Tue | Dec 18, 2018

Hylton Dennis | Press briefings and humble little piggies

Published:Saturday | July 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Hylton Dennis
Minister of Information Ruel Reid in discussion with Naomi Francis, press secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister, before the start of a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House on September 13, 2017.

In the span of his distinguished career, iconic journalist Rudyard Kipling wrote numerous literary classics, including a masterpiece titled 'The Press', which Jamaica's political surrogates should learn well and not forget.

They who live the lie that they are sovereign over the people who elected them, even more than the rulers of the former colonial empires, ought to be well schooled in history, especially of the rise and fall of kingdoms and lords.

Bylines and sound bites give sway to their pomposity and lie about their power and might. In like manner, these press features announce their inevitable downfall. This is why Kipling wrote that:

The Pope may launch his Interdict,

The Union its decree,

But the bubble is blown and the bubble is pricked

By Us and such as We.

Recently, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), like 'humble little piggies', politely asked the prime minister, one more time, to resume the weekly Jamaica House press briefings. These have not been held since November 2017 and the press representatives' call for their resumption has been repeated over several months.

To be fair to the Government, weekly press briefings, while long-standing, have not been an original feature of its engagement of the press. However, they have been such a tremendous help to the press in fulfilling the expectation of it to articulate government policy to the public intelligently and fairly. So if the PAJ demanded, rather than requested the resumption, it would be very understandable. Indeed, given the historical dependence on the press by governments to make the people believe they are being served, instead of actually being the servants, the PAJ could have courageously made this demand.

It has not helped that the prime minister's press secretary is a seasoned journalist and former secretary of the PAJ who, during her tenure, instituted the Off the Record (OTR) luncheon dialogue series between the press and the 'powers' of state at PAJ HQ. It was well received as a contrasting relaxed engagement to the weekly grilling at Jamaica House.

How then could our colleague not, at the very least, resign in protest of the incumbent administration's primitive, retrograde, Gestapo stance on briefing the press, which it ridiculously attributes to the greater utility of social media for dissemination of information?

It might have been more palatable if it said the Jamaica Information Service, mouthpiece of the State, was sufficiently effective, given its ability to impose "time allowed for government broadcasts".

Since it did not, it should be very clear, also, to those who run that agency, and may have thought otherwise, where the confidence of the Government lies, as far as the service of the JIS is concerned. The executive agency's staff morale should now be at the lowest it has ever been.


Suitable replacement


Obstinate in error, Ruel Reid, mimicking Tertullian, made the astounding gaffe about the efficacy of social media as a suitable replacement for the Jamaica House press briefings. If this leads to corruption of his official ministerial title resulting in 'minister of informa-shun' being substituted for it, his protest or rebuke would be in vain.

The PAJ is rightly unwilling to accept the grudgeful token gesture of partial restoration of the briefings. Reid might redeem some respect if he let slip that he is only a proxy minister of information, as the portfolio has for some time now appeared among the subject matters listed under the Office of the Prime Minister.

The only precedent for OPM shadowing of that many portfolios was set, and not followed before now, during Edward Seaga's administration in the 1980s. By political antecedent, the incumbent prime minister is the surrogate for the Seaga legacy that includes a similar decadent view of engaging the press.

It bodes the administration well to take heed of Kipling's final warning to them, recounting the fate of their ancestors:

Remember the battle and stand aside

While Thrones and Powers confess

That King over all the children of pride

Is the Press - the Press - the Press!

- Hylton W. Dennis is a publisher. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denscriptions@yahoo.com.