EDITORIAL - Emulating Isaiah's watchman
A week ago, at a service that was part of this newspaper's celebration of its 180th anniversary, Howard Gregory, the Anglican bishop of Jamaica, offered an analysis of the press that should be essential reading for the island's journalists, as well as critical consumers of media. At the very least, his ideas and suggestions are worthy of discussion and serious debate, especially against the backdrop of the global social and political environment within which Jamaica exists and the economic reforms we are being forced to undertake.
Bishop Gregory's analysis resonates with us, for with a clarity and eloquence this newspaper could not claim to command, he articulated a context for the press, within whose broad parameters The Gleaner has sought to operate, and believes ought to be the standard for media generally. He framed his sermon against the prophet Isaiah's watchman's metaphor in his prediction of Babylon's destruction by the Assyrians - having made sense of the meaning of his vision, not unlike the journalists offering credible interpretation of myriad bits of information.
"Journalism's influence," Bishop Gregory said, "extends beyond the purveying of information and opinion about public affairs. To that extent, I would assert that the media is neither an amoral nor neutral entity within the society, but must be clear on the guiding principles, moral or otherwise, which it seeks to disseminate."
He further argued: "... It takes a free press with guts, and working in tandem with institutions of civil society, to educate the population and expose developments in these areas of our national life, pointing to the fact that the watchman's post may be more than a singular appointment."
Free Press is no monolith
Bishop Gregory's thesis, in general, accords with a position that we have several times declared in this column, of the unwritten compact between the free press and the society within which its exists and serves. The first adheres that in a liberal democracy, the free press is no monolith; ideas and opinions, as uncomfortable and stressful as these may at times be, must have room to contend.
Moreover, the freedom enjoyed by the press, and in which it trades, is not of singular ownership. If freedom is lost to the society it is not available to the press. Hence, in its compact with its host community, the press - with its capacity of reach and its ability to raise the decibel of public opinion to uncomfortably high levels - is afforded access in exchange for its watchman's role in shouting for, and insisting on, quality governance and good government.
Or, as Bishop Gregory puts it: "Without doubt, a free press and a responsible press constitute part of the guardians of our democracy, but it must also understand that like the watchman of Isaiah's time, it is the herald that helps to interpret the events in the life of the nation and to sound the warning and to experience the anguish which comes with the discharge of such a weighty responsibility."
These are principles to which The Gleaner recommits itself, for as we remarked at the start of these celebrations, we remain loyal to the values that most Jamaicans hold dear - democracy, human rights, individual freedoms and the market economy. Bishop Gregory believes that The Gleaner, after 180 years, has much to offer, including contributing to "a vision of hope for a society that wallows in hopelessness, despair, conflict and political tribalism to its detriment". We expect to be worthy of that expectation.
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