Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Media hogs we are not, Martin Henry

Published:Monday | December 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM
TVJ reporter André Jebbinson.
Huntley Medley of the OPM.
Abka Fitz-Henley
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Abka Fitz-Henley, GUEST COLUMNIST

In his Sunday, November 30, 2014 column titled 'Guarding democracy - from the press, too', Martin Henry let himself down.

Henry has committed the cardinal sin of not being properly seized of the facts before putting pen to paper. He appears to have formed his view based on the propaganda supplied by the political directorate.

I had maintained my silence on allegations from the political directorate because I do not wish to be drawn into a tit-for-tat, but Mr Henry's error-strewn piece means one of the initial actions I will take is to suggest that he recant.

Henry writes: "Two journalists, in particular, by self-appointment, were at the forefront of guarding democracy last week: André Jebbinson of TVJ and Abka Fitz-Henley of Nationwide." He continued, "They would not yield the microphone to any of their colleagues to ask questions at the post-Cabinet Jamaica House press briefing. Amazingly, it was the man who enforced the rule of fair play, albeit somewhat roughly, who felt obliged to tender something of an apology."

The facts are as follows. Present at the referenced Jamaica House media briefing were six journalists, Andre Jebbinson, Neika Lewis, Hopeton O'Connor-Dennie, Abka Fitz-Henley, Jileen Pearson and Kimone Francis. Four of us asked questions; the latter two did not pose any, and indicated a desire not to do so.

There was a brief silence when the de facto Information Minister Sandrea Falconer indicated that questions would be welcome. Mr Jebbinson volunteered to break the ice by indicating that he desired to inquire regarding the Outameni/NHT matter. Senator Falconer responded, "André, you are so predictable." Mr Jebbinson asked several questions which were deflected by Senator Falconer, as is her right to do.

At no point prior to or during Jebbinson's initial questions did any journalist present beckon to interject. Despite this, when it became clear that Jebbinson would not relent from the Outameni-NHT issue, the OPM's communication director, Huntley Medley, vacated his seat near the rear of the media conference room and retrieved one of the two microphones that had been distributed to journalists present.

Use of Force

Mr Medley insisted that Mr Jebbinson move the media conference on. Mr Jebbinson asked a few questions after. The OPM communication director, as the video evidence shows, proceeded to approach the TVJ reporter and, in Mr Medley's own words, "exerted some force" to retrieve the mic.

Medley handed the device to Mr O'Connor-Dennie, who, in solidarity, handed the mic back to Mr Jebbinson shortly after verbally admonishing Mr Medley for use of force.

Mr O'Connor-Dennie, too, asked several questions. At no point did I or any other journalist indicate an intention to interrupt. Mr Medley even allowed Mr O'Connor-Dennie an additional question following the freelancer's initial queries, as the latter question was not related to the Outameni-NHT issue.

Earlier, Neika Lewis, who I sat beside, told me she had one question. I told her, 'You go first.' She declined. Therefore, of the six journalists present, I was the third to whom custody of the microphone was transferred.

I indicated that I wished to ask a few questions in an atmosphere of civility. Initially, I asked four. Before asking the latter two of the four, I said words to the effect that 'these are the final two'. At no time after being allowed the final two did Mr Medley request that I yield.

Rather, when Senator Falconer was replying to the final question, and while I attempted to pay attention to her answer, the OPM communication director quickly moved from the podium where he had stationed himself and attempted to retrieve the mic from me by force. I had earlier seen his posture and exertion of force on Mr Jebbinson and, on principle, declined to submit to his crude advance.

When Ms Falconer had completed her reply, I thanked her and handed the mic to a courteous female staffer at the OPM. During Senator Falconer's reply to my questions, Mr Medley was busy signalling to technicians to cut the microphone, which he was attempting to wrest from my custody.

CVM's Neika Lewis asked a few questions thereafter and the microphone was returned to Messrs Jebbinson and O'Connor-Dennie.

Every journalist present who wanted to speak had a fair chance. No one, therefore, was "denied an opportunity", as has been alleged by Martin Henry.

Regrettably, Martin Henry proceeded to chastise the hard-working Press Association of Jamaica for not issuing "a word of reprimand" to Mr Jebbinson and me, whom he alleges both "hogged the show". Mr Henry erred when he accused me of being "selfish".

Martin Henry should withdraw the specious allegations against me.

Abka Fitz-Henley is senior reporter at Nationwide News Network. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and abkafitzhenley@yahoo.com.