Who’s paying the watchdog?

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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?

Yesterday a man…

While Jamaica seems to be experiencing a crime wave its media is busy censoring itself…

Yesterday a man named Ed Gallimore went to an ATM in New Kingston to withdraw money and fell victim to a robber who shot and killed him. He was a prominent figure in the tourist industry. According to a report in the Jamaica Observer:

Gallimore was shot at an automated banking machine on Knutsford Boulevard about 3:30 pm. Police report that Gallimore had withdrawn an undetermined sum of cash from the machine when he was pounced upon by a gunman upon leaving the booth. Gallimore was shot and the gunman escaped on a motorcycle.

In Jamaica gunmen always ‘pounce’ on their victims. Don’t ask why. A question I will ask is why Jamaican media seems to be conspiring with the bank concerned to keep the exact location of the ATM a secret. All we know is that it’s somewhere on Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston. Such an omission raises serious questions about the media and exactly whose watchdogs they are…
In a sinister twist Ed Gallimore’s mother and other mourners were held up and robbed at his house today:

The Observer learnt that friends of the former tourism industry executive were at his house offering condolences to his mother when one of the gunmen, pretending to be a friend, walked in, hugged Gallimore’s mother, then pulled a gun and demanded money.

Something has changed about the calibre of crime we’re experiencing now. Only last week there was a brazen carjacking not very far from the unnamed ATM.

A Kingston mother was subjected to one of the most frightening ordeals of her life yesterday when an armed man forced himself into her car in heavy drive-time traffic, fought with her, and eventually drove away with her baby who was strapped into a car seat in the back. “I am still in shock,” Judy-Ann Hinds told the Observer about an hour after the ordeal ended when the thief crashed her car on Oxford Road and bolted up Belmont Road, leaving the baby unharmed.

Notice that the media wasn’t bashful about identifying the exact location in this instance; it gives you the precise address where the carjacker lost control of the car. No prizes for guessing why. There was no powerful business, political or social  entity located there. As the crime wave continues the media needs to be reminded that they are supposed to be serving the public, not just those who advertise in their pages or buy their airtime. Their model ought not to be the dog in the HMV ads listening to His Master’s Voice…their job is to be the canary in the coal mine singing its heart out to alert us of the danger surrounding us. Your job is to inform not to withhold information.

This is a direct message to the media: The public needs information in order to minimize its risks. Kindly provide it. That’s your mandate.

A Prescription for Disaster?

The President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica, Valerie Germaine, is seemingly muzzled after voicing criticism of the government.



One of my closest friends is a pharmacist so i usually prick up my ears when matters pharmaceutical are in the news. My friend who taught at UTech in the 90s used to tell her students that they HAD to pay attention in her class because unlike Literature or Sociology students any mistake they made was likely to kill somebody.

Well pay attention to this. The President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica,  Valerie Germaine, has been  sent on half pay leave (from her government job) by the Public Services Commission. Coincidentally this happened days after Germaine appeared on a local TV programme called Morning Time in which she spoke frankly of the acute shortage of qualified pharmacists in the system. In fact, said she, the government was filling the vacancies with technicians who are not properly qualified to be issuing prescriptions to the public which they are at present doing.

Interviewed on Nationwide by Emily Crooks and Naomi Francis this morning Mrs. Germaine said that after her TV appearance she was called into a meeting with health ministry officials, including the Minister of Health, and given a ‘serious scolding’. The half pay leave followed soon after. A health ministry official who was also interviewed on Nationwide denied that any punitive action had been taken against Mrs Germaine for fulfilling her role as President of the Pharmaceutical Association. The Association however says the government is trying to muzzle them. The matter is being investigated said the Health Ministry official who was unable to respond to Crooks and Francis when they asked about the specific offence being investigated. What are the charges, they persistedin asking, without recieving any satisfactory answer.

What emerged from the radio interviews i heard was a contrast being made between private sector pharmacies which adhered to international best practices and the public sector which was in violation of them. The Jamaica Pharmacists’ Association was originally established with fifteen members and in 1944 the name was changed to the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica (PSJ) according to the association’s website. Interestingly the website is hosted by the Private Sector Association of Jamaica.

We await further developments with bated breath. Hopefully people’s lives are not at risk in the meantime.

Double Standards Redux…

Double standards in Jamaican media: an update on the X6 killer, Chinese restaurant in mandeville etc

Excuse us while we crow a bit!

Well, well, well–how interesting! An article in today’s Gleaner ‘Puzzle over lack of name in X6-killer probe’ follows up on several of the issues raised in my last post without even a nod in the direction of Active Voice. Here’s a quote from that article:

Police investigators probing the death of 17-year-old schoolboy Khajeel Mais have been accused of double standards for their decision not to release the identity of the alleged BMW X6 killer as a person of interest.

Julian Jones-Griffiths, the manager for dancehall star Mavado (real name David Brooks), who has twice been listed as a person of interest, said this move by the police is “unfathomable” given the evidence they have already collected and the haste with which other individuals are identified.

Does any of this ring a bell? Never mind, we won’t take offence, it just goes to show the influence of this blog, that the major newspaper in the island seems to follow in its footsteps. In fact I’ll treat it as a compliment. Thanks Old Lady of North Street!

Meanwhile the Observer carries an article today about a man fitting the description they published yesterday of the putative X6 killer to a T, a Chris Kerr, who wants to establish that he is NOT a suspect in the case. See? This is what happens when you refuse to name the person being investigated by the police; in protecting his identity you expose a wide range of people who superficially fit the description to speculation and innuendo. How does that make any sense?

Similarly in the case of the Chinese restaurant in Mandeville rather than naming the restaurant concerned, after it was established that 14 people fell ill after eating there,  the public was warned to be wary of eating at any Chinese restaurant in the area!

The ‘restaurant of interest’ has attracted far more negative publicity by pulling strings to keep its name from the public than it would have if it had humbly apologized for the incident, reimbursed the patrons who fell ill and paid their hospital bills. At the moment it isn’t clear if those who suffered the consequences of eating contaminated fried rice have been compensated in any way for this. It has also exposed all the Chinese restaurants in the Mandeville area to the suspicion of  patrons who are rightfully wary of eating at any of them.

The threat of being outed in the media is the only recourse hapless members of the public have when they become victims of wrongdoing–even if the damage was unintentional. In a similar case a group of friends who had food poisoning after eating at TGIF in Kingston some weeks ago had to resort to exposing the incident on local media (fortunately one of them is a journalist himself and could broadcast the information on his show without having to rely on the tender mercies of our news media) before they suddenly got calls from the head office in Trinidad and Tobago apologizing profusely and refunding their money including tips! Till then the local management of TGIF had arrogantly refused to refund the money spent!

On a considerably more depressing note the security guard mentioned in my previous post, who was accused of killing his wife and mother-in-law was set upon by a mob who hacked him to death, ‘limbed’ him and burnt the remains. This is the man whose identity the Observer blithely revealed while coyly concealing the name of the person of interest in the X6 killing.

Breaking news:  Yesterday’s post on Active Voice is breaking all previous records for number of hits, with 3,030 page views since this morning. Today has been the busiest day on my blog with a total of 3,720 views, breaking the previous record held by Cake Soap and Creole of 1,167 hits.

Also the Observer is announcing that the suspected X6 killer has been arrested on re-entry into the island. His name however is still being withheld!

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)


cartoons by Las May, The Gleaner


In India the self-appointed defenders of Indian culture wanted to ban Valentine’s Day celebrations and force all couples found displaying affection in public or dating on Valentine’s Day to wed on the spot; in Jamaica the Broadcasting Commission (BC) has imposed a blanket ban on ‘daggering’ songs from the airwaves, even in edited form. It defines ‘Daggering’ as “a colloquial term or phrase used in dancehall culture as a reference to hardcore sex or what is popularly referred to as ‘dry’ sex, or the activities of persons engaged in the public simulation of various sexual acts and positions.” It should be noted that this definition has been contested by some people as inaccurate.

The BC then issued the following directive to licencees:

1. There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any recording, live song or music video which promotes the act of ‘daggering’, or which makes reference to, or is otherwise suggestive of ‘daggering’.

2. There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any audio recording, song or music video which employs editing techniques of ‘bleeping’ or ‘beeping’ of its original lyrical content.

3. Programme managers and station owners or operators are hereby required to take immediate steps to prevent transmission of any recorded material relating to ‘daggering’ or which fall into the category of edited musical content using techniques of ‘bleeping’ or ‘beeping’.

It’s such a pity that elections aren’t impending because you would have been sure to find various politicians daggering all over their campaign platforms, delivering themselves of stirring speeches in rock chaw Patwa and otherwise wallowing in the vernacular culture that is now deemed too profane for the airwaves.

For the last ten years I’ve been studying and writing about the culture wars played out in the Jamaican public sphere. The following is a quote from Dancehall in Jamaica: ‘Keeping It Jiggy’ in Babylon, a paper I presented at a symposium on censorship in the arts at the Edna Manley College of Art some years ago. The paper was inspired by an article called Jonkonnu in Jamaica published many years ago by Sylvia Wynter in Jamaica Journal:

‘Plantation’ ideology, the official ideology, “would give rise to the superstructure of civilization in the Caribbean while ‘provision ground’ ideology would produce the ‘roots of culture’. The former was predicated as European and the latter as African. With such a worldview it wasn’t surprising that the suppression of African-based ‘slave culture’ was widespread throughout the Caribbean; Errol Hill describes how even those well-disposed towards the slaves had no hesitation in calling for the banning of the more ‘African’ influenced dances and masquerades:

“Ironically as we have seen, among those who worked hardest for slave liberation were people prominent in demanding the suppression of so-called slave culture. Reasons given for suppressing the Christmastime masquerades in Jamaica in 1842 were that they obstructed the progress of civilization and were derogatory to the dignity of freemen. At the other end of the Caribbean, similar attitudes prevailed regarding the Trinidad Carnival. Once it was taken over and transformed by the black freedmen, the leading newspaper castigated the festival throughout the nineteenth century in the severest terms and urged its abolition. Rioting ensued. In 1838 the masquerade was called “a wretched buffoonery [tending] to brutalize the faculty of the lower order of our population.” In 1846 the carnival was “an orgy indulged in by the dissolute of the town”; in 1857 it was “an annual abomination”; in 1863, “a licensed exhibition of wild excesses”; in 1874, “a diabolical festival”; and in 1884, “a fruitful source of demoralization throughout the whole country.” These attacks served only to alienate the revelers and to stiffen their resistance to any form of control. The results, unsurprisingly, were more riots and a widening gulf between government and the people.”[1]

Similarly Wynter refers to the quotation by F.G. Cassidy of a 1951 letter to the editor of the Gleaner which objected to the revival of Jonkonnu “because the dances were ‘demoralizing and vulgar’.The police had managed to succeed in suppressing it in his district, ‘and many people were taken to court for it’.”

Policing Popular Culture
Ironically the policing of popular culture has been such a normal part of the Jamaican scene for centuries that it was even a trope in Jonkonnu. Wynter talks of the dance of the Whore Girl and the Wild Indian.

“But there was another dance in 1951—one performed by a Sailor and a Whore Girl “who dance(d) vulgar all the time” [Wynter’s italics]. This was the same one danced in the Jonkonnu Parade at Portland as late as 1969—and termed by the citizens who watched it with shocked delight: “a real dirty dance”. Apart from the Whore Girl, there was another character called the Wild Indian. In this dance, both these principals are men, but Whore Girl is dressed as a woman. He/she lifts his/her dress, holding it at both sides to show the underwear, bends back with knees open and bent before, and does a dance which is an exaggerated form of the hipsway and pelvic roll. The Wild Indian straddles his/her hip, and lifting one leg and changing the other, does a backward-and-forward movement of the pelvis, known in Portland as ‘the forward jam’. “

Their openly sexual dance is curtailed by a Policeman who arrests them both pending their being bailed out by the crowd who pay pennies to set them free. Then the dance which Wynter claims parodies obscenity and celebrates the life force continues. “And without its framework of meaning it repels the more Christian element who see it only as one more example of the ‘sexual license’ and immoral lack of restraint of the lower classes.”

Unfortunately one has no choice but to see the latest action of the BC as an updated version of the centuries old attempt first by the slave masters, then the colonial missionaries, and now the middle and upper class elites who occupy the highest rungs of society in postcolonial Jamaica, to censor and legislate the morality of ‘the lower classes’ on the grounds that their behaviour and musical products are a threat to the moral well-being of wider society.

One is forced to take this view for various reasons. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica went on the rampage after Esther Tyson, the Principal of a local high school wrote a column expressing outrage over the popularity of a song called ‘Ramping Shop’ featuring popular DJs Vybz Kartel and Spice. Depicting the song as ‘musical poison’ the Principal went on to lament the effect such ‘filth’ would have on young minds. Contradicting her own worry she went on to quote several children at her school who were all critical of the song and showed that they were capable of digesting and analyzing the lyrics without becoming desensitized sex maniacs. Perhaps she didn’t notice how this contradiction weakened her own argument.

Neither did the Broadcasting Commission. Ms. Tyson’s letter appeared on February 1 and acting with what one might legitimately call indecent haste, the BC issued its draconian ban on daggering exactly two weeks ago on Feb. 6, less than a week after the Tyson letter had appeared. Ironically February 6 is celebrated here and elsewhere as Bob Marley’s birthday. Also as a visitor from Germany who is an avid consumer of dancehall noted, it was interesting that this devastating stab to the heart of the music industry occurred during the recently instituted Reggae month, something he and his wife, well-known music journalists had come to Jamaica to cover.

The reason one is forced to conclude that a certain bias guided the censorious actions of the BC is that Esther Tyson subsequently pointed out that she had previously written a similar column expressing concern over carnival and its attendant vulgarities. In yesterday’s Observer Michael Burke also wrote a column titled Slackness and Hypocrisy lamenting the fact tht the BC had paid scant attention to his earlier columns demanding censorship of vulgar carnival dances and lyrics.

As Trinidad and Tobago stands poised on the brink of its annual cleansing carnival rituals (Feb 22-24), a wonderfully licentious national celebration that purges and purifies the atmosphere there, its worth noting that in Jamaica carnival remains a middle and upper class indulgence. Although the BC subsequently came out and said that carnival songs and dances are included in its ban, the language it couched its ban in was clearly exclusively directed at dancehall music, which is primarily consumed by the underclasses here.

Double-edged sword
The tragedy of all this is that the freewheeling creativity and exuberance of the dancehall which for the last twenty or more years has built up an international demand for its products without benefit of state subsidy or intervention is about to be curtailed and put in shackles by people who neither understand nor appreciate its iconic stature in world culture. On the contrary the state has been completely indifferent to the pleas of numerous DJs, promoters and other players in the music industry who have been asking for years that specific regulations and structure be designed for musical production and consumption here. The letter of the day in the Gleaner (Feb 19. 2009) titled “Dangers of dictating tastes for others” outlined ways in which the consumption of cable telelvision can and should be regulated. There is no reason why dancehall music which is primarily for adults should not be regulated in the same way.

Despite the stellar international success of Jamaican music there are no purpose-built venues for its consumption and dissemination locally although there is a National Gallery of Art, the Little Theatre for the National Pantomime and other such facilities for the cultural products of the middle classes. The nation’s universities have no courses in entertainment law and management; its banks have no loan products to facilitate music producers or aspiring singers and DJs yet we can’t wait to drive a dagger through the heart of the goose that has laid so many golden eggs for Jamaica.

There are other glaring inconsistencies in the BC’s recent actions. As others have pointed out, despite international outrage the BC has never issued a ban on lyrics threatening violence to homosexuals, or so-called ‘hate’ music in general although this could be argued to be more morally deletrious to the nation. There is also the entrenched system of payola plaguing the dissemination of music on radio which is the bane of music production here. What action has the BC taken to clean up this kind of corruption in the industry? does it interpret its mandate solely to be that of a watchdog against moral corruption?

As Sylvia Wynter pointed out in her article forty or so years ago the careless, cavalier interventions of Christian groups eventually drove Jonkonnu underground and led to its extinction. Today the custodians of culture in Jamaica lament its demise and try in vain to resurrect what is acknowledged to be the ‘folk culture’ of Jamaica. Dancehall music is today’s–contemporary–folk culture, and will be celebrated as Jamaican folk culture in the future (if its goose isn’t cooked by then), something today’s elites are loath to acknowledge.

The moral brigade and the state could do worse than to pay serious attention to the words of Vybz Kartel who responded to the attack on the Ramping Shop with the following words:

Ms Tyson, the “devastating impact on the psyche of Jamaican children” is not caused by ‘daggerin’ songs but rather by socio-economic conditions which leave children without free education, single-parent homes, (or shacks), the lack of social infrastructure in ghetto communities, unemployed and disenfranchised young men with no basic skills who are caught up in the ‘gun culture’ cultivated by our politicians in the 1960s-’70s, all faults of the governments (PNP and JLP).

Until these underlying systemic obscenities are rapidly dealt with such actions as the BC undertook in Reggae month must be viewed as purely cosmetic and marred by class bias. The daggering debate in Jamaica proves that censorship can and often is a double-edged sword.

Rebuke them! rebuke them!
you have to watch this wonderful Elephant Man spoof of the Moral Re-armament crew–


and for the latest in contemporary soca, this is one of the hottest songs/videos in Trinidad this carnival! Machel Montano’s Wild Antz–get bitten!

PS: The University of the West Indies now offers courses in entertainment law and artiste management under the aegis of the Reggae Studies Institute. This a relatively recent development. As soon as i have the exact course titles i will post them here.

Also since posting this yesterday the Broadcast Commision has come out with a second ban which covers transmission of carnival songs as well. The original ban issued two weeks ago only targeted dancehall music. In another development the rivals Vybz Kartel and Mavado have both come out with songs protesting the action of the BC. As Clordene Lloyd notes:

With the release of three new songs, A So Yuh Move by Mavado (Big Ship Productions), Dem Nuh Like We (Big Ship Productions) and A Nuh My Music (Fresh Ear Productions) by Kartel, the deejays are protesting the ban by the Broadcasting Commission on all daggering songs and songs that require bleeping.

[1] Errol Hill, The Jamaican Stage 1655-1900: Profile of a Colonial Theatre, Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 1992, p. 279.