The following is an excerpt from an address made by Sandrea Falconer, minister with responsibility for information, at the Press Association of Jamaica/National Integrity Action forum on 'Fighting the Corruption Scourge'. The forum was held yesterday at the Knutsford Court Hotel, St Andrew.
The release of Lord Justice Leveson's highly anticipated 2,000-page report on the hacking scandal and the way forward for the British press got me thinking about this matter of corruption, press freedom and democracy.
It struck me that here it is that a highly distinguished British judge has found that the Press Complaints Commission is inadequate to fight abuse and has made as his primary recommendation that a new, independent regulatory authority be established in Britain and, more controversially, that it needs to be backed by parliamentary statute.
For us in Jamaica, we have not yet even arrived at the point of establishing a press complaints commission.
Lord Leveson has recommended that the existing Press Complaints Commission be replaced with a body that would be independent of newspapers and government and which would have wide investigative powers, as well as the authority to set fines.
This is the seventh time in as many decades that the British government has commissioned a report to deal with concerns about the press.
Let me state categorically that the government of which I am a team member would not support any kind of government statute or government regulation over the press.
Still no press council
I also hasten to say that it cannot be defensible that after 69 years of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and many years of the PAJ talking about establishing a press council that we still do not have such a body in place.
It is totally unacceptable in 2012, that Jamaicans who do not have the means to sue for libel are not able to get redress for any harm suffered by the press.
I am happy that the PAJ is at one with me on this and has expressed its own frustration at not being able to see such a council come to fruition.
If we are serious about press freedom, democracy and the need to fight the corruption scourge, we cannot treat with contempt - and I use that strong a word - this matter of providing a forum where Jamaicans can go if they feel injured by the press.
They must have somewhere they can turn to for justice, and I repeat, I do not believe in government regulation of the press.
Ladies and gentlemen in the media, get your act together and deepen our democracy by establishing this press council.
It is the intention of this Government to have a modern, progressive defamation bill tabled in Parliament before the end of this legislative year.
We are not asking for any quid pro quo.
We are committed to libel reform because we know it is in the interest of good governance and democracy.
We believe in accountability and transparency and we believe in giving the media the tools to hold our feet to the fire and to really speak truth to power without fear.
The press is a vital institution in a democratic society, and to effectively carry out its functions it needs the tools.
Libel reform is critical, but while we strengthen the powers of journalists to investigate and to uncover corruption and to shame those who abuse power, let us not leave citizens in this democracy without any recourse or redress when they are harmed by media.
Let us be equally vigilant in protecting the rights of all Jamaicans.
Keep public officials on their toes and ferret out anything that needs to be exposed. Be fearless in your pursuit and not be deterred, but make sure public officials are not the only ones you have strength for.
The press has strongly criticised politicians of both parties over the years and no law has been enacted to stop that.
Expose 'big money'
But I say to you, do not stop with just politicians and public officials.
What about those with 'big money' in the society; those with strength of cash who in these times of tight advertising and sponsorship budgets have the power of the purse strings?
Are you as fearless in pursuing stories involving them? Are you as bold and strident in criticising them, if indeed the facts lead you down that road?
Would you turn your back on stories that lead down that road because you know you might be jeopardising advertising placements, sponsorships and corporate goodwill? If you do, that is corruption.
Do not take the narrow view of corruption.
Corruption does not only reside in the State.
The press is the fourth estate and it has been natural for you to see yourselves as having an adversarial role with the political State. I am not asking you to change that role but to be fair and balanced in your attempts to ferret out corruption.
Private power has increased enormously over the years in our society and private actors have the means to influence media content and output.
Media practitioners themselves have to exercise considerable moral courage to resist unjust enrichment.
Also, aside from legitimate players in the private sector whose strength or dominance in the marketplace might induce fear or favour, there are people in the criminal underworld with enormous wealth and who are also seeking to influence the media.
There are drug lords and criminals who have the ability to pay for the best professionals, so do not limit your scrutiny to politicians and holders of public office.
The point I am making is not that you should lessen your focus on politicians or the Government but broaden the search light.
The Government of which I am a member, has nothing to fear when it comes to press scrutiny on issues of corruption.
My prime minister is resolute about stamping out corruption and she would have absolutely no tolerance for it among us, her colleagues. And that is putting it mildly.
The press must take a broad view of corruption and go beyond Government. Sexual harassment at the workplace is corruption of power. There are women who, because of the economic hard times, have to suffer in silence at the hand of their corrupt bosses who use their power to exploit them sexually.
I want you in media to expose them with their pants down.
Investigate, too, the corruption of sexual trafficking; the brutal and cruel exploitation of our young girls trapped because of their economic circumstances. Track down these traffickers and shed the light of day on their dark deeds.
Never forget that your job is to bear witness to the nation and, by extension, the world in a truthful and fair and balanced way.
Your work must be characterised by accuracy and you must always guarantee the opportunity of reply to all.
Your personal opinion must not creep into the news. You must be mindful of stories that could harm people and families. If the stories could harm anyone, it is your duty to ensure that at least they pass a basic public-interest test.
You must be accountable! There is no place for arrogance and cruelty.
If mistakes are made, you have a responsibility to be the first to correct them. You must police yourselves and ensure that those among you who are guilty of excesses are reined in.
That is what ethical journalism is all about.
Corruption is a thief of the economic opportunity of the poor. Corruption robs our society of economic growth and blights the future of our young. In fighting corruption, you are fighting for the future of this country.