing now. See you in another 10 years–maybe.

  5. I beg to differ on Ian Boyne. If your definition of a good journalist is the ability to shock and awe with big words, then yes. But he’s not engaging. I have never rushed to read anything he’s written. Most sensible people I know, the UWI faculty included, dismiss his writings as pretentious pontification. And his TV style is worse. He has the distinction of being the only host to ask a question, then he pushes the guest out of the way so he can answer his own question with glee.

    1. I completely agree w you about Boyne’s TV programme which i never watch if I can help it, hate his TV style, but its not a matter of whether you or I think he’s a top journalist or not. He has been given that honour by the media, he has the star column in the Gleaner and whether you read it or not it is extremely influential in Jamaican society. And frankly who cares what UWI faculty think? I happen to work there and they’re not always right, far from it…let’s not put anyone on a pedestal.

  6. I agree on the need for journalists to support each other. I hope Jamaican reps will go to that regional conference. And I strongly disagree on Mr. Boyne but then that is your opinion, and I have mine! He is (among others) an example of the conservative and pro-establishment bias you mentioned, to me? But never mind. I hope that journalist can strengthen partnerships, and wonder why this didn’t happen long ago?

    1. For the nth time Emma, I said and i repeat, that in Jamaica Ian Boyne is considered a top columnist and opinion maker. At no time did i say that I personally rate him as such. The Gleaner has him as its star columnist. These are facts. And yes he is v conservative and pro-establishment, I don’t know where in my post I gave the impression that he wasn’t. It’s tiring when people take you on for things you haven’t said.

  7. And just for the record while we might criticize Boyne on all the grounds we have you cannot knock him on his erudition. He is very up to date with critical theory and contemporary thought and much better read than the average UWI academic. In fact they’re not in a position to dismiss him on intellectual grounds at all.

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