Phew! It’s been quite a week. A mysterious shooting incident at police training, two children murdered, semi-hysteria over a car ad.
Now tell me …Who is Jamaica’s very own Enemy of the State? A home-grown terrorist, perhaps? A traitor who has committed a treasonable act? A particularly bloodthirsty gang leader who is on the rampage? No… None of the above. According to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, it is none other than our Honorable Leader of the Opposition, the somewhat mild-mannered Andrew Holness. Now, it is quite well known that when the Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller gets on a podium in front of her party supporters, she goes into campaign mode. Her voice is much louder than the carefully modulated one she uses for official speeches. Her tone becomes strident and her body language more forceful. Of course she is not the only politician to behave in this way. But please. Can you remember that you are the Prime Minister; that you won the election over a year ago now; and that no one is actually picking a fight with you right now? Or are you spoiling for another “tracing match” again?
Do we just have to grit our teeth and ignore such outbursts? Does it make some of her colleagues cringe when their leader makes these absurd utterances? Can we try to hold our politicians’ utterances to a higher standard than this? I don’t know.
It’s a little tricky for Mr. Holness, one realizes. One hears a chorus of mutterings in middle-class civil society and – no matter how muted – some discontent among the lady’s die-hard followers about the state of our governance. There is a sense that things are slipping, especially on the economic front. It does not help that the Finance Minister rarely speaks in public. But the Opposition Leader (whom I have criticized for his reticence in the past few months) is obviously cautious about talking at all forcefully about the apparent mess we are in. If he does, he will be accused of being unpatriotic and negative and of spreading bad news about Jamaica.
But Mr. Holness is obliged to offer alternatives to the administration. That is what he is there for. So I would suggest that rather than make speeches (which get chopped up by the TV editors hoping for a juicy sound-byte) he gets interviewed by a few serious current affairs programs on television, and a couple of serious radio talk show hosts. Perhaps he could start a weekly or regular newspaper column. He must offer an alternative vision, and show how it can be reached – but in a non-confrontational manner. He did say on television that he is not there to “just oppose, oppose, oppose” but to put policies on the table. Sounds good. Just do it, nuh. And what are those policies, please?
As for our Prime Minister, perhaps she needs to cool down the temperature. This is not leadership, Madam. It just makes the average Jamaican nervous. And please go and look up what an enemy of the state really is.
Talking about spreading Jamaica’s name abroad, there has been great excitement about a TV commercial for Volkswagen, which is being aired today during the Superbowl in the United States. It is quite charming and funny. In case you don’t know what I am talking about, I have added the YouTube clip below – along with a link to fellow-blogger Corve daCosta’s exclusive interview with the actor, Erik Nicolaisen, which rather endeared me to him. He seems like a lovely fellow. He has a Jamaican brother-in-law, it turns out. And he did a good job with the accent (he doesn’t attempt patois). But like most commercials of this nature, the VW ad deals with stereotypes. Which is one reason why on the whole I ignore almost all commercials and generally press the mute button when they are on! Jamaicans are often portrayed as laid-back, happy-go-lucky people, so there we go. There are British, Australian, Italian, American etc. stereotypes all over the media. So what? Some Americans however found the ad “racist.” I think this is based on the fact that they don’t understand that, hey – Jamaicans are not all black! So this is not a “black accent” – merely a Jamaican accent. Big deal. I do understand where that is coming from, though. I remember the first time I came to Jamaica on holiday I was astonished to hear a Chinese Jamaican speaking patois. It was a complete surprise to me – but then I didn’t know any better.
Whether Jamaicans actually are laid-back, happy-go-lucky people is another matter. But most Jamaicans have warmly embraced the commercial, pointing out that it will bring in “millions of dollars” and enhance Jamaica’s image abroad. How exactly, I am still not sure; I guess they are talking about tourism. I’m going to reserve my judgment on that one. But of course our political leaders are ecstatic about it. Grasping at straws, perhaps.
Politicians are not so thrilled, it seems, about the fact that a crew from a U.S. cable channel, headed by the famed Dan Rather, has been in Jamaica to film a documentary about the “lotto scam.” Minister of National Security Peter Bunting is reportedly concerned. He is upset that Mr. Rather and his team were not interested in visiting nice hotels in Montego Bay; but rather in doing some serious investigative journalism on a huge criminal enterprise, originating in the tourist town, that has robbed his fellow-citizens of millions over the past few years. Mr. Rather is a journalist, not a PR man, Mr. Bunting.
I’m going to get excited about the fact that, according to Reporters Without Borders, Jamaica has the highest level of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere. This is something to be proud of. According to the organization’s Press Freedom Index 2013, Jamaica is thirteenth in the world for press freedom. This despite the fact that Jamaicans are astonished at the freedom afforded the North American press to film in courtrooms, etc. And despite the fact that our archaic and backward libel laws have still not been updated, after Justice Hugh Small’s committee made recommendations back in 2008. This fear of libel lawsuits has a “chilling effect” on journalism, encouraging journalists to “self-censor” and editors to be careful of what their reporters say and write – in case it offends someone with a large bank balance and a team of hotshot lawyers. Plus, of course, there is the influence of media owners on what journalists report, or don’t report. On the whole though, I do believe the explosion in online media (blogging, online television stations and online publications) has certainly boosted press freedom in Jamaica.
And clearly, many countries are a lot worse than Jamaica. The Western Hemisphere looks pretty bad overall on the Index. Argentina for example is way down; Cuba is, not surprisingly, 171st out of 179 countries, rubbing shoulders with Sudan and Iran. Interestingly, the twelve countries above Jamaica in the index are all in Europe, except for New Zealand.
Meanwhile the mindless violence continues. You will see several examples below of incidents that were reported in the media; of course, many are not. A policeman attacked within an inch of his life because he was mistaken for someone who stole an iPad; a gunman who drove onto the grounds of a prominent girls’ high school and threatened a student; and so on. As you can see from the tragic list below, the murders have continued. This week a four-year-old boy was shot dead by a man who had a dispute with his grandmother. A fourteen-year-old schoolgirl was dragged from the bus stop and into a car (no one lifting a finger to help); her body was thrown out on the street a few hours later, wrapped in a sheet. And so on. It is so grim at times that one starts to dread listening to the early morning news.
On that topic, I must commend to you an article by another fellow-blogger, who has made reference to a tendency towards what she calls “John-Crow journalism.” Do read her piece in the link below. For my non-Jamaican readers, a John Crow is a Turkey Vulture – and we all know what a vulture’s habits are. Both television stations are guilty of this brand of sensational journalism. I think it derives from a kind of prurient curiosity about the private lives of the poor, the ghetto-dwellers. This expands into a kind of no-holds-barred. close-up intrusion into private grief and distress. I was disturbed recently by a report during which a woman waiting to hear news of her son’s condition in hospital was told, on camera, that he was dead. Wailing, tears, women falling into the arms of their relatives on hearing of the violent death of their relative. These are everyday images.
Do the television stations give similar treatment to an uptown, middle-class murder? No, they do not. They show the sensitivity and consideration that should be afforded to all Jamaicans under such circumstances. But the poor are different. As Jaevion Nelson noted in a recent column (and poet Tanya Shirley wrote) the masses of the poor are there for our entertainment. We laugh at them, we peer at their grief.
Do we care about corruption these days? Do we even talk about it? Not much, it seems – but it is still embedded in Jamaican society. So I must commend Professor Trevor Munroe, who heads National Integrity Action. Professor Munroe recently hosted an excellent program, “The Cost of Corruption,” which was aired on TVJ recently and was repeated today. It is a very well-produced documentary, with a variety of voices contributing to the discussion. The program also discusses the vexed question of political party financing, an issue that Professor Munroe has been focused on for many years, now. I am trying to find it online, without success so far.
Is anyone listening? I hope so. And as the professor notes, some progress has been made in the legislature. He is hoping for campaign financing legislation to be on the books by March, 2013. And on the same topic, I found the discussion with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Joseph Kamara on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven” most enlightening. Mr. Kamara visited Jamaica a few days ago.
Recently, a “cass-cass” developed in the education sector. The Jamaica Observer has done a good job of reporting on the situation at Kingston’s Tarrant High School, where teachers have been trying their hardest to oust their principal, Mr. Garfield Higgins. Ingrid Brown’s report from a stormy PTA meeting was instructive. This kind of in-fighting appears to be a regular occurrence in Jamaica’s schools – and in other public institutions, sadly – vindictive, highly personal attacks on figures in authority. It appears that in this case, Mr. Higgins has put his foot down and insisted on teachers actually turning up for classes (one apparently has been absent 89 times). The teachers don’t like it, but it is instructive that the principal appears to have the parents’ support. This is what Jamaicans would call “pure slackness.”
Finally, an astonishing development: during a late-night training session at the Police Academy in Twickenham Park, live rounds were allegedly used instead of blanks. One policeman died and five others were injured. Six instructors are under interdiction, and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is investigating (“Big ups,” as always, to INDECOM). More anon…
Last weekend, we finally visited the National Biennial at the National Gallery of Jamaica. It smacked me between the eyes. There is truly something there for everyone; the more in-your-face, challenging pieces are on the ground floor, and much more good stuff upstairs. The National Gallery opens its doors on the last Sunday of every month, as well as every day of the week except Mondays, and it’s a treat. Last Sunday, there was an airing of Storm Saulter’s much-praised film “Better Mus’ Come.” The Sunday openings are a real pleasure, and the Biennial continues until March 9. Do make time to go and see it! I will be posting an article on the exhibition, soon. And check out the National Gallery blog at http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com.
February means Black History Month, and I am looking forward to the talk by Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut and the first woman of color in space, at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston on Tuesday morning. Yay! I already had the huge pleasure of hearing Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, another African-American scientist, at the U.S. Embassy. Congratulations to Ambassador Bridgewater and all at the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section for bringing them both over. What inspiration!
And “bon voyage” to nine students from Cambridge High, Green Pond High, Irwin High, Spot Valley High and St. James High Schools in western Jamaica, who are the U.S. Embassy’s Youth Ambassadors this year. They departed for a three-week program in Washington, DC and Denver, Colorado today. I remember when a group from west Kingston departed last year, and the great excitement at their orientation. It was a superb experience for them.
Finally, please spare a thought (and a prayer, if you pray) for the families and friends of those who were murdered in the past week.
Shariefa Saddler, 14, Olympic Gardens, Kingston
Rushaun Burford, 4, Allman Town, Kingston
Brittney Mighty, 22, Port Royal road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Tarrant Drive, Kingston 10
Candice Johnson, Denham Town, Kingston
“Quammie,” Denham Town, Kingston
Fabian Latibeaudiere, Temple Hall, St. Andrew
Special Constable Duan Peart, Portmore, St. Catherine
Delroy Grant, Coolshade District, St. Catherine
Saskia Harris, Sandside District, St. Mary
Everton Wilson, 23, Albion, St. James
Oneil Carr, 32, Salt Spring, St. James
Dwayne Phillips, 33, Alexandria, St. Ann
Glendon May, 23, May Pen, Clarendon
Owen Bruce, 42, Haughton District, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
Wallen Cunningham, 30, Whitehall, Westmoreland
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/14-y-o-girl–constable–businessman-brutally-murdered_13527877 Bloody day: 14-year-old girl, constable, businessman brutally murdered: Jamaica Observer
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23907 PM upset over teen killing: TVJ News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Men-drive-onto-school-ground–threaten-to-kill-student_13543726 Men drive onto school ground, threaten to kill student: Jamaica Observer
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23949 Gunmen cause panic in May Pen: TVJ News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42644 Mistaken identity: Cop stabbed, beaten in mix-up over iPad theft: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42642 INDECOM questions police trainers, collects statements: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130202/news/news2.html Murders plunge in St. James: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130131/cleisure/cleisure3.html A conspiracy of silence/Jaevion Nelson: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/focus/focus8.html The future we really want: Joan Grant Cummings/Judith Wedderburn column: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130131/lead/lead1.html “Tourism not for us” – William Knibb youths shun sector: Gleaner
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8 Volkswagen Superbowl 2013 commercial: YouTube
http://corvedacosta.com/erik-nicolaisen-from-the-vw-ad-campaign-speaks-with-corve-dacosta/ Erik Nicolaisen from the VW ad campaign speaks with Corve DaCosta: corvedacosta.com
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23942 Prime Minister’s “Enemy of the State” comment: TVJ News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Simpson-Miller-must-rein-in-her-temper-JLP Simpson Miller must rein in her temper – JLP: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holness-won-t-respond-to-PM-s–ridiculous–enemy-of-the-state-comment_13542060 Holness won’t respond to PM’s “ridiculous” enemy of the state comment: Sunday Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32866 Minister Falconer hails Jamaica’s No. 1 press rating: Jamaica Information Service
http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html Press Freedom Index 2013: Reporters Without Borders
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Libel-law-could-be-amended-next-year Libel law could be amended next year: Jamaica Observer, December 3, 2012
http://negrilstories.com/jamaican-grief-porn-and-john-crow-journalism/ Jamaican grief porn and John-Crow journalism: negrilstories.com (Winner of Best Writing in a Blog/Ja. Blog Awards)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42632 American journalist Dan Rather visits Jamaica for lottery scam documentary: Gleaner
http://niajamaica.org National Integrity Action website
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tarrant-rift-widens_13521805 Tarrant rift widens: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130130/news/news3.html The JLP must assert itself – Tufton: Gleaner
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23952 UNDP concerned about its donations to Jamaica: TVJ News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/lead/lead5.html Belgian gift to train bus drivers in ruins: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130130/letters/letters1.html Idea drought hits water minister: Gleaner Letter of the Day
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/cleisure/cleisure2.html Education for home or export – policy choice or false debate? Robert Gregory column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/focus/focus4.html Fighting corruption: What Jamaica can learn from Sierra Leone: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/court-rules-in-favour-of-ocg-in-davies-application Local court rules in favor of OCG in Davies application: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-and-anti-gay-lobbyists-target-Parliament_13545656 Gay and anti-gay lobbyists target Parliament: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/A-wicked-act Laborer suffers near two years in prison on false accusation of buggery: Sunday Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32870 Scrap metal trade not to be blamed for every theft – Minister Hylton: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=705§ion=live7 Live at Seven/CVM Television
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/ent/ent1.html Discrimination stance creates split: Promoters’ new rules not welcomed by all: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130202/business/business1.html Bee farmers kept busy trying to establish association: Gleaner
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/star-man/ Star Man: petchary.wordpress.com
Weekly Brief, Sunday 27/Monday 28 January, 2013: The Dawn of the New Scrap Metal Age petchary.wordpress.com
I admire this young man petchary.wordpress.com
Pollution Flowing from Land to Sea: The UN Caribbean Environment Programme, Part 1 petchary.wordpress.com
A Sunday of light (and heavy) showers: January 20, 2013 petchary.wordpress.com
Pain, Politics and Change petchary.wordpress.com