- National Journalism Week Western Jamaica Forum
The Press Association of Jamaica, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017, partnered with the University of the West Indies, Mona – Western Jamaica Campus (WJC), and the US Embassy, Kingston, to continue its celebration of National Journalism Week under the theme “Media Accountability in the Digital Age”.
The observance of the week of activities, which began on Sunday, November 27, delivered in this Western edition a lecture at the Western Campus, in which the topic: “Who’s Watching The Watchdog? Media Regulation in Jamaica and Elsewhere” was explored. This discussion was led by Dr. Janet Steele, Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at George Washington University in the United States, who facilitated lively conversations with students and prominent figures in media Lloyd B. Smith, CEO of Western Publishers Limited and Editor-in-Chief of the Western Mirror, and veteran Journalist and President of the Press Association of Jamaica, Dionne Jackson Miller.
In a forum which saw a number of points being raised, the prevailing discussion, led by Dr. Steele, centred on freedom of the press, with a particular interest in how such a powerful estate, charged with maintaining balance and transparency, holds itself to the same standards. Such conversations brought to the fore certain ideas the PAJ had been entertaining, particularly that of establishing a Press Council or a Complaint Council. This body, which would ideally be independent, would be charged with ‘watching the watchdogs’, mediating cases of public grievances with the media, particularly for issues that cannot be legally challenged, but violate certain ethical guidelines media practitioners should be abiding by.
President of the PAJ, Jackson Miller, added her voice to that conversation, stating that such a body would help to drive further accountability among local, and particularly young journalists, whom she believes are not being informed enough. The PAJ President further explained that such a body would also act as a data reservoir for the public, supplying information on certain areas (defamation for example) that the public, as well as journalists, may not be aware of.
Of note is that though there were discussions being had regarding a council to regulate certain elements of the media, Dr. Steele was quick to point out that Jamaica consistently ranks high on the list of countries that enjoy true freedom of the press, ranking this year at 19, two places above the US, 21. In explaining why a country such as the US, whose First Amendment prevents any encroachment upon the rights and freedoms of the press, places lowly in the international rankings, Dr. Steele said this is owed to the recent attack on the press by President of the United States, Donald Trump, who has weaponized his use of the term ‘Fake News’. Steele went on to explain that this misnomer, ‘Fake News’, has vilified journalistic work in the US, especially any work that seems to disagree with the President. “Calling certain entities ‘Fake News’ is a disingenuous position to take by the president, and is deliberate misinformation. Clearly, disagreeing with someone’s point of view does not make the information they produce incorrect or inaccurate,” Dr. Steele offered.
Despite this threat to the press, Steele revealed that the US media landscape remains skeptical of any external body that may suggest regulating the press’ power in any way. If Jamaica is to undertake such a move to establish a Press Council, as was done in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, Steele suggests due research be done to decide the relevance of such a body in the Jamaican context, as well as how such would be funded.
Patrick Prendergast, Director of the UWI Mona – WJC, who chaired the programme, offered his thoughts on the discussion, and brought attention to the need for self-examination among journalists. Prendergast commented on the need to question our own biases, especially within the context of a Press Council, and that subjecting ourselves to that level of introspection will force us to consider more than just the Code of Ethics as journalists in the Digital Age.
HONOURING PHILLIP GREEN
The discussions culminated in the honouring of one of Western Jamaica’s premiere Photo-Journalists, the Western Mirror’s very own Phillip Green, who was presented with a citation by Lloyd B. Smith, documenting his over 40 years of stellar service to the Jamaican journalism landscape. Green is set to be honoured in Kingston at a special luncheon today at the Courtleigh Auditorium, where he will officially receive his citation from the PAJ.
National Journalism Week ends on Saturday, December 2, 2017.