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Letter of the Day: The press has no right to muzzle the obnoxious

Published:Monday | August 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I note the letter published in The Gleaner from noted attorney Peter Champagnie commenting on the behaviour of South West St Catherine Member of Parliament Everald Warmington towards the press and noting that "the best that came from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) was a call for Mr Warmington to apologise and promise not to behave like that in the future".

Mr Champagnie asked, "Why isn't the Press Association of Jamaica calling for a media blackout regarding any coverage that this man will seek in his political life in the future, or his immediate resignation?"

I have the greatest respect for Mr Champagnie and appreciate his interest in this matter, but feel compelled to make the following points.

The PAJ, through its executive, issued a statement strongly condemning Mr Warmington's behaviour. To go further, and call, for example, for the resignation of a duly elected member of parliament is a serious step, and, in my view, if it is to be taken, is more properly to be done by the general membership of the association. The PAJ holds its annual general meeting next Sunday, August 23, where the issue of any further response on the issue of Mr Warmington will be discussed by the general membership in its collective wisdom.

Mr Champagnie and others have also raised the issue of a media blackout. While this will, no doubt, also be discussed by the membership, I want to point out the dangers of any such approach.

One of the mandates of the PAJ is to advocate for freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is not an expressly stated constitutional right in Jamaica, and we rely on the right to freedom of expression. One of the reasons freedom of expression can be such a controversial one to defend is precisely that it covers the obnoxious as well as the admirable.

 

ABUSE OF POWER

 

To advocate for the restriction of media coverage of any individual, much less an MP, in my view, would run contrary to the spirit of the mandate of the PAJ.

In addition, one must be very cautious before beginning to decide who the press will and will not cover because we disapprove of their behaviour. Where would we draw the line?

Mr Warmington remains a member of Parliament, where he represents the citizens who live in South West St Catherine. To make a blanket decision, across the media, to decide to refuse to cover his interventions in Parliament or elsewhere could, arguably, be described as an abuse of the awesome power of the press and a grave disservice to the people of Jamaica and those of South West St Catherine.

This would be a dangerous road that the PAJ should not tread.

DIONNE JACKSON MILLER

President, Press Association of Jamaica