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EDITORIAL - Dancehall artistes and the CSME

Published:Monday | April 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Anthony Hylton, the shadow foreign affairs and foreign trade minister, makes a credible case on behalf of Jamaican dancehall - and presumably other artistes who may find themselves barred from other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states, whose governments might consider their performances or material offensive to public morals.

Any such ban, Mr Hylton believes, would breach the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that seeks to transform CARICOM from a free trade regime to a single market and economy, infringe the rights of the affected artists and should be tested.

The Opposition parliamentarian raised the issue in the context of last month's call by Barbados' education and human resources development minister, Ronald Jones, for the banning from that country of the controversial Jamaican dancehall artistes, Mavado and Vybz Kartel.

"Even though we share the same Caribbean space, it does not seem we have to welcome everybody," Mr Jones said. "Vybz Kartel and Mavado can stay in Jamaica."

Permission declined

The day prior to the minister's comment, the Barbadian police declined permission for a concert at which the two entertainers were to perform. The situation is not unique to Barbados. In recent years, other CARICOM states, including Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have excluded various dancehall artistes over concerns that their lyrics often glorify guns and violence, have a negative effect on young people and help to coarsen social behaviour.

Indeed, these concerns are not dissimilar to debates in Jamaica over the effects of dancehall music and the impact of artistes like Kartel and Mavado, whose rival fans have engaged in violence and between whom Prime Minister Golding felt forced to broker a peace 'summit'.

The issue for CARICOM is when the intent to protect public morals conflicts with the obligations of free trade and movement in a single market and what are these obligations within the context of the Revised Treaty and the CSME.

Jamaica, which runs a trade deficit of well over US$1.2 billion with its CARICOM partners and enjoys limited visible exports to the region, has a significant stake in this debate. Part of the premise of those who support Jamaica's continued participation in CARICOM despite the limited gains in visible exports is its potential benefit from services and other areas of intellectual property, including entertainment.

Free trade treaty

Indeed, this argument has even been advanced, in relation to the wider region, in the support of CARICOM'sfree trade treaty with the European Union (EU). Moreover, CARICOM leaders, as the first step towards the free movement of labour within the CSME, names entertainers among those who should now enjoy the privilege.

In this context, we agree with Mr Hylton that artistes who face across-the-board bans from CARICOM countries have justiciable claims for discrimination before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), operating in its original jurisdiction in interpreting the Revised Treaty. Unfortunately, Jamaica and its firms have failed to test complaints in the courts.

The right of any such action does not obviate the concern of governments to protect public morals and to ensure public order in their countries.So, the likes of Kartel and Mavado may have to accept performing in specific regimes.

But these regimes cannot undermine the principles of the CSME. We may not like much like Kartel and Mavado, but there is larger principle at stake.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.