Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Media rights and wrongs

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Colin Steer, Guest Columnist

Veteran newsman Ben Brodie's Public Affairs column of August 3 (Sunday Gleaner, 'When ignorance meets arrogance') about his encounter with 'Rambo' trying to prevent him taking a picture of Usain Bolt during the shooting of a video commercial in a public space brought to mind several incidents having to do with media workers' understanding of their rights and responsibilities and when to exercise restraint.

The first was that a few years ago, an experienced photographer returned to the newsroom where we worked at the time to report that he had been prevented by a security guard from taking a picture of the newly built United States Embassy in Liguanea, St Andrew. When asked on what grounds, according to the photographer, the guard cited security concerns.

This seemed preposterous for several reasons. In the first instance, while the embassy is considered US territory, I do not know of any law that prevented Jamaicans, let alone, the media, from taking pictures of a very public building from a public space - outside the embassy compound. Additionally, if the objection was that the picture was being taken directly from in front of the embassy, thus allowing the guard to 'rush' him, then the security concerns would hardly have been addressed, since anybody with a powerful camera could have taken pictures from different angles from several buildings away with the guard being none the wiser. The photographer, in my opinion, had too easily acquiesced to what, at best, was an overzealous security guard.

This brings to mind the question of where and when media workers may be prohibited from operating. Occasionally, there are debates about pictures taken in the precincts of the courts, but many younger media operatives seem either not to have heard or believe that a greater good is served by taking pictures of people on trial either entering or leaving the courts. The definition of 'precincts' needs clarification. Perhaps, too, some conventions, if not laws, should be ignored, but media should be clear about what they are doing and why.

Another incident had to do with the publishing of the picture in one of the newspapers (I can't recall which) of a boy, in his early teens, puffing away on a big ganja spliff at a street dance. One woman, sounding officious like a lawyer, wanted to know if the newspaper had obtained the boy's or his parents' permission before publishing.

CONFUSION OVER ISSUE

Granted that there are prohibitions on the use of children's pictures in certain situations, but the bigger contention in the instant case seemed to have been under what circumstances should images captured in the public space be permitted to be published in a wider public arena, without the consent of the subject, especially where media may consider these to be matters of public interest. Some people seem confused over the issue.

There are also other areas of consideration specific to television that raise questions about propriety and intrusiveness. What is the real value in poking a microphone and camera near to the mouth of terribly distraught relatives grieving the death of a loved one and publishing their mostly incoherent responses/reactions as 'news'? Have we noticed that this is mostly done with inner-city or rural folk and that local media exercise restraint when dealing with middle-class subjects?

In 1996, the hosts of the American NBC's Today show did a segment depicting the restraint shown by UK media after a gunman killed several schoolchildren in Dunblane, Scotland. They commented that in general, American media would have been fighting hard to get 'exclusive' interviews with relatives of the victims. The UK media, especially television, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, did no such thing. They kept a respectful distance and allowed families to enter and leave the school premises without being intrusive - and the Americans marvelled. Sometimes, basic decency and restraint must be taught, alongside rights and responsibilities, especially in this era of super-aggressive competitiveness.

Colin Steer is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and colin.steer@gmail.com.