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
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
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”.