Jamaica Constabulary Force under Pressure

“Constables have been besieging members of the house of representatives with requests to be given tickets as soon as the call comes for labourers for American farms. Mr. L.W. Rose, St Catherine MHR, mentioned the fact this week in a debate in the house. The action of the constables is similar to that taken in the early days of farm labourer recruitment during the war years. (quote runs on in next para)

“Resignations from the police force were not as easily granted as they are now, and some constables, it was reported, actually misbehaved in order to be sacked, and thus get a chance to leave. It was then reported that a number of men who got out of the force in this and other ways were prevented from leaving the island by the action of officers of the CID.”

In my latest trawl through the Gleaner archives I came upon an article dated March 5, 1951  titled Policemen in Farm Labour Rush (from which the quotes above are taken). The brief report astonished me because it suggests that what we’re experiencing today has roots that go back almost 70 years. Wasn’t it only last August that the selfsame Gleaner reported changes to the Constabulary Force Act requiring sub-officers and constables to give six months’ notice of their intention to resign or face a possible fine of $250,000 or three months in prison?

The reason for imposing such draconian regulation is the continuing high attrition rate in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, an organization slated for modernization in 2010. In that year a Gleaner headline announced Cops Quit, Close To 900 Policemen and Women Resign in Less Than Five Years. 

The most recent edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica gives more current  data on the dwindling size of the JCF:

The strength of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as at December 31, 2016 was 20.3 per cent below the establishment size of 14 091. During the year, 643 persons (13.1 per cent female) were enlisted while 549 persons left the Force. This was mainly due to: resignation (71.4 per cent), retirement (18.2 per cent) and death (5.1 per cent).

Incidentally, of the 11,233 members of the JCF only about 2,570 are women. Clearly recruitment and retaining of policemen and women has been a persistent problem since long before independence. 70 years later is it any wonder that serious crime is slowly but surely engulfing the country starting at the Western tip?

Isn’t it high time we started paying members of the JCF a living wage? I think it was Jaevion Nelson who posted the following on Facebook and I completely agree:

JFJ says if the country is to demand accountability and professionalism from the police, then it must also demand that the government reasonably provide for their welfare. It says poorly paid and frustrated cops are less likely to be effective at crime fighting or compliant with human rights. In addition it says low wages also create an environment for corruption, exposing police to the daily seduction of bribes.

Let’s remember this as we helplessly watch Western Jamaica self-destruct. Let’s also heed the searing words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said more than a year ago:

If I could write this with fire I would set ablaze some ideas on this page. I would talk about the black boys in Montego Bay who no longer know the value of life. They don’t know because their black always needed to be qualified for it to become fully ‘smadditized’. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.

Capture is a legitimate philosophy, because dem nuh own nutten. When Daddy Sharpe led his rebellion, when he set Kensington ablaze the white people in Montego Bay were angry, they punished, maimed and killed, and Daddy Sharpe gave his life in the middle of Sam Sharpe Square Downtown Montego Bay, right across from the Kerr Jarrett’s Town House.

How has Montego Bay changed? Who plans for the children of Sam Sharpe and his soldiers, the Christmas martyrs. Dem used to state of emergency, di blinking city was born in a state of emergency. What they are not used to is justice and equality and rights and development. Give them that Minister, give them justice and mek it stretch back to 1831 and remember Sam Sharpe. Start with the land…mek dem stop capture…because all lotto scam is another capture philosophy…

Some problems are just not the Police’s responsibility or in their capacity to solve, even if they are paid well. There will be no peace without justice and just remuneration for all. Nuff said.

The Redemption of the Land

Alligator Head - 1
Alligator Head Foundation offices

Gleaner column 17/1/18

“There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Psalms 104: 25-30

The new year has dawned like a tsunami, rearing high up in the air and threatening to overwhelm us with its ferocity. As it sweeps us along it spins and twirls us about and the trick is to stay afloat somehow, anyhow. The coldest winter up North, the wettest December in these parts, climate change seems to be ushering us along with a firm but clammy hand.

The message is clear, we have to stop our clueless meddling with the environment we inhabit. The redemption of the land is something the Bible talks about quite a bit. Yet for a country proud to proclaim its Christianity far and wide Jamaica has not distinguished itself through its environmental policies or its relationship to the sea.

Over the weekend I attended a powwow in Portland about the redemption of the ocean, another crucial element of our ecosystem. Organized by Francesca von Habsburg’s Alligator Head Foundation the meeting brought together a range of skill sets to think about the problem of ocean conservation and how to make it more of a priority in local agendas.

Von Habsburg’s intention is to create a space where solutions can be found and thinking changed about our stewardship of the ocean. Her internationally renowned TBA21 Academy, run by Markus Reymann and once devoted to ambitious and daring visual arts projects, is now offering its substantial resources towards creative solutions to regenerating and nursing the oceans back to health.

Alligator Head - 3
Holding framed picture is Markus Reymann, to his right Francesca von Habsburg and next to her in blue is Dane Buddoo


Alligator Head - 2
Baby mangroves being cultivated

Mere ocean literacy and consciousness is no longer the goal as young people are aware of the need to shepherd natural resources. What is needed are avenues to transform that consciousness into change. Art is still central to the program but art as a lens through which to view environmental issues and a powerful tool to produce socially and politically conscious works.

The TBA21 Academy has already spearheaded three voyages in the Pacific Ocean, twinning artists with scientists to come up with insights into ocean conservation and care. Portland and Jamaica have a central place in the scheme of things because of von Habsburg’s lifelong links to the country. Alligator Head was where she learnt to swim on summer holidays with her father Baron Thyssen.

Around the coast near Alligator Head von Habsburg has created the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, now headed by Dane Buddoo, formerly of the University of the West Indies.

According to von Habsburg “Science provides the knowledge and art creates empathy so this is the first bridge we are trying to create. The second one is bringing a wide range of people with different skill sets together to create a new ecology of thinking. From a very young age young people are taught that they have to specialize, if you don’t specialize you won’t have a career they’re told, but we want to break down those walls.” What has been added to the mix is entrepreneurship and finding entrepreneurial solutions that are creative.

Finding solutions to such vast problems requires collective thinking von Habsburg believes so there are three pillars to the project. The first is science as manifested in the creation of the fish sanctuary and its labs; the second is culinary, creating a restaurant on the property which will feature healthy food, using local produce from farmers in the area and also exploring options from the sea—edible seaweed and other algae.

The third option is art programming. “Artists are the antenna of the world today. They are the ones who see many topics that maybe fly by the radar of journalists. We are so saturated by media, the role of media seems to be to keep us all in a permanent state of shock and horror. If we don’t read about some horrible shithole comment that Trump’s made, it’s something else,” says von Habsburg.

Well, as Ezekial 34:2-4 says, “Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.”

It’s time to learn from the shepherds and grasp this opportunity to use the resources offered by TBA21 and the Alligator Head Foundation.

Lessons from #Sandz

Screenshot 2018-02-19 19.40.29
Man trudging along Palisadoes with suitcase on head trying to get to the airport on time…

Gleaner column of 10/1/18

There was something cruelly symbolic about the gridlock that shut the country down on New Year’s Day. Did it portend an unhappy future where everything slowly ground to a halt and the last person to leave the country couldn’t even reach the airport let alone turn out the lights behind them? What about the key components involved? The spanking new, recently widened  airport road, a new year’s beach party, a police force on go-slow one or two of whose members were principals in the company hosting the beach party, the ‘unruly patrons’ who parked their vehicles along the thoroughfare rather than park at the party location, Gunboat Beach or Seventh Harbour where the parking was ample.

Then there was the incredibly resonant name of the party—#Sandz (Kindly leave the em dash alone). The #Sandz of time wait for no man. Could the country be likened unto a castle built on #sandz? A #sandzcastle? Or was it just a patty shop after all?  Ladies and gents get your outfits ready and pack your coolers we are going to #Sandz  ALL White on January 1…Get a lil #Sandz between your toes on New Years Day at Sandz Caribbean Music… Walk into New Years 2018 with #SandZ the promotional tweets had said. 

Meanwhile “#NIGHTECONOMY TIES UP NM INT’L AIRPORT“ read the headline on Diana McCaulay’s new blog, Inroads, on January 2nd. One of the earliest reports on the fiasco, it described the nightmare scenario succinctly. People going to the airport to collect travelers on incoming flights were unable to get there, leaving friends and family stranded for hours. Flight crews and therefore flights were delayed. People missed their flights completely. Others had to walk or pay exorbitant sums to bike men to transport them to the airport with their luggage. And some got there only to find out their flight  had been cancelled because the flight crew was stranded somewhere on Palisadoes road.

Talk radio and social media were abuzz with discussions about the likely causes of the Palisadoes gridlock. @Jherane tweeted “Jamaican news is starting to mimic CNN. Hours upon hours of discussing #Sandz. No actual investigation happens, just opinions, “he said, she said”, and I’m left wondering if nothing else is happening in Jamaica.” @TeeOPatra_  captured the absurdity of the situation: “They started to threaten to tow the cars illegally parked at #Sandz but the wrecker was stuck in traffic.”

“Billions of dollars spent to upgrade the Palisadoes road to prevent the airport becoming inaccessible due to a hurricane. But what a hurricane now can’t do, poor governance can,” tweeted the irascible @DamienWKing. Tweeted another: “Am done after this. #Sandz is a mole hill, not a mountain. Plus Mr. Quallo have nuff tings to do other than this. We not like the Japanese police weh a twiddle them thumbs cause crime gone down. Stop it man. Cho!” Police Commissioner Quallo certainly does have more serious things on his plate post-Palisadoes with rumors of his impending departure being bandied about. If only our police had the luxury of twiddling their thumbs.

Meanwhile, the blame game was on in earnest. It was ‘indiscipline at its finest’ and ‘Errant, indisciplined motorists’ and ‘#Sandz unruly patrons’ who were responsible. Others thought the blame lay squarely at the feet of the traffic police who were missing in action. The party promoters it turned out had got all the necessary permits (how is another matter, but do keep in mind that one of them was a policeman himself) so where does the blame lie?

“Sometimes I think the only rules we’re serious about are the ones governing the bare arms of women,” quipped Diana McCaulay pinpointing lack of enforcement of rules as one of the primary culprits in the Palisadoes matter.

It was Deborah Hickling-Gordon who put her finger on the problem in my opinion. According to her policy and operational oversight for elements of the creative economy are dispersed among twelve ministries! Imagine if that were the case with tourism or the financial sector. At what point are Jamaican government and business interests going to wake up to the fact that the new goose laying golden eggs in Jamaica and elsewhere is the entertainment industry and its concomitant creative sector?

Shaggy demonstrates this year after year, yet even now, in 2018, according to Hickling-Gordon, the sector is not a focal point in the Growth Strategy and continues to be treated as incidental. I completely agree with Hickling-Gordon that it is clear that the Gunboat affair was due to regulation gone wrong, or just insufficient governance at many levels. We need to stop scapegoating the Entertainment industry for the failure of regulation to keep up with its growth. What is needed is a drastic revision and rearrangement of the countries’ priorities. That should be the takeaway lesson from the #Sandz fiasco.

Who’s paying the watchdog?

DPP Paula Llewellyn arguing for regulation of media in Jamaica at PAJ forum “Who’s watching the watchdog? Media regulation in Jamaica and elsewhere”

Gleaner column, Dec 20, 2017

Some weeks ago the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) held a public forum on whether there was a need for a Press Council in Jamaica to oversee or deal with complaints against journalists and media entities. Titled “Who’s watching the watchdog? Media regulation in Jamaica and elsewhere” participants in the panel discussion included Janet Steele, a George Washington University journalism professor and writer based in Washington, D.C. and Jakarta; Dionne Jackson-Miller, broadcast journalist and President of the PAJ; Claire Grant, Vice Chairman of the Media Association of Jamaica and General Manager of TV Jamaica; and Robert Nesta Morgan, Director of Communication in the Office of the Prime Minister. The discussion was ably moderated by Archibald Keane Gordon.

Dionne Jackson-Miller who went first was decidedly against government regulation, believing that it might be used to muzzle the media rather than allow it to perform its function as one of the guardians of free speech and democracy. She like many others in media here preferred self-regulation by media entities. Steele who followed her, said that in the US they tended to do without press councils. Her opening lines had the audience cracking up when she thanked the US Embassy for inviting her but said that she wanted to make it clear she was not representing the American Government, merely expressing her own views. “Hopefully I won’t embarrass the US Government…but at this point that would be hard to do, wouldn’t it?” said Steele, as the room dissolved in laughter.

Steele went on to say that she was glad to be in a room full of journalists who were universally agreed that they should regulate themselves. How best to do this was the question. Could it be left to a journalistic code of ethics? What happens if a person feels they’ve been insulted, defamed or libeled by a media house? Whereas in the US they had dispensed with press councils, Steele had been part of setting one up in Indonesia which worked very well in dealing with such complaints.

Consisting of three members of the press, three members representing media owners and three members elected by the public from people knowledgeable about the field the Indonesian Press Council has been extraordinarily successful in mediating disputes and holding the media accountable, said Steele. It also has a public education function, educating the public on the advantages of a free and fair media.

Claire Grant who followed Steele, mentioned her transition from print journalist to marketing and sales and then to media management. She then presented some interesting statistics. Jamaica can pat itself on the back for ranking 8th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index though at the same time it ranks 83rd  of 176 countries in the World Corruption Perception Index. Norway which tops the press freedom index has a corruption perception index of 6 while Nigeria which ranked 122nd in press freedom ranked 136 in corruption perception.

Unlike Jamaica all the other countries ranked in the top 10 in press freedom rank very low in the corruption perception index. Singapore like Jamaica is an anomaly,  ranking very low in press freedom—151, but high in the corruption perception index—7. This made me wonder…was Jamaica’s poor ranking in corruption perception an indication that the Press in Jamaica is NOT using the freedom at its disposal to perform its watchdog function adequately?

This led to a brief discussion of the relative lack of investigative journalism in Jamaica with Dionne-Jackson Miller asserting that she would not be sending inexperienced rookies out to investigate risky or dangerous issues that required the attention of seasoned journalists who knew what they were doing and could protect themselves adequately. Jackson-Miller flagged the low salaries paid to journalists as a problem, ensuring that only relatively junior members of the profession could afford to work in Jamaican media houses for any length of time.

This means there is a dearth of senior journalists with the kind of backative and cojones needed to survive the perils of investigating high-level corruption.

The issue of insufficient remuneration was also brought up by international human rights attorney Jody Ann Quarrie who expressed concern that low salaries in conjunction with corruption would lead down a predictable path leaving poorly paid journalists vulnerable to blandishments by criminals and corrupt individuals and entities thus allowing ‘unsavoury practices’ to flourish rather than be curtailed.

To my mind this is a much more serious matter than the question of a press council. If our media houses are not willing to pay competitive industry salaries to ensure the highest quality of journalism why brag about ranking high on the press freedom index? Is Jamaican media’s bark worse than its bite? And what does this mean for democracy?

Art and Artifice

Screenshot 2018-01-19 07.31.19

Gleaner column, Dec 13, 2017

Art has been in the headlines globally, regionally and locally in the last few weeks. On the global stage Christie’s mid-November auction featuring a long-lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, was very much in the news especially after the much hyped painting sold for US$450.3 million. Created more than 500 years ago the painting depicts Christ as Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World).

According to Wikipedia “The painting shows Jesus, in Renaissance dress, giving a benediction with his right hand raised and two fingers extended, while holding a transparent rock crystal orb in his left hand, signaling his role as savior of the world and master of the cosmos, and representing the ‘crystalline sphere’ of the heavens.”

Before the auction Salvator Mundi was estimated to sell for approximately US$100 million. Christie’s elaborate marketing campaign toured the painting around the world attracting more than 27,000 people. A YouTube video showing mesmerized expressions on the faces of those who gazed upon the artwork was circulated virally by the auction house as well.

The clever campaign certainly delivered. On the day in question a mystery buyer paid four times the estimated value of the painting leaving everyone agog about their identity. CNBC speculated that the sheer price of the painting ruled out “most everyday billionaires”. Eventually the New York Times broke the news that the da Vinci had been purchased by an unknown Saudi Prince named Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.

Within days this version of events was disputed by the Wall Street Journal which claimed that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the buyer, with Prince Badr acting as proxy, and that the painting was intended as a gift for the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAR). The Crown Prince has been in the news recently for abruptly arresting 159 other princes and powerful business and political rivals.

The latest news is that a statement has now been put out by Christie’s announcing that Salvator Mundi was actually acquired by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism once again contradicting the earlier story that the Saudi Crown Prince bought the rare painting as a diplomatic gift for the UAR. What remains certain is that the renowned artwork will be on display at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi.

Closer to home, speaking of diplomatic gifts, mystery surrounds rumours that a painting given by President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic to Prime Minister Andrew Holness on his recent state visit to Jamaica, is a fake. The painting by the Dominican master artist Guillo Perez, has become the subject of intense debate and disapproval in the Dominican art community. The country is apparently plagued by counterfeiters, with fake works having been sold to foreign collectors as well as institutional collections according to an article in the Diario Libre.

“I can give assurances that if the president of the Dominican Republic, Lic. Danilo Medina has presented a work of art by a Dominican artist, it is because he feels pride in our art and because he is interested in the world paying attention to our artists, especially when this happens in a regional market forum “said renowned gallerist Juan José Mesa to Loquesucede.com.

Back home the art world is expressing consternation over the refurbishing of Laura Facey’s emancipation monument, Redemption Song, during the course of which the large bronze was painted a startling jet black. Nothing inflames art purists more than unwarranted interference with a work of art; such horror and anguish has been expressed in the public sphere over the re-pigmentation of the emancipated couple that you would think they had been painted shocking pink.

In a Gleaner article the sculptor explained that the repainting occurred during an attempt to resolve the issues of calcium build-up on the fingers of the bronze sculptures and on the walls of the surrounding water pool. The National Housing Trust, which is in charge of the monument, consulted Facey on the best way to do this. Facey recommended an expert and the rest as they say, is history. Black history.

The process to remove the marine paint and restore the monument’s natural bronze patina will be expensive. Perhaps in future artists might voluntarily monitor renovations of their works to avoid the commission of this kind of costly error. If it’s any consolation Laura, questions were also raised internationally about the authenticity of da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi because it had been painted over and refurbished so many times. This didn’t prevent it, five hundred years later, from fetching 450 million dollars.

Policing rape culture



Gleaner column 3/1/2018

Looking back on 2017 one thing stands out. Jamaica was way ahead of the curve in what would become the most significant social disruptor, globally, in recent years—breaking the silence on sexual harassment and rape culture.  As far back as early 2017 a young local activist, Latoya Nugent, had the gumption to start the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica accompanied by a list of offenders who had been named by young girls and women as their violators. For this she was vilified and treated like an enemy of the state, with six assault rifle-bearing members of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) descending on Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies to arrest her.

The actions of Latoya Nugent, and her close allies Nadine Spence, Taitu Heron and others gave rise to what is now known as The Tambourine Army because in accusing the then leader of the Moravian Church, Paul Gardner, Nugent tapped him on the head with a tambourine. This caused several senior activists and journalists to harshly criticize the tactics of the younger generation of activists, on the grounds that their modus operandi was too militant and they were using violence to make their point. Never mind the far more serious violence these women were protesting, assault with a tambourine became a thing in Jamaica.

In India too a young lawyer named Raya Sarkar started a growing ‘hall of shame’ list of names of sexual predators leading to a remarkably similar fallout between an older generation of feminists and a younger, more impatient one, tired of waiting for ‘due process’ to trip in. Like Nugent’s list in Jamaica care was taken to ensure that complaints about sexual predation were registered based on evidence corroborating the accusation. The difference was that the Indian list came in the wake of the phenomenally successful US-based #MeToo campaign in October 2017 whereas the Tambourine Army and the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica were already in full swing by February 2017.

The problem of rape in Jamaica is not new. According to artist Judy Ann Macmillan her mother, Vida J. Macmillan, did her best to change the rape laws of Jamaica in the 70s with continuous letters to the Gleaner. The punishment in her day for raping a child was twelve lashes. Judy Ann grew up on the story that her mother had even tried to talk to Edna Manley about it and Edna’s response was “If you are about to be raped dear I think you should lie down and enjoy it.” Mind you those were the days of the ideology wars and Vida and Edna came from opposite sides of that divide.

The sheer number of women and children routinely being sexually violated even today points to a pervasive ‘rape culture’ that is so deeply ingrained and accepted that there is hardly any outcry against it. Most women don’t even bother to report their rapes because of the tortuous procedures involved that make them relive the trauma in the process of being interviewed by police and legal personnel bristling with disbelief and completely lacking in empathy. Nor is this a local problem only. As @LauraOlin tweeted “Why women don’t report: 60 women give the same account of Bill Cosby and a jury still can’t agree that he raped anyone.”

Latoya Nugent was ahead of her time in the stellar championing of victims’ rights to call out their aggressors by name. So important did a similar movement become in the US only months later that Time magazine named as its persons of the year, The Silence Breakers—the women who had the courage to speak to the New York Times about their sexual exploitation at the hands of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile I heard a local journalist complaining that he preferred the hashtag #MeToo to #SayTheirNames because the latter was too confrontational. Yet as a vice.com article titled The Trouble With Saying ‘Me Too’ pointed out: “For each of us who have been raped, assaulted or harassed, there is at least one rapist, at least one abuser. These are the people who need to be held accountable, instead of survivors being put on trial to prove their assaults were bad enough to count for something.” In France, the campaign used the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – roughly translated as “snitch out your pig” a far more hard-hitting and unflattering tag than #SayTheirNames.

Naming those who injure you is important, breaking harmful silences is crucial. Let the Tambourine Army do its work. As an anonymous supporter of Nugent’s said, “Men will hear tambourines shake in their heads anytime they feel tempted to touch a woman or child, and they will think twice. They are the ones who will be afraid.”

Contextomy and other sins of omission

Screenshot 2017-12-29 10.16.21

Gleaner column, Dec 6, 2017

The recent kerfuffle about Prime Minister Holness and his response to Daniel Thomas of the Love March Movement at a recent OPM Live Youth Forum is interesting. I sought out the unedited footage and watched it but could find little in it to justify the outrage I had seen expressed widely on social media. The atmosphere in which the question about the proposed National Identity System (NIDS) was asked and the answer given, with follow up comments from Thomas, was quite civil.

At one point the Prime Minister raises his voice as he becomes impassioned with what he clearly perceives to be the unfair nature of the question/complaint. But this is after a full minute and 20 seconds during which he patiently explained the history of NIDS and its origins, with the PNP Government’s application for a loan to start the process of instituting the ID system. That portion of the video was neatly excised making it seem as if Holness had started his response to the rather lengthy question by raising his voice and forcefully saying, as he did, “I REJECT the view that somehow you have a higher moral authority on this than I do.”

Now you can fault Holness for viewing young Thomas as a stand-in for the PNP, which he seemed to do, although the line of reasoning was close enough to that of the PNP to justify such a mistake. But was it “completely inappropriate”? Was it unnecessarily aggressive? Was it arrogant?  Did it display “raging anger”? I hardly think so and can only conclude that those who have used such words to describe Holness’s response have political motivations.

The doctored video that was circulated is a classic case of contextomy or manipulative editing. The surgical removal of context, inspiring the term ‘contextomy’, in the same way the surgical removal of the brain’s frontal lobe is termed a ‘lobotomy’.  According to Wikipedia contextomy is the selective excerpting of words from their original context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning. The problem is not the removal of a quote from its original context per se but the quoter’s decision to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby phrases or sentences that serve to clarify the intentions behind the selected words.

A TV Tropes article explains some common forms of Manipulative Editing:

Missing or misused context is the single most common type of manipulative editing…At the most basic level, it creates a relationship between two unrelated events or removes a connection that should have been there. This one is much, much older than television, as people have been quoting their rivals out of context to make them look bad since time immemorial.

The spliced video took me right back to 2011 when defamatory videos were circulated by the Labour Party’s G2K, in which they cobbled together a number of clips, some of them out of context and doctored to fit, depicting Portia Simpson-Miller as a raging virago. One of them played on a quote from her 2007 election campaign in which she said ‘Don’t draw mi tongue’; no one now recalls what this was said in response to and it’s impossible to tell from the cunningly doctored video.

Of course ‘don’t draw mi tongue’ in itself is a harmless Jamaicanism broadly meaning ‘Let me hold my peace, don’t make me get too candid.’ This was widely used against Portia in 2007 and was resurrected during the 2011 election campaign, interspersed with images of the candidate in full demotic mode, with clips from various speeches and interviews collaged together to give the impression of someone violating all the norms of respectability and decorum so beloved by Jamaicans.

In case you’re inclined to think that contextomy and manipulative editing are examples of local bad mind and restricted to our shores only let me remind you of the 2010 firing and subsequent re-hiring of American civil servant Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod had allegedly made ‘racist’ remarks in a two-minute video clip posted by blogger Andrew Breitbart that later turned out to have been edited in a way that removed the context of her 43-minute speech.

To return to the ‘don’t draw mi tongue’ contextomy. The Jamaica Observer at the time actually came out with an editorial chastising the JLP for the ad on grounds of ‘civility’ and ‘decency’. But these are highly subjective measures, what is decent to me may be indecent to you. What about the legality of broadcasting a doctored video in which clips are neatly arranged out of sequence, with crucial segments missing to give a certain impression?

Is it accurate and ethical to splice disparate bits of video and audio together like this? Is this not a violation of Regulation 30 (f) of the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission which rules that broadcast content should not “contain any false or misleading information”?

At any rate, such manipulative practices by both parties are to be condemned. We’re not fooled by them, just disgusted. Stop it!