By George Davis
The media in Jamaica have again found itself in the cross hairs of critics. This time, the distinguished gentleman, Seymour Panton, president of the Court of Appeal, has trained the rifle of his opprobrium at the Fourth Estate for the way in which, he says, it encourages criminality.
Speaking last week at the monthly meeting of the Rotary Club of Montego Bay East at the Sunset Beach Resort in St James, Justice Panton said, "We have a situation where media houses are, in my view, in many instances, encouraging criminality. Why do I say that? They promote individuals who may be suspects in criminal activity at a level which is unbecoming."
Justice Panton adds for good measure: "They are giving youngsters the impression that if you can get yourself into this category, you will be a hero, and you will be all over the papers daily."
I earn my bread in radio and, no disrespect to La Grande Dame of North Street, pick up some scraps in the newspapers. So in real terms, I shouldn't be put out by the comments of the learned gentleman, especially as he singled out papers in his statement.
NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
But the comments demand attention given that they are so specific about my vocation. These comments have added significance because they come from a man who rarely says a word outside the halls of justice. Indeed, they also come from a man who's aware of the value and power of words, with skill enough to waste not even a preposition when he speaks.
The first thing not to do is direct invective at Justice Panton. His past service to the country and the office he currently holds demand our respect. He has conducted himself with dignity in the public eye.
We in the media must understand which individual or group he's talking about when he speaks of criminal suspects being built into heroes. We must understand the perspective he's speaking from and then politely tell the goodly gentleman that he's talking pure twaddle.
I suspect strongly that Justice Panton is throwing words at the media over its coverage of the Vybz Kartel murder trial. It's likely I'm wrong, and his comments relate to the way he sees things generally. But even if I'm wrong about the specific oil the learned gentleman is using to fry the media, I am still right about the smell of that which, by his comments, he's seeking to cook up.
CURSE OF THE MESSENGER
Daily, the media play a critical role educating, entertaining and informing the nation. The media bear the curse of messenger and are burdened with bringing different messages to a highly educated, discerning and demanding audience.
Problems understandably arise with an audience which may disapprove with how a message is relayed or the frequency with which a particular message is rotated. The facts are that the media don't craft the message. They simply use the vehicle of mass reach and wide coverage to transmit this message. To accuse media houses of glamorising criminality and promoting criminals by simply reporting on related matters is over the top and deserving of ridicule.
The media don't report on murders that don't happen. We don't make up robberies and publish phantom details about daring shoot-outs between gunmen and the brave members of the constabulary.
We don't build a straw dancehall star, implicate him in murder, and then use precious airtime and newspaper space to report daily on the proceedings of his fake trial. We don't have an Editors' Forum at The Gleaner, dream up a story that over 12,000 Jamaicans have been murdered since 2003, then give various media houses a segment of the fake story to run with.
The Press Association doesn't have a special committee charged with concocting stories about young men from western Jamaica being knee-deep in lottery scamming. And how these young men are behind the deaths of hundreds of people in St James, including a dozen slaughtered over six days in Montego Bay last week.
No, Justice Panton, we don't make that stuff up. The media are simply windows to a world that some would not like to see themselves or have us show to others.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.