Daniel Thwaites | Ed lick him head?
Ed Bartlett is too sophisticated to even suggest censorship of the press by the Government. But his suggestion that the press should self-censor is in some ways more sinister, because the implication is that to speak frankly about the problem terrifying the natives is ever so slightly un-nationalistic.
We know that, barring the flattening of West Kingston, these times are shaping up to be some of the most wildly violent in history. And basically Ed is saying: Talk yuh talk, but don't frighten de tourists!
Mind you, there should be some sympathy for the man in charge of welcoming the guests when he insists that "unnu tidy up de place likkle bit before de people dem come!" And at one basic level, that's how I understand Ed's plea to take the crime off the front page.
But at another level, even apart from the self-censorship I've already decried, it's deeply worrisome. Ed sits in Cabinet with those charged with stemming the crime wave, so the plea to remove it from the front page is pretty close to an outright admission that there's no other plan in place. It could be translated as: "Look here, nuh! The only way we're going to remove the mayhem from the front page isn't by removing the mayhem - it's by removing the front page!"
Hey, it could just be that Ed is a clear-eyed realist. Full disclosure: I think of Ed as my first MP. Back in Mona Prep School days, he was the ever-present MP of St Andrew Eastern, and he just always struck me as a decent guy.
Of course, who among us doesn't wish the news didn't make our country look so awful sometimes? Think about the vendors downtown who were complaining that the Gleaner reporters had spread information about market shootings. They worry that informed people may avoid places where they could get caught in a crossfire, so, of course, they prefer the alternative, which is to withhold information so that shoppers can look for carrots and onions without knowing quite how much danger they are in.
I get it!
So I get it! What Ed is saying is that we may want to give the facts to our family and friends - the locals, who will know to find the murderous facts on Page D17. But we can't let word slip out among the tourists about how maddeningly and routinely violent our island is. Screw those guys! They were warned not to wander off the resorts, so if they do, they had it coming!
Anyhow, should the national media suppress stories that make us look bad to the world, or might worry a tourist thinking of coming here to visit? If we can't significantly reduce crime, might we not just relegate the gruesome stories to the back pages? Once we set off down that road, where would it end?
Especially when you consider that the drive to give reality a little nip and tuck, facelift, and boob job isn't isolated to Ed's world. Consider this lurch for unaccountable power framed up in the legislation for 'special zones'. The very same hide-and-go-seek recurs. Should the prime minister be empowered to declare states of emergency without too much fanfare? Abrogate citizen freedom without attracting too much negative attention or oversight? Lock down half the country, but don't frighten de tourists?
If you can't fix a problem, maybe you can gloss over it? Gwaan like yuh fix it? I dunno: Rename auxiliary fees something else, then act like they're not being charged? Is there a pattern here?
Speaking of which, I don't have the time to hunt down the literature, but smarter people out there will probably know: Is there a link between the shift to 'indirect taxation', the consequent downward pressure on those at the base of the society, and an uptick in crime? I'm not going to walk you through the 1.5 scam once more, but it was craftily shape-shifted from 'no new taxes' to 'let's hammer the consumer', and that has consequences, repercussions, aftermaths, and outcomes. This could very well be one such.
Anyway, because I accept that there is some rationale to not scaring the visitors, I've devised an (dare I say?) excellent solution to keep Ed happy. Simple: The Gleaner has to do two printings daily, a tourist version for foreign media and tourist areas, and another local version for the natives.
Once you think about it, you'll see how the concept can work. And it has multiple applications so that the newspapers can deliver the right news to the right people at the right time.
For example, in The Tourist Gleaner everything is 'No problem, mon!' The biggest news of every Sunday will be that the weather for the week ahead will be perfect.
But the paper has to be credible, so you have to mix in a little sorta bad news every now and again. And, y'know, human interest.
This Sunday, instead of heads being cut off in St James, let's focus on the passing of Maas Joe's donkey, who was a pillar of headstrong sturdiness in the community, and much beloved by the children and elderly. Sadly, he has departed from this earthly realm.
Oh! And we will need some controversy to spice things up, so there can be a fierce debate between Fr Sean Major-Campbell, who had baptised the donkey, and Rev Boyne about whether donkey souls go to heaven.
That way, the native news in The Local Gleaner can continue to report on the crescendo of criminality without jangling the nerves of the gringos. Over to you, Mr Gleaner!
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.