Asafa's lawyer, Milton Samuda takes leave of absence from TVJ board over tape controversy
Chairman of Television Jamaica Limited and Deputy Chairman of the RJR Communications Group, Milton Samuda has taken leave of absence as controversy mounts over the erasing of portions of a video recorded interview with athletes Sherone Simpson and Asafa Powell.
Samuda had listened in on the interviews of his clients after their recent positive test for banned substances.
Samuda reportedly asked the journalists who conducted interviews with his clients to erase sections of the recordings.
In a statement released this morning, Samuda admitted that his actions have raised questions about his commitment to press freedom and his role to protect the integrity and credibility of the RJR Communications Group.
He said that he would take a different approach, should a similar situation occur by not allowing an interview or by taking up the issue directly with the editors and not the journalists.
Samuda says he agreed to a leave of absence and recused himself from discussions on the matter to facilitate independent discussion and enquiry.
SEE FULL STATEMENT BELOW
Since returning to the Island last Friday, I have taken note of the release by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) in relation to the meeting between its team and mine. I have also taken note of the report concerning the resolution passed at the recent 70th Annual General Meeting of the PAJ.
In relation to the joint meeting, I too am disappointed in the outcome of the meeting particularly because in that meeting although there was substantial meeting of the minds for a joint release yet, ironically, as two disciplines schooled in the use of words, we could not agree on the words which would accurately reflect that substantial meeting of minds which in fact occurred.
In my view the critical aspects of the meeting were:
1. I recorded my disappointment that although the PAJ said it had investigated the matter, that investigation did not at any time include a discussion with me. I told the meeting that in my view an investigation must include both sides.
2. I re-stated that I did not select the journalists. Though it may be convenient to think that I influenced or chose TVJ to be represented is simply not factual.
3. There definitively was an agreement by the journalists to pre-conditions for the interview in that there was an agreement by the journalists to restrict their questioning to the areas that would not prejudice my clients’ imminent hearing. If in accordance with their tenets of journalism they could not participate for ethical reasons, I would have expected them to say so and it would have been understood and accepted. If the journalistic principles that the PAJ espouse are applied to these journalists then they had the option to decline the interview, not to attend or to leave at any point. They agreed to and participated in the process in which we were balancing the public interest matter with the guidelines for a fair hearing.
4. The PAJ's complete rejection of “pre-conditions” for interviews as inimical to free and open coverage and of this only being facilitative of public relations.
5. From my legal discipline, I re-asserted that the journalists had an obligation to honour their commitment having agreed to the pre-conditions. Clearly, this is the core issue that separates us on this aspect of the matter.
6. The PAJ emphasized in our discussions, and we agreed, that if the principles are as they say, the acceptance of pre-conditions for the interview was highly unprofessional by the journalists and should not have been accommodated in the first place; and further that the journalists should have disclosed the conditions agreed and obtain prior clearance from their supervisors or editors to enter any such agreement, which they did not.
7. I pointed out that the journalists having showed up equipped and ready for an interview, having agreed to pre-conditions, I assumed that they had clearance from their supervisors or editors.
8. That in acting as counsel to my clients, in those circumstances I was not then and am not now cognizant of any rule which prohibited the press from making agreements, including pre-conditions, in relation to interviews. Accordingly I did not think that the agreement was outside accepted norms.
9. The assertion in the meeting by the PAJ Team that the journalists ought to be dismissed for agreeing to the pre-conditions. However, this is not reflected in their public positions.
10. The agreement by the journalists themselves to the erasure of the tapes and the provision of edited versions (which were subsequently provided) after acknowledging that they had breached the agreement is of some note about the journalists’ own position in the matter.
11. My contention that the journalists were never coerced into handing over the tapes. It should be noted further that the journalists before then, without prompting, had even promised that they would not use those areas that were outside the agreement.
12. The PAJ noting that TVJ's newsroom carried a release in which it was stated that the tapes were ‘demanded’ from the journalists and my definitive statement that at no time did I use my position as TVJ Chairman to coerce the journalists into handing over the tapes. They were handed over voluntarily after I requested to them to do so. It is important to note that the reporter in his account of the circumstances has not substantiated this claim by the PAJ of a demand from me or intimidation by me.
13. The conversation I had with the journalists was never, ever acrimonious.
14. In response to PAJ assertions that I stood in conflict with the media house of which I am Chairman and my role to preserve and protect a free press in Jamaica, I reiterated the importance of my duty to protect my clients from circumstances which might prejudice their right to a fair hearing in prospective proceedings.
15. That at all times I acted in my role as counsel. The interview was held at my law office and the journalists at all times knew the capacity in which I acted.
16. I wish to assure that in my role as TVJ Chairman and RJR Board Member for 17 years, I have never once acted in a position to influence their editorial content, even when it relates to my activities in my several other duties.
17. My stating in the meeting that, having regard to what transpired that if the opportunity presented itself again I would behave differently in that either the interview would not have been held at all (which was my original position) or, in respect of the tapes, I would not have requested them of the journalists but instead would have protested my concerns to their supervising editors.
18. The acceptance of the PAJ that much work needs to be done on its side in educating journalists about not only their rights but also their responsibilities was clearly stated and accepted.
19. My raising a concern that the PAJ’s draft Code of Practice allows the use of deceit to obtain information in the public interest.
The meeting, in my view, made considerable progress in tackling issues such as the interpretation of public interest, journalistic integrity, ethics and training, who is a “public person” and media access to public persons, the lawyer/client relationship, perceived intimidation and conflict of interest.
During the meeting the question of payola influence was also raised by the PAJ and should be ventilated.
It is my view that members of the public would benefit from information and discussion concerning the Draft Code of Practice of the PAJ.
I commend both teams - the PAJ team led by Wyvolyn Gager and including Cliff Hughes, Ben Brodie and Roxanne Marr (representing PAJ’s legal counsel, Bert Samuels); and my team led by Patrick Foster, Q.C. and including attorneys-at-law Nigel Jones and Danielle Chai – for a candid, no holds barred and enlightening meeting.
Turning now to my obligations as a director of the RJR Communications Group and of TVJ. I have a duty to those companies to attend to their welfare and that of their shareholders. I had and have no desire to see my companies in an untenable position. I have always maintained that leadership must act in the best interest of those it leads and not out of any sense of narrow self interest. I am no exception.
Please note therefore that my stating in the meeting with the PAJ, that having regard to what transpired that if the opportunity presented itself again I would behave differently, was an indication of my acknowledgement of the regrettable position this has led to on several fronts. I regret this entire episode and that, while honestly acting in my capacity as legal counsel, there were aspects of those duties which caused questioning and doubt about my commitment to press freedom and to my role to protect the integrity and credibility for the RJR Group. My commitment to press freedom remains rock solid. In relation to the RJR Group, I can confidently state that all stakeholders in our media organisation should have no doubt about my commitment to these media institutions and my vigilance in supporting their integrity, journalistic and otherwise, in the future.
As an immediate step – I recused myself from the Board Meetings in the RJR Group this week, to allow for full and frank discussions without my presence or perceived influence. Additionally, I have requested leave from the Board, until the internal processes of RJR are finalized.
As soon as the internal processes of RJR are finalized, I will make a final decision along with them and communicate it publicly, in due course.
Milton J. Samuda
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