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News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Month

October 2012

Hurricane Sandy – A Reporter’s (Illustrated) Notebook

Hurricane coverage is serious business. The newsroom is divided into two teams, Team A members who work before and during the storm, and Team B, who come in for the aftermath. It’s one of the things you know when you take on the job – when others are heading home, you’re heading to work. And let’s be honest – we enjoy it! Here’s a peek into some of the behind the scenes work that went into what you saw on TV and heard on radio! 

First of course is the proper garb. When you expect to be wading through mud and muck and perhaps knee high water and standing in rain, the obligatory head-to-toe yellow rain gear is a must!!!

Kimone & Ivan decked out & ready to hit the road
Photo by DJ Miller

Well, not everybody can be on the road. The in-house crew is just as important and often much more stressed, fielding questions like “My daughter needs to leave home now. Which route should she take?”  Truly.  Of course, team members like Karen Madden-James pull a full shift in-house and THEN hit the road, checking out hurricane damage and coming across community protests against police shootings, and wounded police officers. All in a day’s work, right Karen??   

Karen prepares the newscast while Nadine helps out with the ever-ringing phone
Photo by DJ Miller

The weather team never gets a break  – checking the latest information, getting updates, and

Evan and Duwayne track the weather
Photo by DJ Miller

always ready to go on air at a moment’s notice. Great job guys! 

And although it was rain, no play for most events while Sandy jogged across Jamaica, there is always a game somewhere, right Ricardo? 

Ricardo takes a moment from checking the scores
Photo by DJ Miller

Time to hit the road since there wasn’t a lot of impact in and around Kingston. The All Angles team set off to capture images of Hurricane Sandy for our viewers. First stop – Harbour View, where the sea view from the bridge was truly impressive! We tried estimating wave heights, my best guess was 15-20 feet, but producer Andre Jebbinson insisted that the waves were closer to 30 feet. 

The view from the Harbour View bridge
Photo by DJ Miller

Just outside Harbour View we had to stop again to watch the waves crashing against the shore, and throwing debris across the road. Vehicles made their way along cautiously, scores of people were snapping pictures or just watching the show, while a few Good Samaritans pulled debris out of the way of the few vehicles on the road. 

A bus makes its way along the debris-strewn road
Photo by DJ Miller
Sight-seeing during Hurricane Sandy – outside Harbour View
Photo by DJ Miller
Andre fights the wind
Watching the storm
Photo by DJ Miller

Then we decided to head for St. Thomas. There were reports of blocked roads and flooding and we wanted to see what

El Dorado puts his machete to good use
Photo by DJ Miller

was happening. But it was not easy going. Good thing our cameraman El Dorado had the foresight to take along a machete! 

There were many such trees and road blocks along the way, but we were determined to get as far as we could. 

Capturing Sandy in action
Photo by DJ Miller

Well, we made it as far as Pamphret, outside Yallahs. We had hoped to get to White Horses, but couldn’t quite make it, not because of the road, but because duty called me back to Kingston, arriving just a few minutes late for my on-air stint on Beyond the Headlines. 

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Jamaican TV Stations TVJ and CVM Sued for Not Airing Ad Promoting Tolerance Towards Homosexuals

DJ Miller Photo

Attorney-at-law Maurice Tomlinson has filed suit in the Supreme Court against Jamaican free-to-air television stations TVJ (the 1st Defendant) and CVM (the 2nd Defendant), claiming breach of his constitutional rights for refusing to air a Public Service Announcement (PSA) promoting tolerance towards homosexuals. He has asked the court to make declarations stating that by refusing to air the PSA the stations breached his constitutional rights. He is also asking the court to order the stations to air the ad, and has asked for damages.  

This case, if it goes forward, will be an important test of the new Charter of Rights, and could be a significant test case for freedom of expression and the gay rights lobby.

In his court papers, Mr. Tomlinson says that homophobic laws, policies and attitudes throughout the region discourage homosexuals from seeking effective HIV prevention support and treatment.   

Against that background, the PSA, dubbed “Love and Respect PA,” is said to be part of a campaign to promote tolerance for Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and homosexuals. The 30-second ad is described as depicting a man and his aunt, in which the man (played by Mr. Tomlinson) tells his aunt that he continues to try “to get Jamaicans to respect (his) human rights as a gay man.” The aunt tells the man that she loves him even though she does not know why he is gay.   

He says he contacted CVM in February 2012 , and TVJ in March 2012, asking for the ad to be aired, and despite communication over several months, never received a final  decision on the matter from either station. He last wrote to both stations on September 18, stating that he would take lack of response as an indication that they did not intend to air the ad. 

The sections of the Charter of Rights on which Mr. Tomlinson is relying are as follows:

s. 13 (1) (c ) which states that all persons are under a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others recognized in this Chapter;

s. 13 (5) which states that the Charter binds natural or juristic  persons  if,  and  to  the  extent  that,  it  is applicable, taking account of the nature of the right and the  nature of any duty imposed by the right;

s. 13 (c) which sets out the right to freedom of expression;

s. 13 (d) which sets out the right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas through any media.

Photo by http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

The Claimant says that under the Charter, private entities as well as government have an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. He says TVJ and CVM therefore had a duty to respect his rights to freedom of expression and to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas. He states that the companies should have aired the ad because:

    1. airing a paid advertisement with public interest content can be  described as a public function;
    2. the broadcasting licences which the state granted to the companies place an obligation on them to operate in the public interest;
    3. it is in the public interest that MSM are free to receive and distribute information to enhance public awareness about homosexuality and the national HIV response;
    4. TVJ and CVM operate Jamaica’s major TV stations,  and therefore have “immense power over the information, opinion and ideas that are  disseminated and distributed to the public;”
    5. free speech is guaranteed not only to media owners and workers but also to members of the public who wish to use the media to share their views,
    6. the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech can be enforced against private media owners since they control mass media and provide a service under a government license.

Mr. Tomlinson  says there was no justification for refusing to air the ad as the Broadcasting Commission had stated in writing that the ad did not breach any broadcasting regulations. By not airing the PSA, therefore, he says that the stations abused their “power over the dissemination and distribution of ideas and opinions via television.”

Disclosure: I work for TVJ.

Opposition to Jamaican Olympians Getting Cash Gifts – Bad Mind?

London 2012 Olympic medals made by The Royal M...
London 2012 Olympic medals made by The Royal Mint, Llantrisant / Medalau Llundain 2012 wedi’u cynhyrchu gan y Bathdy Brenhinol, Llantrisant (Photo credit: Welsh Government / Llywodraeth Cymru)

I am really hoping that it is just a few, disgruntled Jamaicans who are upset that the Government of Jamaica has decided to award cash gifts to our Olympians and Paralympians.

Each individual gold medalist will receive $1m (per gold medal), silver medalists – $750,000, bronze medalists – $500,000, relay gold is worth $600,000, relay silver – $400,000, relay bronze – $360,000, and finalists will receive $350,000.  Other participants and support staff will also receive cash gifts.

I support this move 100%. I wish we could give more. But here’s what some of the critics are saying.

 

We have other things we should be spending money on.

Sure, we will always have other things to spend money on. Should we instead be spending the money on education? Sanitation? Cleaning gullies and drains? I guess it comes down to how much value you attach to the athletes’ performance. I attach tremendous importance to education. Put simplistically, it uplifts people and improves their chance of a better quality of life. But I can’t even begin to value the euphoric feeling I – AND MOST OF YOU- received from our athletes’ performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the World Championships in Berlin and Daegu and the 2012 London Olympics.

It was a feeling that finally, after being beaten down  and depressed for years because of our corruption, political

london 2012 olympics - mens 200m final (crowd)
london 2012 olympics – mens 200m final (crowd) (Photo credit: jon smith.)

violence, lack-lustre economy, and crime, crime, crime, we had a reason to hold our heads high. We could wear our national colours, the black, green and gold, and proclaim that we were proud to be Jamaicans! Sure there are other bright spots, but very few like the last two Olympics.

Personally, I always receive a jolt of personal inspiration in watching our athletes perform and excel. I can’t value any of that, but heck, a couple hundred thousand Jamaican dollars is at least a start. And just a reminder here – many of these athletes operate for much of the year outside Jamaica. A million Jamaican dollars (the highest incentive) is just a little more than US$11,000.

Some people point to the value of the free tourism exposure Jamaica received all over the world. But even if not even one additional tourist visited Jamaica as a result of the Olympics and Paralympics, I would still say the money is well deserved.

They are competing for themselves

This is almost too nonsensical to comment on. Sure, they benefit personally, but they could benefit running for any country. We have athletes who would be able to jump ship at the drop of a hat. They stay with Jamaica out of love and patriotism. At the end of a race, what do they reach for first? Jamaica’s national flag. What is played when they are on that podium? Jamaica’s national anthem. What do the commentators say when they take the track? “The Jamaicans!” What do English, Japanese and other nationalities do to show their support? Wear Jamaican colours. Nuff said.

We ought to give them houses and land instead?

I disagree with this. I just think money is a lot more neutral and more useful. Property can be a hassle, and you then you have to try to ascertain what is a suitable location, and a suitable house. Do they all get houses or land in the same location? Who says they want land? Does an athlete living overseas want property in Jamaica? Maybe or maybe not. But why bother? Everybody can use money.

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...
Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bolt/Asafa/Shell-Ann/Veronica are rich enough – we don’t need to give them anything

Are you kidding me? Wow, that’s a great message to send. “You’re doing so well, we’ll just ignore you when we’re handing out incentives for doing well.” Folks, that is called reverse discrimination. It would be guaranteed to engender resentment and is a non-starter. Forget that.

Are we going to give all our other athletes cash gifts as well?

I certainly think we should maintain this for any athlete excelling at the highest levels of international competition although the exact sums to be given out would probably vary. I think it is a great incentive for athletes, many of whom struggle to remain in competition and have tremendous financial difficulties. If we are serious about developing sports why not show it by tangible, financial contributions to our athletes?

Why should we give them anything at all?

This is where I would ask my fellow Jamaicans to bury the mean-spiritedness and pettiness, please. Let me remind the people who have clearly forgotten, as I said before, many athletes struggle to remain in international competition once they leave college. Many give up. Those who have the grit, the core strength, the resilience and determination to keep going are among a tiny cadre of elite athletes. See my interview with Olympian Jason Morgan here.  Lack of sponsorship and expensive training gear are just some of the things that they have to deal with. Yes, many get SOME financial assistance, but they will tell you that it is hardly ever enough to cover costs. One bad injury can end a season, and perhaps a career. Medical costs are ridiculous.

But you know how I would sum up why I think these cash gifts are well-deserved? They are one small way of saying THANK YOU from a grateful nation.

London 2012: Athletics
London 2012: Athletics (Photo credit: Daniel Coomber)

Romney 1, Obama nil!!

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaign rallies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think anybody could seriously disagree that Mitt Romney won the first, highly anticipated presidential debate in the US 2012 election campaign. He was sharp, on point, and seemed super prepared.

Obama had many good points, but failed to hammer them home and claim the advantage he should have had. The long rambling story telling style he adopted was a bad move and cost him time. The responses couched in that format were a terribly inefficient way of answering questions. Even the good points he did make were often lost because of his failure to make them concisely, consistently and sharply.

Think of George Bush hammering away at Al Gore with the phrase “fuzzy math.” That is certainly what viewers came away with in 2000. Al Gore had fuzzy math. Obama had a similar opportunity to nail Romney on two of his weakest points – a refusal to go into detail about his plans, and his constantly shifting positions.

He did make those points –but never capitalized on them effectively and never drove them home repeatedly. He should have had one or two catch phrases that would have stuck with the viewers, or else found concise ways to repeatedly highlight the same themes.  That never happened.

The 47%

Unlike many people, I had no problem with Obama not bringing up the 47% issue. This has been covered to death.

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Romney has been crucified in the media, and is still being hammered in the ads. The damage has been done. He damaged himself. Why now give him an opportunity to recover? He certainly would have had a million prepared answers to try to make up ground he lost, both from the disastrous comments themselves, and also from his ineffectual responses in the wake of the video’s release. This is especially so with the release of a new poll with nearly half of respondents saying the issue received too much coverage. No, I think Obama played that exactly right.

What he didn’t play right was the style of his responses.  Short, precise statements of his position, why those positions would be better for the country, and a vivid contrast immediately with Romney’s position, along with frequent reminders of Romney’s position shifts and lack of detail could have been devastating.

Whoever thought the long-winded story telling was the way to win a debate needs to be put out to pasture. If it was Obama’s idea, he needs to acknowledge that he is out of practice and needs guidance. And speaking of retirement, it is more than sad to see the (well-deserved) flak the much-respected Jim Lehrer has been getting. At 78, he should have been home with popcorn watching the debate, in preparation for a thoughtful column or commentary the following day. The debate needed a younger, more aggressive moderator to take control of the proceedings.

Supporters are claiming that Lehrer did exactly the right thing by staying out of the way entirely. If that was the aim, why bother have a moderator at all if he’s not going to keep to time, not going to keep the debate on track, not going to ask follow up questions? Why not just send the candidates out there by themselves to play bat up and catch? Viewers were not well served by Lehrer’s ineffectual approach.

Jim Lehrer
Jim Lehrer (Photo credit: wfuv)

The free-wheeling format was interesting to watch, given the rigidity of our own debates here in Jamaica. If the format is going to be more relaxed, however, with more latitude given to the moderator, it seems a shame not to use it. Sure, he would then be open to charges of excessive interference, but would it really be such a bad thing to have someone who can say “You haven’t answered the question” or “Your answer doesn’t tell the public how you will do such and such, or where the money will come from?”

Without anyone to at least ASK follow-up questions, or point out that questions have not been answered, you get the candidates talking at each other all night, without any further clarity on the issues being debated.

CNN reported that “tight” rules had been set for the debate. The moderator was to ask a question, followed by two minute answers from each candidates. The moderator would have the rest of the 15-minute segment for follow-up and discussion. That’s funny. They have no idea what “tight” rules are.

Debate Format

I actually like the format, though, which comes across much more like a debate than the tightly scripted structure we have in Jamaica with rigid time limits, and a format that severely limits the follow-ups which are essential to at least try to press the candidates on the issues.

I don’t think there’s a chance in hell however, of this kind of format ever being accepted by our local politicians. In particular the ability to ask follow-up questions (although not effectively utilized by Lehrer) would be very valuable. Each journalist asking a question in our political debates is currently allowed ONE follow up question per candidate for the entire debate. I don’t see the parties agreeing to any significant changes there.  Pin the debaters down? Point out (more than once) that they aren’t answering the questions? Real cut and thrust? Not gonna happen, although I wish it would.

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