Gordon Robinson, Contributor
Well, well, the knives are out. Super Chairman, whose not-so-secret identity is Mild-mannered Attorney, Milton Samuda, under pressure from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) to resign, has hit back.
Apparently, the PAJ and Super Chairman had a stormy meeting after which the PAJ, in a release, reported: "At the meeting, the issue of preconditions being set for the conduct of interviews was discussed with Mr Samuda insisting that set questions were 'designed' by him and 'shared' with the journalists. The problem arose when they breached that agreement ... ."
Super Chairman/Mild-mannered Attorney "designed" and "shared" the questions with journalists. How helpful. Now all self-respecting journalists know they can collect prefabricated questions for interviews. Every organisation can prepare its own form interview to save journalists' time and effort. Maybe this can be integrated into the Goat Islands logistics hub. Entire interviews (questions AND answers) can be collected (if they're not first eaten by the goats) to facilitate proper rehearsal before the public farce.
Super Chairman responded to the PAJ's release. Regarding the allegation he designed questions, he said:
"There definitively was an agreement by the journalists to preconditions for the interviewing, that there was an agreement by the journalists to restrict their questioning to the areas that would not prejudice my clients' imminent hearing."
This is what we call spin. Inshan Ali would be proud. Super Chairman has not denied that Mild-mannered Attorney designed the questions deemed permissible. He focuses on the undisputed fact that the journalists agreed to "preconditions". What a conveniently vague word. But, whether googly, doosra or chinaman is bowled, it's clear beyond peradventure that Super Chairman (as Mild-mannered Attorney) initiated the "agreement"; designed questions for journalists to ask; and sought to impose "preconditions" to the interview.
The journalists agreed. But it wasn't their idea. When the "preconditions" were put before them, did they know it was Mild-mannered Attorney making a simpering request, or did they see Super Chairman imposing preconditions with an implied "or else ...". What do you think they perceived? What did Super Chairman do or say to acknowledge the possibility of a misperception and to ensure that any such possibility was erased?
His statement says:
"... If, in accordance with their tenets of journalism, they could not participate for ethical reasons, I would have expected them to say so, and it would have been understood and accepted ... ."
In other words, neither Super Chairman nor Mild-mannered Attorney said anything to exclude the possibility of the journalists confusing identities. The onus remained on journalists to risk their jobs by saying, "No, sir, Mr Chairman (oops, sorry, Mr Attorney). We refuse," when it was Super Chairman's responsibility to say in the clearest possible language that journalists were free to object to the preconditions without any prospect of victimisation.
He needed to say, "Look, you might think this is TVJ's chairman speaking to you. It's not. This is just a lawyer representing his clients. I won't tell the TVJ chairman anything and he won't ever know what's happened."
But, following the example set by Driva, who said nothing but expected everybody to read his mind as to whether the JLP leader or the prime minister was speaking, he remained silent, allowing perception to rule. Did the then president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce publish a stinging critique of Driva for his JLP/Government confusion?
But, it gets worse. The PAJ statement reads:
"During the discussion, the PAJ team was shocked to hear the TVJ chairman explain that he was not cognisant of the fundamental rules governing journalism ... as the basis for his opinion that he did nothing outside journalistic norms.
"However, in a proposed draft of a joint release from Mr Samuda's attorney (which the PAJ rejected), ... the TVJ chairman asserted that he said he was not cognisant of any rule which prohibited the press from making agreements in relation to interviews. Accordingly, he did not think that his actions were outside accepted norms."
WHAT? Which Jamaican wasn't warned by their mothers or grandmothers against pretending that fiction was fact? How does that rule differ from an alleged 'rule' (whether written or unwritten and regardless of its exact terms) which should prevent an 'arrangement' where interviews are pre-scripted by interviewees and then presented to the public without asterisk, explanatory note, or disclaimer?
This is what Super Chairman said about his knowledge of the principles of journalism;
"... In acting as counsel to my clients, in those circumstances I was not then and am not now cognisant of any rule which prohibited the press from making agreements, including preconditions, in relation to interviews. Accordingly, I did not think that the agreement was outside accepted norms.."
WHAT? Is Super Chairman saying he isn't aware that journalists oughtn't to have their questions scripted for them by the persons they're to interview or their representatives? Or is he making a disingenuous reference to his inability to find a written 'rule' in exactly those terms in some codified rules of journalistic conduct?
I propose to Super Chairman that he ask any journalist anywhere in the world what he/she knows of such a rule. The poll will return 100 per cent results. Only he didn't know this was wrong.
Is it possible that the chairman of Jamaica's largest media entity doesn't know it's wrong to script questions for journalists? Would he permit me to script questions for the great Earl Moxam or Dionne Jackson-Miller? Does he not understand the meaning of the word 'ALL' as it appears in the TVJ panel discussion show 'All Angles'? Is he so self-absorbed that he can't admit to any error, however publicly made and however damaging to freedom of the press?
Pack bags and go
What's beyond doubt is that if Super Chairman really believes there's no such rule of journalism, it's time for him to pack his bags and go.
It gets wusserrer. From left field, Super Chairman's statement included this bombshell:
"During the meeting, the question of payola influence was also raised by the PAJ and should be ventilated."
Oh dear, oh dear. Nothing of the sort appears in the PAJ statement. Why would the PAJ be raising payola issues? The PAJ wasn't present at the interview, nor was it party to the 'preconditions' or 'agreement' Super Chairman asserts was concluded based on his initiative. In a brief response, the PAJ said:
"On the issue of 'payola', it was suggested by Mr Samuda to the meeting that there was a 'private arrangement' between the journalists and the publicist. This led to a probe by the PAJ team as to the full meaning of this statement. Mr Samuda offered no further explanation. He was then asked bluntly if 'payola' was involved. No further clarity was provided at the meeting."
Super Chairman has alleged an 'agreement' with the journalists; 'preconditions' which, he says, amounts to "an agreement by the journalists to restrict their questioning to the areas that would not prejudice my clients' imminent hearing." If, as the PAJ asserts, Super Chairman said there was a "private arrangement" which he refused to clarify, this is very, very serious indeed.
I believe the PAJ on this because it has no reason to raise any payola issues. The PAJ represents journalists. Why would it raise the spectre of payola? The PAJ wasn't present at the interview or its antecedents. Why mention 'payola'?
Apply Clear Thought
As usual, I insist we apply clear thought and strict logic to this 'payola' allegation. Super Chairman has already disclosed an 'agreement' which he admits included his designing questions and imposing 'preconditions'. Logic dictates that, if he now alleges a "private arrangement", the details of which he won't divulge, that "private arrangement" cannot include the matters already publicly disclosed. So what are the particulars of this "private arrangement"?
It's Super Chairman who considers it important to address 'payola' in his public statement although it was never mentioned in the PAJ's statement. He goes further: "The question of payola ... should be ventilated." This can only mean he's alleging the "private arrangement" was a payola arrangement. Why else would the PAJ be urged to "ventilate" payola in relation to this matter?
Remember, this is the same Super Chairman who said, "... I was not then and am not now cognisant of any rule which prohibited the press from making agreements, including preconditions, in relation to interviews." Is he saying he didn't know that "payola", which would include an "agreement, including preconditions, in relation to interviews" is wrong?
Anybody alleging a "private arrangement"with a journalist to publish only sanitised information who won't disclose the arrangement's details might be implying that payola was involved. It's a career-ending allegation to make against any journalist, so I hope Super Chairman knows what he's doing. In my opinion, he ought to make it clear he didn't intend to allege payola and immediately disclose details of the "private arrangement".
Failure to do so could launch the rumour mill. Available speculation could include that maybe a payola arrangement was made. I'm sure that isn't the case, but the slightest suspicion that Super Chairman may be aware of a payola arrangement would be grounds for his resignation.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.