KINGSTON — Minister with responsibility for Information, Telecommunications and Special Projects, Hon. Daryl Vaz, says that it is time for the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) to fulfill its promise to establish a media complaints council to monitor compliance with the code of practice the PAJ said was ratified in 2010.
“No democratic society can afford to give any one interest group any sacrosanct status. The Press must have checks and balances, too. It can’t just insist on them for everybody else while exempting itself,” Mr. Vaz said
“In this regard, I bemoan that years after speaking about the need for a Press Complaints Council, the Press Association (of Jamaica) has still not established one. Years after the PAJ itself did some very fine work on a code of conduct and justifying the need for a Press Council, we still do not have this self-policing group,” the Minister noted.
Mr. Vaz was speaking at seminar on media in democracy, hosted by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston, Monday July 18, 2011.
The seminar, which ends Tuesday July 19, 2011, is being staged with support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Television Jamaica (TVJ), CVM Television, Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC) and Landline, Internet, Mobile Entertainment (LIME).
Stressing the importance of establishing the self-regulating body, the Minister questioned what mechanisms for redress do persons that are aggrieved and hurt by the Press have, when they do not have the resources to sue for libel.
“Some are maligned, ridiculed, tastelessly depicted or stereotyped and they have no Press Council to which to appeal to get justice,” he lamented.
In response to concerns raised in Parliament by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, about the absence of a Code of Conduct for Jamaican media practioners, President of the PAJ and Managing Editor of the Gleaner, Jenni Campbell, said in January that the PAJ has already ratified a Code of Ethics, but that discussions were continuing on a Complaints Commission, which would monitor compliance with the Code.
She said that the PAJ was committed to the idea, but that the process was taking longer than anticipated, because of the need to ensure “wide buy-in by the members of the media at every level”. The Council is expected to hear complaints from members of the public who feel they have been treated unfairly by the media.
Mr. Vaz said that the Government is committed to “press freedom and unfettered investigative journalism,” noting that the Prime Minister has spoken out on several occasions of the need to “tear down any firewall for corruption and secrecy” provided by restrictive libel laws.
He also pointed to the libel reform committee appointed by Mr. Golding, headed by Justice Hugh Small,which was mandated to recommend changes to ensure transparency and accountability in the context of a new framework of good governance. He noted that Justice Small has since given his report to the Prime Minister, which has been studied by a bi-partisan committee of Parliament and its recommendations approved.
“Among the things which the libel reform initiative was supposed to accomplish was to: prevent the suppression of information to which the public is reasonably entitled; impose appropriate burdens of accountability on public officials holding positions of trust; and, support the principle of freedom of the Press,” he said, adding that, in essence, the libel reform thrust was about democracy promotion.
He also emphasised that the Press has a pivotal role in building and sustaining a healthy democracy, noting that to enhance the media’s role in that process, it has to be ensured that while journalists and broadcasters are doing the necessary job of “holding the politicians’ feet to the fire”, that the media put its own house in order.
“A politician should not be defamed, maligned and stereotyped just because he is a politician. He has the right to the protection from prejudice, just like any other citizen. He has a right to fairness, objectivity and balance in any reporting concerning him,” he stated
Twenty one broadcast journalists and producers from radio and television stations in 10 Caribbean countries are participating in the seminar, which is part of a series of events themed 'CBA Live in Kingston: Media in Democracy’, increasing understanding of the crucial role of the media in Caribbean democracies.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter