Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Martin Henry: The police, JLP, and media

Published:Sunday | August 16, 2015 | 8:59 AM
Andrew Holness is fighting for his political survival.
Martin Henry
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No! No! I don't mean the police have declared the Jamaica Labour Party an institution of interest. Never mind the presence of a contingent of officers at the headquarters of the party when the parliamentary caucus met there a couple of Fridays ago for the first of two meetings. In a busy news cycle with several big stories running long, I'm just commenting on the police and the party, with a bit thrown in on the big media story of the last couple of weeks.

Last Sunday, murdered police Constable Crystal Thomas was sent off. Abandoned by the institution she served to fend for herself on public transport at night in one of the most dangerous policing areas in all of Jamaica, she was executed for being a cop by criminals who hijacked the bus.

I am glad I wasn't at the send-off. The grief was terrible; the tears a flood. But I have to wonder - again - what purpose is served by covering on the front page of a newspaper an image of Constable Thomas' inconsolable, open-mouthed, bawling mother down to the back of her throat? Does grief reporting not have any recognisable boundaries of decency and respect?

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) was quick on the draw to defend a colleague against a perceived 'attack' by the everlastingly warring Everald Warmington at the meeting of JLP parliamentarians two Fridays ago. Warmington used the cussing mouth on Friday and the fingering finger on Tuesday, sending media into a frenzy.

It is time for the PAJ to stop being so agitated over Warmington and to say something publicly about grief reporting that is overstepping normal boundaries of decency and respect. There is a Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalist and Media Organisations, Article 6 of which provides guidance for reporting 'Grief and Trauma'.

The sombre young officers who did duties at the funeral service were all smartly clad in their sparkling white tunics and red-seamed black pants or skirts. I grieve with them not only over the death of a young, bright colleague who earned a university associate degree while on the job but I also grieve over the impossible task of policing laid on their youthful shoulders.

Colleagues are facing a uniform crisis. 'Uniform shortage leaves police almost naked', this newspaper announced in last Sunday's edition. It is not only uniforms that the police force can't afford. Constable Crystal Thomas is dead and buried because the police cannot afford staff transportation in one of the most dangerous policing environments in the world.

The silence could be sliced at her funeral as Police Federation Chairman Sgt Raymond Wilson, fighting back the tears, recounted a conversation he had had with the minister of national security, Peter Bunting, about the need for transportation for cops on night shifts before Thomas' death.

Wilson said he asked the minister if he was waiting for a cop to be murdered while using public transport before a bus is made available. The minister, he said, responded that no money was available.

basket to carry water

Wilson lashed out that for too long, administrators have been giving the police basket to carry water. He lashed out against the system of garrison politics that has contributed so much to nurturing and supporting crime. And which is one reason why the police at some point could have a prosecuting interest in the political parties. Let me repeat: Effective policing and sustained crime reduction will not happen in Jamaica until the security forces are provided with the manpower boost that they absolutely need and the support capacity to investigate, arrest, successfully prosecute, and, therefore, deter.

The JLP parliamentary caucus would have us believe that its two recent meetings were not about removing Andrew Holness as leader. The Constitution, at Section 80, indirectly saddles the parliamentary minority with the task of recommending a leader of the Opposition.

An occasion for the appointment of a leader of the Opposition would arise if any of the current MPs on the opposition benches were to indicate that they no longer support Andrew Holness as opposition leader [Constitution 80 (5)].

JLP delegates and members and supporters (and those of the PNP, too) had better digest the fact: This has nothing to do with party leadership. The Constitution does not recognise or need political parties. The GG would then have to ascertain how many minority MPs support Holness and how many may support some alternative person as leader. So even if JLP MPs divide over Holness, the GG simply has to determine who the larger group supports to be appointed leader of the Opposition and he is dutybound to make that appointment.

domestic business

Should it not be Holness, The Jamaica Labour Party could then go away to decide if it wants to retain as party leader someone who is not Leader of the Opposition although having a seat in the House.

The sky won't fall if the Leader of the Opposition is not the leader of the party forming the Opposition. There is precedence, albeit only when the party leader did not have a seat in the House. This has happened most recently with Bruce Golding's selection to lead the same JLP, but then without a parliamentary seat and Ken Baugh serving as opposition leader. The division is the party's domestic business and problem; governance and Constitution proceed undisturbed and unperturbed.

The biggest media deal of the new century was floated the day before Independence. I am connected to both RJR and The Gleaner in various ways, but couldn't help shedding a tear at the capitulation of The Gleaner, which, at 180, is one of the oldest newspapers in the Western Hemisphere.

This is the way of media in today's world. Pushed by the new cyber technologies and intense competition for revenue on the old platforms, traditional print and broadcast media have been scrambling to survive, including merging for synergies. We have been pledged delivery of superior products and services within the highly competitive and dynamic marketplace in which the new Jamaican media giant operates and with the usual integrity. But some of us have an instinctive faith and attachment to diversity and broad-based competition in the marketplace, and in media most of all.

There is bound to be some staffing fallout in the merged entity itself and other players will be forced into aggressive survival strategies, including their own mergers as they struggle in the wake of behemoth. Some will fold.

Media is business and has to make money, largely from advertisements, in order to survive. The expansion of the advertising market to small business players getting affordable good deals on air and in print has been one of the very positive developments with Jamaican media diversification and growth which has not been sufficiently studied or talked about. You can bet behemoth has an eye on locking this segment as well further squeezing smaller players.

I think a golden opportunity now presents itself for more shared services like syndicated news and features among competitors. Independent content providers, some from the ranks of former or displaced journalists, could find some nice spaces opening up.

Jamaica has a robust and free media landscape to which MP Warmington's mouth and finger are no threat whatsoever and which we want to maintain.

Competitor Butch Stewart has praised the proposed merger as bold and admirable, saying it "can only enhance democracy". But as Oliver Clarke, who has led The Gleaner as MD and/or chairman for nearly 40 years, you have to be economically viable for media independence. Like how the police have to have adequate state resources to get the job done. And the JLP must attract campaign financing to win elections.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.