Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Jamaican press: too soft on corruption

Published:Monday | September 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

If Jamaica is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the next question is whether the press is complicit with that corruption. The truth is that the Jamaican press can hardly be regarded as fearless. It has few victories or battle scars to show where fighting corruption is concerned.

The OLINT scandal is a case in point. An intelligent and alert media would have smelled the Ponzi odour and heard all the rumours about payoffs and extortion involving politicians, but hardly anything earth-shattering was revealed by the media.

David Smith was brought down by law enforcement from other countries but never prosecuted in Jamaica for the millions that he scammed from Jamaican citizens. There was no fearlessness to go where the story pointed, and there were many leads, including email revelations. Even David Smith's own testimony of bribing a famous politician, or being extorted by a politician - though this was denied - was not worthy of mention. Oh, yes, the defamation laws.

A successful businessman and media owner is fined millions of United States dollars for corruption in a Caribbean country and there is hardly a whimper from the press about the wranglings that must have preceded and caused this fine. The question never seemed to occur as to whether there was any variant of this kind of corruption committed on Jamaican soil.

Chinese companies have bribed politicians from Africa and other nations, some of whom have been sentenced. One company that has a mark against it by none other than the World Bank is a major player in Jamaica. Despite dealings with government that lack transparency, no one raises questions or goes looking to see if the same thing that happened in Africa might not be happening here. Why, for example, is there so much secrecy surrounding the Goat Islands MOU? Does anyone smell anything?

In the midst of suspected corruption, the public debt keeps rising, now above $2 trillion. Everyone is blissfully ignorant of the possible connection between the alarming rise in public debt and lack of transparency in how this debt is contracted. Shouldn't we have a public audit of the debt?

lack of fearlessness

Austerity policy is the price that working and poor people must pay in order for odious and illegitimate debt to be repaid, not to mention the debt for white elephant projects from which the people derived little benefit.

With so much stench, it is hard to accept that the press is so soft and lacking in testicular fortitude. (Giving me the opportunity to pen these thoughts is a rare exception).

But this lack of fearlessness is not difficult to explain. It is part of a business culture (and media are owned by corporations) where it is generally accepted that as marginal players in the global scheme of capitalism (the inability to compete with major players on the world market), the quickest route to capital accumulation is to rip off the local state. The phrase borrowed from Marx to describe this phenomenon is 'primitive capital accumulation'.

Tax evasion and avoidance are one of the favourite forms of primitive capital accumulation. Many successful corporations do not pay their taxes and no one is outraged, not even those who legitimately make their payments. Who are these corporations? Shouldn't they be shamed like delinquent student loan borrowers?

State contracts worth billions of dollars, government employment of politically connected consultants, exorbitant salaries and perks, not to mention the opportunity for personal, social networking, translate into billions of dollars that are there for the taking.

The most famous battle cry for business is that Government must become business-friendly. This, as we all know, is mostly a private-sector euphemism for access to the State's feeding trough, which has been greased with secret campaign contributions.

The absence of a vigorous political Opposition (not our typical parliamentary type), aided by the scandalous betrayal of the working class by our trade union leaders - totally subservient to Government and the private sector - makes it easy to understand why a corporate, monopoly media, as part of the prevailing culture, has totally failed in its mission statement to be the watchdog of the nation.

That is quite scandalous.

Lloyd D'Aguilar is a human-rights activist and host of the 'Morning Edition' on Hot 102 FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lgdaguilar@yahoo.com.