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

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



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


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


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


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


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

if journalists live under conditions of corruption,

poverty or fear.


Little wonder then that Jamaica’s journalists are

increasingly concerned that their cherished media

freedoms are under serious threat as low pay and precarious

employment stalk the media.


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

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

a lifetime serving an ungrateful media. Journalists called

out to cover a job are sometimes unable to respond because

they do not have even enough money for petrol for their

car. Others out covering hurricanes have had to leave their

children alone at home in the raging storm because they

cannot afford proper childcare.


And these journalists, fearful about losing their jobs, have

suffered in silence. In Jamaica such issues have only been

whispered about.

Corruption is rife in Jamaican society. In December,

Jamaica was ranked 83 out of 174 countries by Transparency

International. Journalists are the targets of vested interests

– from corporations to politicians to criminal gangs and

even media owners promoting their own business interests.

Widespread poverty among the country’s media workers

opens up the possibility that such vested interests can exert

an undue influence on journalists.

But today, the Press Association of Jamaica, which is

bombarded every week with requests for loans and financial

support from journalists who have fallen on hard times, is

finding its voice. Alongside campaigns to create a joint press

council with media companies and for an end to punitive

criminal libel laws which restrict journalists’ ability to do

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

against the poverty of journalists as a way of working to

improve quality and tackle the possibility of individual

journalists being susceptible to corruption.

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

message to all stakeholders that the under-compensation of

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

all so treasure”.

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

cannon fodder to the corrupt who want to ensure that their

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

the radio and television newscasts. This is an issue which

everyone who wants to ensure a free, fair and independent

media in Jamaica should rally around and one which the PAJ

will champion”.

I heard first-hand stories of journalists who had accepted

money for petrol or loans or financial and other gifts or

discounts from politicians, corporations or other vested

interests while researching this article. Payola is seen by

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

by some journalists as a way to supplement meagre salaries.

Sometimes the request to handle a story a particular way is

explicit, sometimes implied. But in every case the journalists

know the intention is to attempt to corrupt media coverage.

The International Federation of Journalists recognises that

the poverty and precarious employment of journalists

means journalism is too open to corruption, too reliant on

corrupt practices so its independence can be challenged.

The link between journalists’ working conditions and

their ethical stance is not absolute — but conditions play a

significant part. If journalists feel insecure they are much

less likely to challenge dubious editorial decisions. If they are

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

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

mind on which ethical journalism depends.

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

committed to tackling the financial well-being of her

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

do is asking questions on behalf of those who would not

otherwise have access and provide information that allows

people to make critical personal choices.

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

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

recognising that press freedom is as much a matter of

providing access to the public to express themselves freely

and maintaining firewalls to guard against boardroom and

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

to do their jobs without the deliberate and sometimes

systematic pressures of eking out an existence way beneath

the poverty line.

“We must stand firmly against working in a climate where

payola and other forms of corruption become almost a

necessary consideration as we are called upon to do more,

simply because new and emerging technology demand it,

without any thought of how these new realities impact on

our own already meagre personal resources.

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

even as we struggle to feed young families and grapple with

too-long working hours.

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

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

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

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

others with confidence and without fear or favour”.

The PAJ is already winning widespread backing for its

campaign. Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director

of National Integrity Action, has backed the association’s

demands for more ethical training and support for

journalists so they can increasingly challenge government

officials and others.

And Sandrea Falconer, Jamaican Government Information

Minister and a former journalist, says her government has

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

regime – which currently opens the door to media being

sued for criminal libel and facing unlimited fines – before the

endof the current Parliamentary year. But she also challenged

media to provide journalists with practical support to help

them tackle corruption wherever it may appear – including

in the media itself.

“Private power has increased enormously over the years in

our society and private actors have the means to influence

media content and output. Media practitioners themselves

have to exercise considerable moral courage to resist unjust

enrichment. They need support to do that”.

Tommy Lee Channels Pirate Henry Morgan in Port Royal

Featuring rising dancehall star Tommy Lee’s latest music video shot in Port Royal, Jamaica.

Newest Dancehall star Tommy Lee shooting music video for We Want Paper in Port Royal…

Here’s Tommy Lee, the new star from the Gaza firmament, shooting his latest music video, We Want Paper, in Port Royal. According to his publicity machine:

The song is a special one for the performer who is also the song’s writer. It was penned to inspire youngsters to focus on working hard to achieve financial success. “Youths them a the future, we nuh want no fourteen shooter, fe mess up we dream like Freddy Krueger”, words of encouragement from Tommy Lee. Neighborhood children chorused with the artiste word for word on the set.

By setting the video against the backdrop of Port Royal, once known as the wickedest city in the West, Lee hopes to tune into its history, that of a once wealthy capital of criminality reduced to rubble by an earthquake. The message? The guilty will be punished, crime doesn’t pay.

Interestingly the song is an anti-gun tune and aims to promote education, heterosexuality and materialism if i read the lyrics and images correctly. We want paper, big up all moneymaker… I like it, the production values are great, editing is by fellow musician Wayne Marshall. Incidentally i love the name of his company and its logo, see screenshot below to see what i mean. And immediately below that watch a YouTube video of We Want Paper:

Gaza mi seh!

Aung Suu Kyi’s release, the Gaza situation, and Jamaican dancehall

Free at last! As i write this the world is celebrating the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, held captive for 15 years by the ruthless military government of Myanmar/Burma. What a moment! There aren’t too many women–or men– like Suu Kyi, willing to sacrifice their freedom of movement in the name of moral principle, something completely lacking in politics today. Suu Kyi is an alumnus of my Alma Mater in Delhi, the venerable Lady Sri Ram College, whose initials, LSR, were said to be synonymous with Love, Sex and Romance for male students at Delhi University. Clearly besides being a source of girlfriend material, LSR has also produced stellar leaders with the moral fibre of the redoubtable Aung San Suu Kyi. I think of her as the Orchid of Steel.

Closer to home and the mundane, my daily trod was enlivened yesterday by a Skype interview with an Israeli journalist, Nirit Ben-Ari, who contacted me last week with the following request:

I will be honored and thankful if you interview with me for the article I am writing for Haaretz newspaper on dancehall culture in Jamaica.  I am mainly interested in your interpretation of the term “Gaza” and its possible implication of awareness of global politics. Do you think that the choice of the name “Gaza” represents a political awareness and identification with the underdog?  I am also interested in your view on the global “gaze” on dancehall culture and the dangers of misinterpreting and misunderstanding dancehall culture outside of Jamaica.  What do you think about the dissemination of dancehall images globally?

In response i sent her the paper i had given at the Reggae Studies Conference earlier this year: Eyeless in Gaza (and Gully): ‘Mi deh pon di borderline’;  essentially i was trying to document and comment on the effects of the feud between two of Jamaica’s top DJs, Vybz Kartel (Gaza) and Mavado (Gully) that resulted in the words ‘Gaza’ and ‘Gully’ being spraypainted or otherwise inscribed on surfaces all over Kingston, but also in places like Trinidad, Barbados as well as Brooklyn, London and the generalized Jamaican diaspora. I excerpt a relevant bit from my paper below:

Etymology of ‘Gaza’ in the Jamaican context

It is commonplace in Jamaica for impoverished urban areas to be informally named after locations known globally as war zones. Thus there are locales named ‘Angola’, ‘Tel Aviv’, ‘Vietnam’ and of course ‘Gaza’. In a widely publicized interview between Cliff Hughes, a prominent local journalist, and Vybz Kartel on TV Jamaica’s Impact which aired on November 12, 2009, Hughes asked Kartel why he had chosen the name Gaza for his area, and what the frequently uttered phrase ‘Gaza mi seh’ meant. Kartel who often refers to himself in the third person responded:

“’Gaza mi seh’ means ‘Fight for what you believe in against all odds, against all adversity.’ When I left the Alliance Vybz Kartel came under so much pressure, I said to Black Rhino and others we need to form a group. But we need a perfect name. The first war was just happening in Gaza, Israel was bombarding them but the people were fighting back regardless, and Vybz Kartel said to Laing (Isaiah Laing, prominent promoter associated with the annual Sting show), we’re going to use that name coz it means to me–dem people deh serious and dem nah back down.”

Indeed. Just like Aung San Suu Kyi. She nah back down needa. Interestingly, Kartel steered clear of the reason he felt obliged to look for a suitable name for the Portmore community associated with him, in the first place.  The backstory is an interesting one umbilically connected to the complicated discourse around masculinity and sexuality in Jamaica. Yet the details of why the community of Borderline in Portmore came to be rechristened ‘Gaza’ is one the media had never considered noteworthy enough to mention let alone dwell on.

Those who wish to know more can read my blogpost on the subject where Gaza’s bizarre link to homosexuality in Jamaica is recorded.

But back to yesterday, I can’t tell you how cool it was to be sitting in my living room in Kingston talking directly to Nirit in Tel Aviv, complete with images of ourselves and the rooms we were in. Viva Skype!

Nirit explained that she had wanted to read Carolyn Cooper and Donna Hope’s books on dancehall culture but they weren’t available in Tel Aviv and she had ordered them on Amazon but hadn’t recieved them yet. In the meantime someone referred her to my blog which is why she asked me to help her with the background on the use of the word ‘Gaza’ in dancehall culture. Interestingly Nirit works for an NGO named Gisha “an Israeli not-for-profit organization, founded in 2005, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.”

How do you get from Gaza to Ramallah? Play "Safe Passage"

Like Aung San Suu Kyi the Palestinians have had their freedom of movement severely curtailed by the state of Israel. As the Gisha website explains:

Since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel’s military has developed a complex system of rules and sanctions to control the movement of the 3.4 million Palestinians who live there. The restrictions violate the fundamental right of Palestinians to freedom of movement. As a result, additional basic rights are violated, including the right to life, the right to access medical care, the right to education, the right to livelihood, the right to family unity and the right to freedom of religion.

Gisha, whose name means both “access” and “approach,” uses legal assistance and public advocacy to protect the rights of Palestinian residents. Because freedom of movement is a precondition for exercising other basic rights, Gisha’s work has a multiplier effect in helping residents of the occupied territories access education, jobs, family members and medical care.

Funnily Nirit told me that a Palestinian friend of hers got a chance to spend two months in Jamaica and was exulting at the thought of getting away from it all to a tropical island far from the rigours of life in Gaza, only to arrive in Kingston and find the word ‘Gaza’ graffiti-ed all over the city. You can read the first person account of Lisa Hanania’s visit to Kingston here.

Vybz Kartel was certainly aware of and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but sympathetic is actually too weak a word to describe the admiration he expressed for the people of Gaza in that interview with Cliff Hughes: “…dem people deh serious and dem nah back down” and “’Gaza mi seh’ means ‘Fight for what you believe in against all odds, against all adversity.’” On the other hand i’m not sure how widespread Kartel’s view of the Palestinians is. Could one say that most of Dancehall’s ‘core constituents’ (to use Ragashanti’s apt term) are sympathetic to those ‘trapped in Gaza’? I don’t know.

What i do know is that Jamaican dancehall’s focus on Gaza has had an interesting ripple effect. When i tweeted a few days ago about being contacted by an Israeli journalist about the name Gaza in the Jamaican context one of my tweeple, Sweden-based @johannakey said “I’ve done a story on the same subject. There’s a Swedish song about it here.” The song Real Gaza mi seh! is so addictive i can’t get it out of my head. It’s a beautiful song, in which connections are made between Gaza, the curtailment of Palestinian civil liberties and universal oppression, using the vehicle of dancehall and the refrain “If you kill one of us, you kill all of us…the whole world is Gaza mi seh”. Listen to it below:

Eyes of the world pon the Gaza mi seh

Well dem say Gully, dem say Gaza
dem say Congo and Kinshasa
Everywhere i turn i see pure passa passa
I remember Kid Frost used to talk about La Raza
It’s all tribal war people can’t take it no longer

Hopefully one day the residents of Gaza will–like Aung San Suu Kyi–regain their freedom. Till then Gaza mi seh!

Reggae Sumfest 2010: The Finale

Reggae Sumfest 2010 is a resounding success despite being dubbed the mudfest. Usher, Chris Brown, Beenie Man, Mavado, Elephant Man, Tarrus Riley the highlights of the final night.

Usher listening as the crowd sang along to every lyric!!! Photo: @Carae_Doll

By all accounts what is now being termed Reggae Mudfest was a huge success. Let me second @corvedacosta: WOW thanks to @marciaforbes’ tweets its like I am at Sumfest. All I need is mud on my floor. And according to @SeanABennett: Usher doing ‘There goes my baby’ expecting that the grounds will be even more soaked from the liquid flowin down some ladies legs.

Usher and Wata Photo: @goddessrockstar

The relentless rain continued for a third night but didn’t succeed in dampening the spirits of those who attended Reggae Sumfest 2010. Approximately 12,000 people are reported to have been there. The highlight of International Night 2 seems to have been Usher saying Gully and Chris Brown claiming Gaza while Mavado joined them on stage for one of the adrenalin-pumping performances of the night. “2 top foreign lock into 2 top local acts” as @marciaforbes observed.

Usher and Mavado Photo: @goddessrockstar
Usher, Chris Brown n Ele--3 the Hard Way!! Photo: @marciaforbes
Usher and @chrisbrown Photo: @goddessrockstar

A moment before that it was a different combination as Usher, Brown and Elephant Man took the stage and @SugaTwitts tweeted Usher, @chrisbrown and Elephant Man gully creepinnnn on stage!!

Around 4 am @ayeshaalexis who had previously tweeted You know you really tired when you drink a redbull and you’re falling asleep standing up announced …and all the women in the audience officially belong to usher. Di man tekkkkk sumfest! Excellent performance!!!!

Usher and co. were a hard act to follow but Tarrus Riley did the needful even though according to @goddessrockstar: tarrus should be at airport 5am straight to european tour, running late, hope they hold plane…

Dappa Dacta Dancehall King Beenieman...@marciaforbes

At minutes to 6 am @marciaforbes heralded Beenie Man’s arrival: Beenie Man, King of the Dancehall, arrives on stage in black sparkling suit with blue shirt accessosized with huge cross n black Fedora. A moment later another soundbyte: ‘Dem Lock me up fe tump LA Lewis but ah stayin alive, stayin alive’ Beenie aah trow wud!!

Crowd of 12000 Photo: @francoisonfame

Not all had the stamina to endure to the end. @endzoftheearth proclaimed her exhaustion to the world before retiring prematurely: Beenie man u know is u alone mi love but it late and mi muddy and tiyad and…

Well that’s a wrap: Mud or no mud I’m booking a hotel for Reggae Sumfest next year.

PS: The plagiarism problem i had reported earlier has been happily resolved. The website in question has attributed this blog as the source as they should have done in the first place. All’s well that ends well.

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