Mon | Oct 21, 2019

Editorial | Don’t sacrifice rights in noise debate

Published:Wednesday | September 18, 2019 | 12:30 AM

Few will be surprised at the frenzy with which politicians, on either side of the fence, have been having audience with, if not paying deference to, people in Jamaica’s entertainment industry, especially on the dancehall side of the business.

This week, it was the turn of Peter Phillips, the leader of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), and a slew of his officials to meet with sound-system operators on the subject of a future PNP government’s approach in tackling the issue.

The idea of creating special entertainment zones, advanced by Damion Crawford, a PNP vice-president, when he was a junior minister for tourism and entertainment, is back on the agenda. Before that, Olivia Grange, the minister of culture and entertainment, disclosed that she was in consultations with the police chief and national security minister about possible amendments to the Noise Abatement Act.

The politicians’ minds have been concentrated by renewed and growing complaints by event organisers that the anti-noise law is too restrictive, especially with regard to the hours at night by which they are required to severely lower the decibels of their sound systems or turn the set off altogether. Allied to these complaints is the warning that failing to adjust the law, in the case of the Government, and promising to do something about it, in the case of the Opposition, could hurt them in the ballot box.

Or, as sound-system operator Ricky Trooper put it recently in the STAR newspaper, a “no music, no vote” movement is gathering pace, which would be of concern to political parties. The majority of attendees of dancehall sessions, politicians believe, meet the profiles of their core voters, and many of the events are hosted by small community entrepreneurs who they would wish not to offend.

This newspaper appreciates the economic argument advanced in support of the night-time entertainment sector, as well as the role, as a social safety valve, that these events sometimes have in certain communities. However, any review of the legislation must take into account not only the interests of the entertainment/dancehall sector but also those of the wider community and the individuals represented therein.

FINDING BALANCE

As it now stands, the law, generally, requires the lowering, or turning off, of amplified sounds in circumstances where neighbours are likely to be disturbed by midnight on some nights, although these sounds may be permissible up to 2 a.m. on Saturdays. Parliament, at the time of the legislation’s passage 22 years ago, felt that designated hours, as well as the built-in presumption of noise disturbance in some instances, provided an equitable balance between the rights of individuals demanding peace and rest at night and those wanting noisier entertainment.

We are aware that when threatened with the possibility of the loss of votes, politicians are wont to lose perspective. In those situations, they may well cede everything, unmindful of the greater virtues, especially if those whose interests are likely to be compromised are not loudly vocal in their own defence and protection. It is worse when, such as in this case, parties perceive a common interest. In the event, both the PNP and the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will be concerned about upsetting core constituencies and losing votes.

Hopefully, good sense and equity will prevail. This may well mean that there is no need to change the law. Perhaps, though, Mr Crawford’s idea of special entertainment zones, if removed from population centres, should be reviewed.