On Sunday, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), at its 70th annual general meeting, passed a resolution calling on Milton Samuda to resign as chairman of Television of Jamaica (TVJ). This development is a result of a failure of the parties to agree on the way forward after meetings. Additionally, PAJ President Jenni Campbell has stated that the organisation will be reporting this incident to two international bodies.
The story is that Samuda, lawyer for track stars Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, whose urine samples showed adverse findings, had a meeting with two journalists from different media houses. The ground rules, as stated by Samuda and not denied by the journalists, were that certain questions should not be asked.
When it was deemed that those questions were asked and obviously inappropriate answers given, Samuda requested the instruments used for the recording and had the offensive questions and answers erased.
Samuda erred badly when he had, in his possession, the tools of trade of journalists. Samuda's role should have been to encourage his clients not to answer certain questions. If he deemed the questions prejudicial, he could have intervened, spoken with his clients, and urged them not to answer.
It could not be appropriate to ask for the shorthand notes on a paper and erase it or tear off the offending part. Samuda went beyond his jurisdiction in requesting the instruments of recording, even if they contravened the prearranged protocol. He was acting as judge, jury and accuser.
What if they had not handed over the recordings? Would there have been a tussle? In any case, clearing the recordings has not cleared the memories of the journalists. They should be able to recall what was asked and what was said.
Furthermore, he has acted on a bad principle of being involved in a journalistic interview with prearranged questions only. What would have been better would have been a press release. In any case, an interview with prearranged questions was redundant because sympathy was with Asafa and Sherone. The only agreement should be that the questions ought to be relevant to the topic and be non-prejudicial.
Whose idea was it for this interview with strings attached? The journalists have questions to answer. Why did they agree to these conditions? Was it the value of the scoop? Or was there other value they had hoped to obtain? This seems like a PR job, and journal1ists should have had no part with such an effort. Furthermore, why did they hand the instruments to Samuda?
A lawyer cannot tell the police or investigating officer what questions not to ask his client, but the lawyer can advise his clients what questions to answer. Similarly, a lawyer should not tell a journalist what questions not to ask his clients but should advise his clients what questions not to answer, or intervene during the interview.
This is bad precedent. Can politicians have interviews with journalists with a precondition that certain questions not be asked and, if asked, can the politician request the tape and have the questions and answers removed? Where in this would be the value of responsible media independence?
Let us hope it is not too late for Samuda to offer a fulsome apology and for the PAJ to accept. Samuda's bad principle could escalate to affect our high press-freedom ratings; cause a media muddle between owners and workers; and become a matter for the General Legal Council.
The Rev Devon Dick is an author and Baptist pastor. Email feedback to email@example.com.