Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Media - our last defence

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Gordon Robinson, Columnist

Media are all that stand between Jamaica and the abyss.

In Jamaica, governance remains based on the archaic, autocratic, Westminster model; big business owns government; and citizens are denied the right to vote or any voice in the administration of 'elected' governments. Citizens' only remedy is a free, independent media exposing what others wish hidden. Before the intellectual illiterati start on me about 'obligation' to vote and how bad I am for not voting, I repeat, we have NO RIGHT TO VOTE.

First, we have zero input into 'elections' for either party's leader. Obscure, unelected 'delegates' decide who'll be thrust upon the majority of Jamaicans as candidate for prime minister. WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO VOTE IN THAT 'ELECTION'. Not even parties' general membership has a vote. Then, equally obscure executive committees or 'selection run-offs' with only 'delegates' polled decide who'll seek our "vote" for constituency representative. WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO VOTE IN THAT "SELECTION"

Finally, we're unleashed at 'general election' once every five years and told to 'vote' for a constituency candidate. Gee, thanks. But our vote for that candidate is really a vote for his/her party leader as prime minister. Suppose you'd accept Candidate X as MP but couldn't support his/her leader for cook's assistant, never mind prime minister? If you vote for the MP of your choice, you've been forced to vote for a prospective prime minister you don't support. Is that democracy? Is that a right to vote?

Now, suppose you could support one of the prime ministerial candidates thrust upon you without electoral consultation? In order to vote for that prime minister, you MUST vote for the constituency candidate forced upon you (without electoral consultation) by that party. Suppose you'd rather have an Alzheimered albatross as MP? Do you REALLY have a vote? Is that democracy? Or hypocrisy?

In such an anti-democratic system, to whom can we turn?

Only free, independent, ethical media can help us. For weeks, I've been writing on media ethics, but the intellectual illiterati, unable to see the danger of opaque media reporting on opaque government, called my efforts 'personal attacks', 'cass-cass' or whatever.

MEDIA'S FRAGILE CREDIBILITY

I've given varied examples of how opaque media threatens media's fragile credibility, but rather than deal with substantive issues, many prefer shooting the messenger. God bless 'em. But the camel's back breaks when constructive criticism of a government-owned company is censored or banned from media on the government-owned company's instruction.

I wrote on Tuesday ('What price information?') about the tribulations of Donovan 'Minister of Information' Wilson, a seasoned, respected horse-racing journalist, whose paid inserts in official racebook Track & Pools critical of government-owned Caymanas Track Limited (CTL) were repeatedly banned from publication without stated reason. On Tuesday, for the first time, a reason, in the form of the following Editor's Note, was offered:

"Track & Pools is a horse-racing magazine published by Popular Printers Ltd, a subsidiary of The Gleaner Company. The magazine is the official programme for racing at CTL, and in its production there is collaboration between Popular Printers and CTL.

After Track & Pools discontinued the publication of ALL letters, regardless of content, attempts were made to circumvent that decision by the insertion of letters as paid advertisements. That, too, was discontinued, as all Track & Pools ads must promote bona fide products or services."

Oh, dear. How does one "circumvent" an alleged decision that hasn't been published anywhere? How come his first two articles slipped under the radar until their popularity adversely affected CTL, which then imposed the ban? Why didn't Track & Pools' publication director, who first told Wilson he was banned, simply state this reason at that time? After Wilson's first article (now called an attempt "to circumvent that decision"), Track & Pools published, free of charge, a full-page letter to the editor by Vin Lumsden rebuking Wilson for his critique. When Wilson tried to reply, his was spiked.

How'd Vin successfully "circumvent" the new rule but Donovan's reply couldn't? Why's Gleaner subsidiary Popular Printers defending Government muzzling criticism of a Government-owned company? Does CTL, a government-owned company, dictate publication policy to The Gleaner Company's subsidiaries? Every issue contains the following: "Track & Pools is published under the sanction of the Jamaica Racing Commission and CTL." Does the Racing Commission "sanction" Government banning criticism of Government? Does Prime Minister Portia support this crass censorship?

When Pat Rousseau was CTL chairman, letters from many antagonists including current deputy chairman, Andrew Azar, savagely critical of CTL, regularly appeared in Track & Pools. That was nothing new. What'd be new is a "decision" not to publish letters. Apparently, Deputy Chairman Azar didn't get the memo, because on April 25, he wrote to The Gleaner's editor-in-chief extracted (for word count issues only) as follows:

"Dear Editor

... I write you today re an issue that has come up regarding the publishing of letters in the Track & Pools Race-Book. I understand from Mr Donovan Wilson (a writer to the book) that after two letters that he wrote that happened to be critical of the operations at CTL, his letters have been 'banned' or not allowed to be published in that publication. Is this indeed true? And if so, how could it be? And if it is true, is it only his letters that are not allowed to be published, or will the ban include my letters, or any other citizen who wish (sic) for their voice to be heard?

"Is it only letters critical of CTL that will not be allowed, or is it all letters, even complimentary ones, that will not be published? One of the gentleman's letters was entitled 'Does CTL have a marketing team?' and went on to criticise the role of CTL's marketing team and the job they are doing. I'm the board member in charge of marketing racing, so in essence his criticism was also of me, as the buck stops with me.

I thought some of his criticism was wrongly directed, but I also thought it was his right to express his opinion even though critical of me. I thought that we still had freedom of speech in this country. Jamaica is going downhill fast enough, Mr Grandison, without us also taking away the right of a citizen to criticise. Before I was appointed to the CTL board, I myself was the author of many harsh and hard letters criticising the management and running of CTL. My letters were much harder and harsher and more probing than those penned by Mr Wilson, yet my letters were never 'censored' or restricted by the publisher. What has changed today? We may not always like to hear what people say about us, no matter how critical they are, but in my opinion we must always fight to protect the right of persons to air their views. If not, we have started down a very slippery slope ... ."

Best Regards,

Andrew Azar

Deputy Chairman, CTL"

No reply. Andrew has been unable to secure a meeting with neither Gleaner nor Track & Pools, whose publication director has specifically refused to meet him. What's going on?

LAST HOPE FOR TRANSPARENCY

Talk about the thin edge of the wedge. Media is Jamaica's last hope for transparency. True transparency cures most ills because it enables us to recognise when we're being bamboozled, tricked, swindled, deceived, hoodwinked or scammed. Recognition is trickery's worst enemy. Government won't be transparent anytime soon, so media must be.

We have a right to know who's paying the piper. We've a right to insist our oldest and most respected newspaper doesn't take instructions from government-owned companies to suddenly muzzle critique on the facile basis "Track & Pools ads must promote bona fide products or services". Why? If that's the standard, why isn't Wilson's opinion a "bona fide" service? Sheesh!

Of what is Popular Printers afraid? That CTL might revoke its licence to print Track & Pools? So what? Just as alleged human-rights activists must fight to the death for human rights, I expect all media to fight to the death for press freedom. Tell CTL to take its licence and shove it!

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

Editor's Note: The decision not to publish letters is a policy decision by Popular Printers. CTL had no role in this decision. The publication of any recent letter was a breach of policy.

The Gleaner is willing to consider for publication any letter critical of Track & Pools or The Gleaner, once such content is factual, not libellous and in good public taste.