Biases perceived in Noise Abatement Act
Published: Monday | December 7, 2009
A scene from a Rae Town street dance. - File Photo
The preamble to the proposed 1997 Noise Abatement Act speaks to the level of noise in Jamaica having become intolerable. And in the document itself, the legislation is described as "An Act to Control Noise caused by amplified sound and other specific equipment."
It goes on to specify that "No person shall, on any private premises or in any public place at any time of day or night:
a. sing, or sound or play upon any musical or noisy instrument; or
b. operate, or permit or cause to be operated, any loudspeaker, microphone or any device for the amplification of sound, in such a manner that the sound is audible beyond a distance of 100 metres from the source of such sound and is reasonably capable of causing annoyance to persons in the vicinity ...
Of course, with the need to reach their (desired) mass audience, sound amplification devices are utilised at many events, notably for entertainment, worship and politicking. Of the three, shoring up the confidence of the party faithful and wistfully reaching out to the wavering is seasonal.
However, the 'making of joyful noises', of both the genuflecting and gyrating type, is intricately woven into the fabric of the country's daily (and nightly) life. And it is in those two areas that the law has been applied - or not, with biases perceived all around.
Tongue in cheek
So, after being fined $50,000 for breaching the Noise Abatement Act in staging his annual Bob Marley birthday celebration this year, Negril-based events promoter Clive 'Kubba' Pringle could publicly (we suspect tongue very much in cheek) congratulate the organisers of 'Spring Break 2009', held in the same community a few weeks later.
Pringle told The Gleaner in a story published on March 14:
"Although they tried to stop my show and then allowed this one to continue uninterrupted, I can't say I am unhappy. In fact, I am happy for this promoter and I hope that, come next year, the authorities will show me the same kind of love."
Reggae Sumfest, held in Montego Bay, St James, each summer, got some special love in 2008, an exemption from the 2 a.m. deadline, this at a time when the tide was in on session crackdowns in MoBay. The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival was also granted leeway, but many a street dance felt the axe (although, in all fairness, many did not really get going until after the stipulated shut-off time and went on until well after daybreak).
The concessions to other parties were granted even after the shutting down of the 'Japsy Thursday' street dance in Barnett Lane, MoBay, at midnight (in accordance with the law). The police action had sparked a riot in April 2008.
Pringle, a director of the Negril Cluster, identified another perceived bias to The Gleaner. "The dancehall, the kind of people it attracts, it is more local. To me, what they more go towards is definitely what is for the tourist. They forget that Negril is also a community where they need to have something where the locals can have some recreation time," Pringle said.
He points out that from 'Sunday to Sunday' events on the beach strip, which are dominated by tourists, go up to 2:00 a.m., in clear contravention of the law stipulating a midnight cut-off time on weekdays. However, when locals are doing an event such as a party they do not get the same treatment. "It is biased," Pringle said.
There has been a waxing and waning in applying the stipulated shut-off times, which are midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends. The tide came in during the height of the street dance fever last year.
While reggae and dancehall have not been embraced wholly and 'soully' by the Church, the youngsters have reset the boundaries of gospel, singing and deejaying their praises to the beat of the day. Naturally, too, they have amplified their joyful noises, but especially compared to their secular counterparts the lockdowns have been very few and far between. A notable exception was the New Year's Day event 'Genesis', held in Montego Bay on Thursday, January 1, this year. The police closed down the event at 8:15 a.m., but the faithful still let their voices heard - without electronic amplification.
The Gleaner reported:
"Kevin Downswell was on stage performing and when he realised that the police were going to shut down the event, he began to pray and worship, but the police still insisted that the show should end because it had gone over the time," the patron said. "So the music stopped, but we had a big prayer meeting before we left the venue."
'Society of lawlessness'
Tommy Cowan of Glory Music, which stages 'Fun in The Son' annually, believes in the Noise Abatement Act, saying "we are basically a society of lawlessness on many levels. A structure has to be in place and it is called for right now." Fun in the Son events normally do not go past 10 p.m., even when the permit allows for a longer time. In addition, Cowan points out that the speakers are positioned to minimise nuisance to persons around. "We had a complaint once and that person was so far away from the event it was amazing," he said.
He says an emphatic "of course!" when asked if the Act should apply to the church, adding, "it has to be for all the people" and does not see worshippers getting any special preferences. He points out that a church is normally within a building, that, helping to muffle the sound.
However, while the uneven application of the Noise Abatement Act is undeniable, whether the law can be applied to the letter is highly questionable. Usain Bolt has forever redefined 100 metres, yet even he cannot travel at the speed of the output that the innumerable amplification systems are capable of projecting their output beyond 100 metres. And this, especially so in a situation where the bass travels the furthest - in a country whose indigenous music is built on a base of drum and bass.
So the sound system in many a motor vehicle, as well as home stereo systems that are turned up at 'Raggashanti Time' for the popular radio talk show, can and do breach the 100 metre barrier regularly.
As for the 100 metre stipulation, Cowan says "if you are in an enclosed building and you can hear it so far, that means the sound inside is very, very loud".