Protecting our leaders from themselves


Monday, September 02, 2013

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CLEARLY the "powers that be" are not very well acquainted with social media. If they were, they would be increasingly, instead of decreasingly, respectful of our journalists. When I used to agonise over my feature stories at the Daily News in the 70s, my quick-witted editor George Graham would say, "Leave it alone now Jean, by tomorrow it will be wrapping fish!" Not so anymore. The voices of the Internet will never be stilled and the pages of blogs are untearable.

It was bad enough when media folks had recordings taken from them and scrubbed after a recent briefing involving athletes, but at least those censors were private individuals. Last Thursday, a Government minister and his handlers demanded that media leave a meeting to which they had been invited, before he would participate.

Well, a reporter forgot his/her — I don't know who the individual is — recording device in the meeting room. The tape was played on Nationwide News later that day.

Let me conduct a mini-workshop, here and now, on media briefings which, yes, our Cabinet members are obligated to have. They are paid by the people who depend on the media to help us discern the truth about the nation's business.

First, they should brief their communications teams on issues. Out of these discussions should come queries expected from the media. Answers should be thoroughly researched and set out so that presenters are fully prepared for briefings. A press kit - now a CD or flash is prepared with release/statement, questions and answers and info-graphics. There will be awkward occasions when one is not in a position to answer certain questions, but if this is an exceptional situation, and the media have enjoyed a good level of cooperation, respectful resolution can be achieved. The watchword is respect.

Political representatives repeatedly tell us they are "servants of the people", then they get a taste of that opiate — power — and become transformed into demi-gods. We who hold our democracy so dear need to protect them from themselves. If CAFFE cannot manage that much-discussed monitoring website for these representatives, then the Press Association may have to help with Web updates.

Our leaders should understand, however, that even without a formal watchdog group, Facebook and Twitter are taking their missteps far and wide. They should do themselves the favour of espousing causes that they can openly defend so that the media can become their ally rather than a perceived adversary.

JLP leadership race

The Jamaica Labour Party has two admirable men competing for leadership. The incumbent is the young, articulate Andrew Holness who, for many Jamaicans, represented a departure from old-style politics. The challenger is the experienced motivator and party Vice-President Audley Shaw. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this challenge - this is the stuff that democracy is made of and, in hindsight, would have probably put the JLP in better stead for the December 2012 elections.

I remember attending that cookie-cutter event at the Terra Nova hotel when all the JLP bigwigs sat at the head table to announce that they endorsed, unanimously, Andrew Holness as party leader. Subsequently, the public took issue with his timing of the general election, blaming it for his short sojourn in Jamaica House. Was it that the young leader listened to bad advice, or no advice at all? Were the older hopefuls secretly disappointed at his selection and not as forthcoming as they could have been?

An experienced observer has commented that this contest may just be the shot in the arm that the JLP needs — as long as they come together immediately after the voting is over and the presidency is settled. We hope that the exercise will indeed strengthen the party, and that the PNP will also work towards matching the high ideals of its founder.

The tribalists need to remove their dunce caps and blinkers, and realise that Jamaica belongs to neither JLP nor PNP, but to the people. Both parties should be using their energies in such a positive way for Jamaica, that we would have the comfort of knowing that whatever an election result, we can depend on sound governance.

Learning from great leaders

Our politicians should heed the examples of those great men who have held high office and inspired the entire human race. New Zealand business expert Michael Jamieson writes that from Nelson Mandela we learn: to lead by example, rather than hubris and ego; to only set visions and goals you believe in; to show fortitude and resilience in achieving those visions and goals; and to include the best people in your organisation regardless of previous affiliations as long as these people are team players and share the agreed vision and goals.

Last week, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington DC led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, where he dreamed of the day when his four children "would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but the content of their character." A country cannot flourish without people of character. Let us train ourselves to be unimpressed by less than worthy leaders.

Unforgettable Mrs Vickers

Our science teacher at Alpha Academy Mrs Isla Vickers was a passionate teacher and a renaissance woman. Her classmate since her entry at Convent of Mercy - Alpha in 1935 was none other than the legendary Sister Mary Bernadette Little. A fragile but eloquent Sister Bernadette gave a memorable tribute last Saturday as we gathered to honour our teacher and offer condolence to her daughters Maureen and Elizabeth.

Sister recalled, "At a time when teaching aids and resources were scarce... Isla used her ingenuity to design teaching experiences which were pupil-centred and ensured strong student participation in her classes... Isla was deeply interested in ensuring that her girls developed habits of critical thinking and a moral and spiritual centre." How blessed we were to have such a teacher. Rest in peace, dear Mrs Vickers.

Norman Jarrett - '90 going on 19'

What a privilege it was to share in the 90th birthday celebrations for educator and philanthropist, Norman Jarrett, the theme of which was 'Ninety going on Nineteen'. Only last year I had watched Norman play the piano for the annual fund-raiser 'Poets on Parade' organised by his beautiful wife Cecile to support the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Kingston Literacy Programme. He then offered his arm to assist the singer down the steps - a much younger lady than himself!

Downtown Kiwanis Club President Patrick Whittock, fellow teacher Rupert Hamilton, son Emile Jarrett, daughter Ann Marie Jarrett, and grandson Jonathan Nairne all regaled us with stories of this dedicated, dynamic and gifted gentleman who looks and acts not a day over 60. Congratulations!





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