“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.

scourge

 

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”.

Atheism in Babylon: Questioning Christianity’s right to rule in Jamaica

Jamaicans trying to come to grips with atheism on a TV show, Religious HardTalk

The irrepressible Ian Boyne, host of Religious Hardtalk
Religious Hardtalk
One of the stalwarts of the Jamaican public sphere is Ian Boyne, columnist, speech writer, pastor and host of TV programmes Profile and Religious Hardtalk. Last week he produced an exceptionally good episode of the latter looking at the subjects of Atheism and Secularism in religion-obsessed Jamaica (9/18/2012). It must be said that Boyne himself is a superb example of Christian practice at its best. He’s not afraid, as you can see from watching the video (linked below), to engage openly with views that depart drastically from his own. In the process he allowed time and space for a dissenting view rarely heard in Jamaica.

 

The two young people he had on were very articulate and gave a spirited critique of the kind of Christianity espoused in Jamaica and its insidious seepage into all areas of national life. One of them, @Chatimout or Javed Jaghai, has even gone so far as to start a group called Jamaicans for Secular Humanism for those like himself who want a space to articulate their doubts about the dangers of the all-enveloping, unquestioning forms of religiousity adopted by many Jamaicans. In fact its quite heretical in Jamaica to express the view that God might not exist or that there is something problematic about the de facto embrace of Christianity as a state religion.

 

I know a young man who as a child at St. Peters and Paul, a prominent Jamaican prep school,  innocently announced in class that he didn’t believe in ‘god’. He was then subjected to disbelieving, disapproving scrutiny all day by other teachers who would pop into the classroom to have the ‘godless’ boy, who was all of 8 years old, pointed out to them. I was reminded of this story when I noticed with amusement the caption under Javed Jaghai’s image stating baldly “DOES NOT BELIEVE IN GOD.” In fact so narrow and hidebound are Jamaicans in their practice of Christianity that this episode of Religious Hardtalk was not repeated at the normally scheduled time because the powers-that-be were afraid that schoolchildren might be exposed to such apostasy!

 

Fortunately the TV station has made it available online. I highly recommend it, in fact its a must see for anyone trying to understand Jamaican culture:

Atheism and Secularism