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Letter of the Day: Media boycott a nuclear weapon

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2016 | 2:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

We welcome robust debate about the role of the press, and, therefore, noted with interest a letter in The Gleaner's online edition dated Tuesday, February 16, 2016 by a Richard Patterson, in which he ridicules the Press Association of Jamaica for its call for the Peoples National Party (PNP) to participate in the national political debates.

According to the writer, the PAJ has no authority to make such a call, since the Jamaican media are weak for not having boycotted coverage of the activities of the prime minister, given her refusal to engage more fully with the press.

It is ironic that Mr Patterson acknowledges that "the media's primary function is to be the eyes, ears and voice of the populace and to see to the protection of citizens' rights, to hold the Government accountable and transparent and to highlight and report to the public all issues of national importance", and then proceeds to propose a course of action that would run counter to every single one of these functions!

Calls for media to boycott covering any government official or political party may sound attractive to the person in the street, but would be contrary to the job we are here to do. Even in extraordinary circumstances, a deliberate refusal to cover any one official or any one party would mean that we could not report in a balanced and objective manner. Such a move would always be, at best, controversial.

In 2014, a group of Afghan journalists called for a 15-day boycott of the Taliban after an attack in which a veteran journalist was killed. The Poynter Institute reported that despite the tragic circumstances, "even such a limited boycott makes journalists uneasy", with reporters from media houses like the Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press stating that they would continue to provide full coverage of events in Afghanistan.

In 2014, the Express Tribune reported that a journalists' union in Pakistan had decided to boycott sittings of the Assembly after three media workers had been gunned down. In that case, the union said more than 40 journalists had been killed in the past six or seven years and called for action to arrest those responsible.

A media boycott is a nuclear weapon in the arsenal of protest. As regrettable as we find the actions of the PNP in refusing to debate (as at the time of writing), and indeed the prime minister's refusal to give press conferences, we do not believe either comes close to rising to the level of the kind of attack on democracy and the rule of law that might justify any kind of media boycott.

As for Mr Patterson's seeking to cast blame over the prime minister's refusal to engage more fully with the media, we respectfully suggest that he place the responsibility for that where it belongs - at the feet of the prime minister herself.

DIONNE JACKSON MILLER

President, PAJ