Journalism under threat?
Last week the local media and communications fraternity was left in a state of shock after the release of the annual press ranking done by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Jamaica’s position on the World Press Freedom Index slipped by a whopping 20 points, from 12 to 32. This is the lowest spot Jamaica has held in over two decades. In 2021, Jamaica was ranked seventh out of 180 countries.
Minister without portfolio for information Robert Morgan was puzzled by this sharp decline and sort of questioned the instrument used to assess the different countries. At the same time, he has sought to reassure the country that the Government is serious about its commitment to press freedom and we should still feel a sense of satisfaction that Jamaica is still positioned within the top 25 per cent.
Notwithstanding, the information presented by the RSF does not seem to match up to the score that Jamaica obtained. Imagine losing all of 20 marks on an essay, but the feedback given by the instructor is grossly inadequate or somewhat distorted. It, therefore, calls into question the intentions and credibility of the respondents who answered whatever questionnaire or interviews that were administered by the RSF.
Journalists, at best, must try to report what is true and fair without bias towards any person or political party. But we know that there is the perception that different media houses are aligned to either of the two major political parties, though many attempt to speak from a neutral standpoint. It would be disingenuous if the respondents carried out a smear campaign to damage the high rankings that Jamaica has received for numerous years. It does not only look bad on the Government but also on the Press Association of Jamaica.
Soon after the release of the press rankings, Opposition spokesperson on information Donna Scott-Mottley said that the Government must take full responsibility for the country’s decline as the poor rating reflects the unfinished business in the information portfolio. She noted that some strong legislative amendments are still required and inadequate attention is given to information policy development and implementation, which leaves the responsible minister to act as a glorified public relations officer.
In the same vein, Deputy General Secretary Dexroy Martin of the People’s National Party (PNP), in his reaction to the news, wrote on Twitter, “This is so sad. The Government has brought us down so low. They have now become an albatross around Jamaica’s neck. [disgust emoji].” A few days later, the same Martin ushered a journalist from the party’s headquarters because she was dressed in a green piece of clothing. That is how low he has stooped! The other incident is the “Mi can rape yuh, enuh” comment made at the same location by an unidentified party supporter.
The PNP, in a recent press release, has sought to clarify that the comment was not directed towards the journalist and it was mere bantering. But who jokes about such a thing? Daily, so many girls and women are raped and many are still struggling with the trauma. Why would anyone think such a thing, much less verbalise it?
Since the incident, the Government was swift to condemn the abuse faced by the journalists, followed by different press releases from important media stakeholders and civil groups. Admittedly, however, some of the press releases were awfully toothless, and we have noted the silence from some of the otherwise outspoken civil and religious groups.
In a recent column, I asked: ‘Why take integrity groups seriously?’ Most of them are very selective in their outrage. Their actions call into question their credibility and integrity.
We must also underscore the Government’s hypocrisy in wanting to save face. Certainly, it has to be concerned about the press ranking, but how many times have Members of Parliament had vulgar and crude exchanges with media practitioners without any meaningful sanctions being meted out to them?
The level of double standard in our country is quite sickening. The threat of rape should be treated as a criminal offence and the unidentified man in question should be arrested and charged, but politicians’ cases should be dismissed because they are above us?
Nevertheless, we have come to accept that there are two Jamaicas â€” one for the politicians and the other for the plebeians.