Who’s paying the watchdog?

IMG_6026
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.

Rebekah Brooks arrest shows up Jamaican media

The Rebekah Brooks arrest shows up the ineffectualness of Jamaican media

Leon Neal/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images: Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International,on July 1, 2011, at Wimbledon

As if to underscore the point made in my last post–that it was disingenuous of Jamaican media to make excuses for their refusal to identify the names of prime suspects by blaming the police for not releasing their names (as if the police are the only means to get access to information about them!) –a classic example of what I mean has just unfurled in Britain with the arrest of former Murdoch media head Rebekah Brooks. The British police didn’t identify her either–but this hasn’t kept the media there from verifying and announcing the arrest (see story below).

What then keeps Jamaican media from doing the same? Why does the public here put up with this nonsense?

Incidentally @ravisomaiya, one of the authors of the NYT article below tweeted the following this morning:

Everyone I’ve spoken to since the news broke suggests #Brooks will use the arrest to avoid questions in Parliament. #NotW

British Police Arrest Rebekah Brooks in Phone Hacking

By and RAVI SOMAIYA
Published: July 17, 2011

LONDON — The British police on Sunday arrested Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s media operations in Britain, according to a former associate at News International, the newspaper group at the heart of a phone-hacking scandal convulsing the Murdoch empire, the British political elite and the police.

A police statement did not identify her by name but said a 43-year-old woman had been detained for questioning by officers investigating both the phone-hacking scandal and payments made to corrupt police officers. A News International official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ms. Brooks had been arrested.

Britain’s Press Association news agency said she was arrested by appointment at a London police station at approximately midday and remains in custody.

The terse Metropolitan Police statement went thus:

“The MPS [Metropolitan police service] has this afternoon, Sunday 17 July, arrested a female in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking.

“At approximately 12.00 a 43-year-old woman was arrested by appointment at a London police station by officers from Operation Weeting [phone hacking investigation] together with officers from Operation Elveden [bribing of police officers investigation]. She is currently in custody.

“She was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

“The Operation Weeting team is conducting the new investigation into phone hacking.

“Operation Elveden is the investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police. This investigation is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details regarding these cases at this time.”

Jamaican police statements no doubt end with a similar caution. The problem is our media treats this as some kind of divine order rather than a suggestion. Nary another word issues from them on the matter. Some people think this may be because of our libel laws, slavishly copied (like the buggery law) from British libel law. But if the British media doesn’t find their libel law a shackle on their ability to publish information of public interest why does it have this gagging effect on media here? Have their laws been modified? If so can we modify ours to match posthaste? Mimicry has never been a problem before…

Seet deh? I rest my case. can we now agree that Jamaican media has been wantonly derelict in its duty to inform the public?

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!

The only Jamaican paper with balls–The Sunday Herald

Answers some questions about the owner of the BMW X6 whose driver killed a 17 yr old Jamaican and why his identity is being protected by the media, police, church and government.

November 6, 2011

UPDATE! For readers searching for information about the Sunday Herald you can tune in to my interview with the chairman of the board Rev Garnett Roper  about what’s happening with the Sunday Herald at 9 am Jamaican time on Newstalk 93FM, it streams live on the internet at http://newstalk.com.jm/LiveStream.htm. Back to my July 10 post below….

I’ve been very irregular with updating this blog. Largely this is because in February this year I started doing two weekly radio programmes, Double Standards and The Silo, on Newstalk 93. Coupled with my full time job at the University of the West Indies this leaves me with very little spare time. Something had to give and alas, its been Active Voice…

Double Standards, which I co-host with Yvette Rowe, a BBC-trained radio and TV broadcaster attempts to give listeners a more in-depth, analytical sense of issues in the news, both locally and globally. We also look at media coverage in general, pinpointing where we think it’s biased or employing a double standard, or just plain inadequate, leaving the public ill-informed, in the dark or providing it with little more than a succession of press releases. In the last week or two there’ve been so many instances of this that we can barely keep up.

For instance the cover page headline in today’s Observer, one of the two main daily newpapers in Jamaica, blares ‘Who is the X6 Killer?’ The question relates to the leading article in the paper, illustrated by the image below, about a killing that has shocked the country.

About two weeks ago Khajeel Mais, a 17-year old schoolboy travelling in a taxi, was shot dead by the driver of a BMW X6 which the taxi had accidentally grazed. In an apparent act of road rage the BMW driver leapt out of his vehicle and proceeded to fire at the taxi, which turned and tried to flee. One of the bullets entered the head of the unfortunate 17-year old killing him immediately.

Since then it has emerged that the owner of the luxury car is a highly connected businessman with ties to top policemen as well as politicians. No doubt this is why its driver felt empowered enough to attack the taxi in the brazen way that he did. No doubt this is why the major media houses here are scared to name either owner or driver. We don’t even know if they were one and the same or different.

Twitter was abuzz with the news and jokes about the X6, like this tweet: @afflictedyard: For Sale: BMW X6 #migratingmustsell #minordamage

All week long rumours have been flying about the murderous X6 driver to the effect that the man had left the country within hours of the shooting and that a senior cop with connections to the driver had been caught concealing information pertinent to the case. Although the policeman’s name has been mentioned at least once in a television news broadcast I saw, the alleged shooter’s identity, as well as the name of the owner of the car, have carefully been kept from the public in much the same way that the name of a Chinese restaurant in Mandeville, whose fried rice sickened at least 14 patrons, sending some to hospital, has been punctiliously withheld from the public.

What’s the deal here?

According to the Observer:

While the name of the alleged shooter cannot be published because he has not been charged with a crime, there are some things the Sunday Observer can report about him, based on interviews with persons who have intimate knowledge of him.

Clearly the newspaper IS in a position to divulge the name of the suspect, or the ‘person of interest’ to use a technical term, judging by the wealth of detail it goes on to provide about him. He’s “of dark complexion”, is a Canadian citizen and “has deep ties with both major political parties, though he is said to have greater loyalty to the Opposition People’s National Party”.

The murder suspect — who is a real estate developer and who is said to have enormous wealth — is also linked to other major local figures from the criminal underworld, while maintaining “very deep” connections with senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The suspect, who over the years has kept a low profile, is said to have real estate developments in several posh St Andrew communities, including Liguanea and Norbrook.

Additionally, he’s said to have developments along Red Hills Road and owns several other multi-million-dollar properties in the Constant Spring area of St Andrew, among others.

He’s also the owner of a private jet.

The claim that the paper can’t publish the name of the suspect because “he has not been charged with a crime” is a crock of shit; this has never kept them from trumpeting the names of other less influential ‘suspects’ who have yet to be charged with a crime. In the very same paper there is another story: Security guard sought in mother-daughter murder:

A security guard is being sought by the Savanna-la-Mar police following the killing of two women and the injury of their neighbour during a dispute in Farm District, Westmoreland yesterday.

The accused has been identified as 25-year-old Roche Tomlinson.

The guard who is on the run, is yet to be charged with the murder, yet the paper boldly tells us his name! (omg! news has just broken that the security guard was killed and dismembered, then set ablaze by vigilantes, wonder if this has anything to do with his name being called?) Similarly some months ago Jamaican media, including the Observer had no qualms about bandying about the names of Vybz Kartel and Mavado when the two were taken in by the police for questioning as ‘persons of interest’ in crimes we are yet to be informed about. Mavado even complained of the resulting damage to his reputation but its not clear what compensation if any he has recieved. The same goes for Kartel who was kept in the lockup for two weeks prompting him to appear on stage at last year’s Reggae Sumfest in handcuffs and prison uniform.

Photo of Kartel: Marcia Forbes
spraggabenz

And only a couple of months ago we heard all over the media that DJ Spragga Benz was wanted for questioning by the police in connection with a triple murder. Apparently nothing came of it because he’s out and about. Has he been compensated for damage to his reputation?  The answer is a resounding NO. Talk about double standards!

Well, guess what? The Sunday Herald names the owner of the car, calmly and without any fanfare, in a short news item titled “Police awaiting forensic tests on BMW X6”. It’s Patrick Powell. Of course we don’t know whether this was in fact the car that was involved in the accident, nor do we know, even if it was the car,  that the owner was driving it at the time of the shooting.

But why is it only the Herald that had the balls to come out and name the owner of the car which is being investigated by the police? That’s what i want to know. More power to them! Again from Twitter: RT @JustSherman: Jamaica Observer and Gleaner couldn’t cross it, but the Jamaica Herald can swim #onlyrealjamaicannewpaper