Holness says no to censorship of the arts

Holness says no to censorship of the arts

Prime Minister reacts to Hanna’s remarks on Vybz Kartel music

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 25, 2017

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness says that his Government will not give in to any public urge for censorship as a response to controversial cultural activities, including dancehall music.

Holness told a breakfast meeting with members of the board and senior editorial staff of the Jamaica Observer at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue head office in Kingston on Friday that education would be a better response to public alarm regarding anything that may be considered offensive.

"My point is, how do we create consumers who are more discerning of the products that are being produced. Because, once you start to censure you kill creativity," Holness said.

The prime minister was reacting to a question about his response to issues like the current controversy over comments made by Opposition spokesperson and former Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, on radio about banning Vybz Kartel’s music and him recording from his prison cell.

Hanna, who was addressing issues of violence and culture at the time on local radio station, Nationwide News Network, noted that, despite being sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, Kartel seemed to have continued recording his music, which some Jamaicans consider unfit for public consumption, from behind bars, which music is played publicly

"If you are convicted, until you are not convicted, perhaps it is that your music need not be played on the radio," Hanna said in the interview.

"The issue is where Kartel’s music is coming out (more) than any other person, because I have not heard any new song from Buju (Banton) since he has been incarcerated. I think that we need to get to the root cause of that. We need to find out how the songs are being made, how they are getting out. Is there corruption in the prison system? And not only for Kartel, I am not singling out Kartel alone. I am singling out all persons across the spectrum who are having an imprint on our children’s value system," she said.

Holness responded:

"We have a liberal democracy’, we can’t escape that. And the society is not one that brooks any argument about censorship. We are not a society that holds heavily to censorship.

"The way to combat that, however, is that while we don’t like censorship, that shouldn’t mean that we allow everything to get in the public space. So the important thing that a society that is a liberal democracy must develop, if it is not going to censor, is to develop literacy and education.

"In other words, you combat negative information with positive information.

So the challenge we have is that a lot of people are absorbing, within the public space, much of the artistic creativity but without the context as to how this creativity can lead to the realisation of a certain reality.

"In other societies, you go and you watch the movies and it is not just dancehall, it’s just general. You have hip hop, you have rap music; we are just bombarded with things that have different moral perspectives. But, if you have a well-educated society that can place these things in context,and say this is art, this is from one’s own belief, it’s not what I necessarily believe, or I know that what this person is saying is wrong, then your society can survive that.

"But, if you have a high level of illiteracy or unreasonableness in the society, and people literally take what is being produced — not just as artistic content, but take it literally as their theme or anthem — then you begin to have a problem. So, the solution to Jamaica is not censorship, the solution is to increase our education; our teaching has to place things in context."

Jamaican dancehall star Vybz Kartel was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for the murder of Clive "Lizard" Williams. Kartel received the harshest sentence of any of his co-defendants, as he is serving 35 years in prison before he will be eligible for parole. The sentencing of Kartel and three other co-accused followed a 65-day trial.

Kartel, whose real name is Adidja Palmer, was found guilty of killing Williams at his house in Havendale, a suburb north of Kingston, in August, 2011. Also found guilty were: Shawn Campbell and Kahira Jones, who were each sentenced to serve a minimum of 25 years, and Andre St John, who can apply for parole after serving 15 years of a life sentence. A fifth defendant, Shane Williams, was found not guilty.

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