It's always about the money
On Sunday, in a column headlined 'Journalists are threats to press freedom', Booklist Boyne advocated for journalistic integrity.
The column should be preserved in a 2014 time capsule. He failed to identify any instance of unethical journalistic behaviour or essay a single opinion as to what he thinks about the current state of the profession. True to form, Booklist raised issues, urged journalists to read books, and left it to readers to guess where he stands.
In the following passage, he came closest to making an assessment before swerving violently left to avoid a collision with opinion. He wrote:
"Will we cover this story to suit our political preferences? Will we promote party political interests in the slant given to our reporting? Will we be fair, dispassionate and even-handed in our analysis of the burning issues ... ? Will we use our privileged position in media to advance our own interests and hurt and defame those we despise?
How we respond as media practitioners turns on the issue of integrity ... . The fact is, our dominant materialistic ethos poses serious challenges to press freedom. Money trumps everything these days, including integrity. This is the age in which it seems that every man has his price. And the increasing economic insecurity of journalists is not helping.
This economic insecurity has the potential to challenge our integrity as journalists and lead us to make morally questionable compromises ... ."
As usual, many questions, zero answers. C'mon, Booklist, did she or didn't she? As a 30-year columnist, why not blow the lid on what you know? You correctly identify economic insecurity, but that it "is not helping" is a gross understatement. It's THE gravest danger to journalistic integrity. This means that, with a few notable exceptions, journalistic integrity simply doesn't exist in Jamaica.
drives journalists to accept 'gifts' like filling their petrol tanks free;
drives journalists to ask for 'loans' without discrimination regarding from whence that loan comes;
prompts editors to publish calumny written by cowards hiding behind pseudonyms as 'opinion'; and
drives journalists to routinely accept cash to become information conduits.
No, Booklist, "economic insecurity" doesn't have "the potential to challenge our integrity as journalists ... ". It's what has brought a once proud profession to the level of mendicants and prostitutes. You ought to know this. For once, can you resist calling spades shovels?
Three personal stories: In an article headlined, 'The scourge of poverty' (June-July 2013 issue of The Journalist) reproduced by one of Jamaica's leading bloggers and journalists of integrity, Annie Paul, in her 2013 Active Voice post titled, 'What ails Jamaican journalism', acclaimed journalist, Jeremy Dear, reported: "Five of the last seven editors of Jamaica's biggest newspaper have died in poverty ... ." I don't know who he means, but I'm going to tell the story of my friend, the late, great J.C. Proute.
J.C., a Barbadian who made Jamaica his home, was the epitome of journalistic integrity. In a glittering career, he became editor-in-chief of the defunct Daily News before ending his career at The Gleaner. In later life, he developed Parkinson's. As one of several 'older' men with whom The Old Ball and Chain had a lifelong love affair, J.C. came to visit her in the aftermath of her major surgery and insisted on climbing the stairs, despite suffering from severe shakes, to see her, thus saving her the trip down.
His principles were old-fashioned and unshakable. But he was proud, so by the time he came to me to sue a young thug from Tivoli who'd "purchased" and taken delivery of J.C.'s car, but not paid for it, it was too late to collect the funds he needed to buy vital medication. He died without the crucial treatment he required.
A popular newspaper editor routinely called subjects of alleged investigative journalism to ask, "What can you do for me?," to avoid publication.
Finally, when I was executive chairman of a public body in sensitive negotiations with a private-sector association, the association's head told me he had a rare photo of my father as sports master at JC. The next day, the photo was on my desk. I'm certain the gesture was guileless, but I returned it within the hour.
This is the challenge facing newly elected Press Association of Jamaica president, Dionne Jackson-Miller, herself a shining beacon of excellence and integrity. No amount of PAJ awards or hard-hitting speeches will mean diddly unless and until journalists are paid fair wages for a fair day's work.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.