Sat | Feb 22, 2020

180 years of a glorious Jamaican institution

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
The Gleaner's building on North street in Kingston on Wednesday August 5, 2015.

The Gleaner predates the emancipation of African people in Jamaica from slavery, having been established in 1834.

It has recorded our social, economic and political evolution and history since then, and that of the world on a whole. Its voluminous archives are the envy of media houses in the Western Hemisphere.

From this invaluable repository, the company has compiled 'Jamaica Gleaner 180 - An Epic Journey with the Jamaican People', in partial commemoration of its 180 anniversary in 2014.

The hardcover is 157 pages of text, pictures and minimised reprints of original pages that reflect our glorious and not-so-flattering past.

It is segmented into five major periods of our post-Emancipation history: From Emancipation to the Morant Bay Rebellion; Crown Colony Government; From the Reintroduction of Representative Government to Labour Rebellions; The Making of Modern Jamaica; and Independent Jamaica 1962-Present. Within these segments are the reminders of the country's most important social, cultural and political events as recorded by The Gleaner.

In the foreword, PJ Patterson, former prime minister, said, among other comments, "No one can dispute that it ranks at the top of institutions, including the Church and our political parties, which have shaped and influenced the course and contours of our nation state and its people. It has become an institution indeed, because for many, many decades, it was Jamaica's only newspaper and the word, Gleaner, to most of us, was synonymous or interchangeable with the word, newspaper.

But this institution called The Gleaner was not without its critics, some of them very bitter, others unforgiving.

In 'A Serious Threat of Censorship', Edward Seaga, former prime minister and leader of the opposition, opens his contribution with, "I have a very special reason to commend The Gleaner for its coverage of news and views for 180 years. The publication has been responsible for reporting shock-and-awe events, national tragedies, and the joys of triumphant Jamaicans over this long period. But nothing can equal the most-threatening event of the history of the paper which occurred in the middle of the 1970s."


He is talking about the acrimony that existed between The Gleaner and the People's National Party 1970s administration. "At that time, The Gleaner was faced with a do-or-die threat when the government, using the awesome powers of the state of public emergency in 1976 to command and control, imposed on the media a requirement to clear news for publication with the government before printing. This would be the imposition of censorship of any news, oral information or advertisement not officially approved by the Government. A state of censorship would then exist," Seaga writes.

It is the respect for press freedom that has endeared The Gleaner to the public, and Ian Boyne, award-winning, long-time Gleaner opinion columnist, in 'The Importance of Being The Gleaner', sums it up as follows:

"I can truly say The Gleaner is a bastion of free speech. It is a cosmopolitan paper, catering to the needs of a variety of readers. It facilitates serious intellectual discourse and scholarly engagement. In its pages the cerebral reader can feel at home. And those readers who other tastes can also have them satisfied. It is truly the people's paper."

And in commenting on the same stand-off between the PNP and The Gleaner, Boyne writes, "The Gleaner's robust, raucous and, to some, reactionary opposition to Michael Manley's PNP, saved Jamaica, in many people's view. Others disagree and see that decade as a low point in The Gleaner's journalism, a case study in partisanship."

Favouritism or not, this 180 compilation is a must-have. Yet, sadly, one person who will not get the chance to own one is Junior Dowie, long-serving, award-winning photographer, who passed away very recently. His Gleaner story is on page 93. Paragraph two says, "Dowie could shoot it all, from social to political, from the dignitary to the man in the street. His sense of timing was always top-notch."

Paragraph states: "Dowie is also known for literally going to great heights and depths to get the perfect shot. He won an Encyclopedia Britannica bronze medal for 'Thundering Hooves', a shot of thoroughbreds at Caymanas Park in full flight where he lay flat on his stomach to get the right angle."

But after 180 years The Gleaner has ceased to be an independent media entity, having evolved into The Gleaner (Media) Company Ltd, a member of the RJR Group of Companies. To this, Garfield Grandison, the current editor-in-chief, says in the postscript, among other things:

"The Gleaner has changed, but our values have remained. Our reach is now global and our work, in many ways, much harder. But even as we adapt to the needs of the changing world our commitment to our readers today is as simple and honest as it was stated on our front page 180 years ago. We are thankful to you, our readers, for your never-failing loyalty, and remain dedicated to making our output worthy of your continued support."