Orville Taylor | Political no-fly zones and press freedom
There are not enough Labourites or Comrades in this country to win an election for their party. However, there are large numbers of persons and certain key constituents who, if you lose them, then the election is a stiff task and if successful, governance is so difficult, that the society becomes divided into a virtual or real civil war, with the Government unable to handle the split.
First is the working class. Unless it is an era where political parties stuff ballot boxes and have electors cast their votes and dead people willing their Xs to their successors, the party that has the support of the working poor or ‘want to work’ poor invariably wins the next election.
Second, and this is, of course, since adult suffrage, the party that gains the support of the core of law enforcement and justice wins the vote. Simply put, if you make Officer Dibble’s baton rises in support of your election, then you are clear. And by the way, this means the police who wear red stripes, whether on their caps, trousers or skirts; not the high command and other vulnerable ranks who rub shoulders with the politicians so closely that sometimes the colour smears their crowns, stars and laurel wreaths.
Third is the bastion of our democracy, the press. Don’t be fooled, inasmuch as we have been a robust democracy before most of the countries in this hemisphere, it is our free press which has defined us.
With The Gleaner being a free newspaper four years before most Jamaicans got freedom and radio having a more than 70-year history, Jamaicans always had a conduit to speak our minds. Few people know that it is not the labour movement which gave genesis to the party which forms the present government.
After William Alexander Clarke returned to Jamaica with a Spanish name, Bustamante, his first profession was that of a small loan provider, referred to in the 1930s by the biblical name ‘usurer’. Using The Gleaner as his platform, Bustamante was described as “an inveterate writer of letters to the editor”. The press was what placed this unknown brown man, who had no higher level education or profession, on the people’s radar, his involvement in the trade union movement and ultimately representational politics.
Ranked in the top 10 for the longest of whiles in terms of press freedom, the Jamaica media landscape has a number of enviable features. Our largest media group has the widest representation of minority ownership in the region. More women occupy pivotal media positions than in almost all other countries. These data are not Jamaican gathered. Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders both place the Jamaican press as leaders in the world and top among the English-speaking nations.
Despite the colonial legacy where we tend to be ‘eyes wide shut’ when our black peers give us information, the Transparency International surveys indicate that there is a high level of trust in our Jamaican journalists and media houses. Conversely, more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans believe that politicians from both parties are untrustworthy.
Moreover, Jamaicans do not like anti-justice, anti-police, anti-worker, pro-corruption and anti-media governments. In every single free election where the government either directly, or is seen as fighting the free press, the results have been unfavourable for them. In 1979, most of us remember Michael Manley’s march unto the offices of this very newspaper. His famous quote, “next time, next time!” did not give him a next time. Indeed, despite a showing, bigger than we saw last weekend, and a massive rally in Sam Sharpe Square, the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) was beaten so badly that if it were a child, the parents would have been jailed.
It was not much later when we had a free election a decade after, when Edward Seaga tried to muzzle the press and made many anti-press utterances. A petulant and fiery Portia Simpson Miller and her administration did it in 2007 and 2016, and a young Andrew Holness did it in 2011.
ZONES OF CIVIL OPERATIONS
The Press Association of Jamaica and Media Association Jamaica have both pushed back Holness over his recent uncontemplated statements in which he appeared to be trying to discredit the traditional media houses and journalists. For me, this is a big deal, because there are some of us who take no sides, front or back, from any faction.
A wholesale attack on the media is an extremely unwise move and I hope it was a misinterpretation of what he said, and a swift clarification will follow. I have absolutely no problem with the prime minister or any other person who feels that the reports and data being inaccurate, point the public to the truth.
In fact politicians, whether trying to avoid election malfunctions or not, have no monopoly over falsehoods. Therefore, anyone or any entity which makes incorrect statements in the public sphere must be called out. Nevertheless, he who asserts must prove.
As we enter the period when the pungent odour of election is pervading the air and airspace, we must have some no-fly zones. Our own zones of civil operations (ZOCO). These ZOCOs should involve none of the nasty body shaming from both sides. Some of the references are patently disrespectful and inhumane and unbecoming of a mature political process.
History is a very good teacher and when infused with critical sociology, it is scarily predictable. Let’s hope good sense prevails.
Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com