Yesterday, I blogged the statement from the RJR Newscentre, for which I work, regarding a TVJ tape and an interview with Olympians Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson. The attorney representing Asafa and Sherone, Milton Samuda, is also the Chairman of TVJ, for which I work. Here is the statement he issued a short while ago.
MILTON J. SAMUDA
JULY 26, 2013
News has circulated widely concerning the interview held on Monday July 22, 2013. It is important that the facts be placed in the public domain.
It must first be understood that the journalists were told up front that the questions in the interview would be restricted. That was the basis on which the journalists agreed to participate. I did not select the journalists who participated.
It is standard procedure for those preparing for a hearing to be advised to restrict public statements to matters which will not arise in that hearing. The fact that other questions were posed was the basis on which the journalists were asked for the tapes so as to remove those questions and the answers. I made the request on the basis of the restoration of trust and the fulfilment of their agreement. The journalists acted honourably and complied with my request.
At no time were the tapes “seized” or “confiscated” and certainly no “equipment” was.
Consequently one media house did in fact carry a story and we are satisfied that at no time did we try to suggest to any media house what to publish or carry.
I do believe in and fully support freedom of the press but I also appreciate that that freedom is based on integrity and the honouring of one’s word. Freedom of the press should not be pursued at the expense of honour. I applaud the forthright treatment of the matter by TVJ News, clearly demonstrating the fierce independence of that newsroom.
I do not tolerate conflict of interest, but it cannot be that those of us who hold several different positions in society are ipso facto prevented from acting decisively in any.
Throughout, I acted as one of the Attorneys-at-Law for Miss Simpson and Mr. Powell. My primary duty was and is to protect their interests.
As the process continues, we will disclose the appropriate information when required.”
Ah, the joys of social media. I was on Twitter yesterday stating that Hitz 92 FM and the programme I host on Television Jamaica, “All Angles” would be airing an interview with Olympians Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson about the drug testing issue which other media houses did not have. Disclosure: Hitz 92 is a member of the RJR Communications Group, along with RJR 94 FM, to which I am employed, and the RJR Newscentre, out of which I work, provides content for all companies within the group.)
As most people probably know by now, we did not air that interview. Here is the statement issued by the RJR Newscentre yesterday evening. Disclosure up front: Milton Walker, Group Head of News and Sports at the RJR Group, who issued the statement, is my boss.
Television Jamaica Sports has been trying to get an interview with Asafa Powell since we broke the story
about his adverse analytical result at the recent National Trials. On Monday his publicist Tara Playfair-Scott agreed to grant us an interview including Sherone Simpson and stipulated what questions would be asked. Our reporter accepted the offer knowing that journalistically it was his duty to pose all the questions that needed to be answered in the public interest. At the same time he knew that it was the athletes and their agents’ right to refuse to answer any question.
During the interview when certain questions were raised about the supplements, the number of supplements they were taking before Christopher Xuereb was hired and how many they were taking after, as well as what they knew about the substance Oxilofrine, the athletes’ attorney Milton Samuda intervened and objected to those questions indicating that they had not previously agreed to answering those queries. The interview ended shortly after.
Mr. Samuda then demanded the video recording from the TVJ crew. The TVJ reporter handed over the tape to the athletes’ lawyer. The lawyers returned our tape today with the interview erased. They have also sent us an edited version of the interview this afternoon. The editorial management of Television Jamaica views this as unacceptable and stands by our reporter having the freedom to pursue all matters of public interest whether or not the public figures are willing and ready to answer certain questions.
For full disclosure TVJ must advise that Sherone’s and Asafa’s attorney Mr. Milton Samuda is also the Chairman of Television Jamaica and a Director of Radio Jamaica. Neither Mr. Samuda nor the Group’s management has been in touch with the newscentre and given any directives on how this matter should be treated.
“After days of angry protests and mounting public pressure, President Obama summoned five of his closest advisers to the Oval Office on Thursday evening. It was time, he told them, for him to speak to the nation about the Trayvon Martin verdict, and he had a pretty good idea what he wanted to say.
For the next 15 minutes, according to a senior aide, Mr. Obama spoke without interruption, laying out his message of why the not-guilty ruling had caused such pain among African-Americans, particularly young black men accustomed to arousing the kind of suspicion that led to the shooting death of Mr. Martin in a gated Florida neighborhood.”
It can be difficult for a political leader to gauge when and where to speak – when does a situation need the spotlight that goes with adding the President’s – or Prime Minister’s – voice?
It has been particularly difficult for President Obama– the first Black President of the USA, who clearly – and rightly, in my opinion – does not want his Presidency to be defined by the colour of his skin. But he is still a black man, with a black man’s experiences, and bearing the burden – and privilege – of the expectations of his community. And despite what many people would like to fool themselves into believing, race is still a problem in America – so when does he speak and what does he say?
So, it is not surprising that his latest comments have also been met with sharply different reactions.
Back at home, the same question faces our own Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. When should she speak? What should she say?
Many Jamaicans believe that the PM does not speak enough publicly on important national issues. When I started to tweet comments she made in Parliament about the track and field drug testing issue, there were several immediate reactions, questioning why she was commenting on this issue when she had not done so on others.
To be fair, the Prime Minister has retained the sports portfolio. The issue falls within her direct sphere of responsibility. Her explanation for not speaking more on issues like crime and the economy is that she has appointed portfolio Ministers and allows them space to work.
Not everybody is convinced, as evidenced by the hash tag #whereisportia which surfaced on twitter months ago.
Is there a fine line to walk between allowing Cabinet Ministers room to speak and knowing when it is time for the Prime Minister, primus inter pares(first among equals) in the Westminster system of government to take over? Clearly, there is. Has Prime Minister Simpson-Miller mastered the art of walking that fine line?
I was critical of one of her national broadcasts, which I wrote about here. On this wider issue, I’m going to reserve judgment for a while longer. But tell me what you think!
JULY 16 – Jamaica’s track and field is being scrutinized from top to bottom and the news of the adverse findings of A samples by some of the island’s best athletes have brought some major issues, up close and personal.
Jamaica’s track and field history has been well recorded since 1948, but with the obvious, “you are as good as your last activity” phrase – this could wipe that excellence away if the process to clear the names of the athletes and by extension show that the management of the sport is in capable hands, is not handled strategically.
We have heard recently of issues with doping in Turkey, USA and now Jamaica. What those administrations/personalities have done is
Taken full responsibility
Opted to recover by doing investigations to clear names and identify procedures
We have a tendency to act surprised or react emotionally in a…
It wasn’t a good day – it started with news that US star athlete Tyson Gay had failed a drug test and had withdrawn from the upcoming World Championships. Most track and field fans I know genuinely admire Tyson and the news was a blow. He comes across as a class act, and continued to do so, even in confirming the positive test of his A sample.
You get the picture. The point is, Asafa and Tyson are primarily the ones featured in the headlines. And rightly so – from a journalistic perspective, that is.
Jamaica is now a track and field brand. Asafa and Gay are strong brands of their own. Drug cheating is something that has brought track and field low before. It decimated cycling. To have two of the biggest stars on track right now test positive – and to have the news break on the same day – is a huge story. To have five Jamaicans at one time test positive is also a big story. No journalist worth his or her salt would ignore either.
Sure, the story will unfold, explanations will be forthcoming, and there will be developments. We don’t know yet what happened, either in Tyson’s case, or in the cases of our own athletes. That will come. We hope for the best.
But right now, the headlines will be painful to read. We had better get used to it. That’s the nature of news. Local OR foreign.
Will the so-called Anti-Gang Bill before the Jamaican Parliament restrict freedom of expression of our artistes? A lively discussion has started, and I will be looking at its provisions much more closely at another time.
Here are a few preliminary observations however. Societies have often found it necessary to restrict freedom of expression in the interest of the society as a whole and in the interest of vulnerable groups.
In the United Kingdom, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits the display of written material which is “threatening, abusive or insulting” if one intends to stir up racial hatred or if racial hatred is likely to result.
The fact that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression may be necessary is recognized in the
19 (2). Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
(3). The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”
Criminal activity is defined as the “planned ongoing, continuous or repeated participation or involvement in any serious offence.”
A criminal organization is defined as “any gang, group, alliance, network, combination or other arrangement among three or more persons (whether formally or informally affiliated or organized and whether or not operating through one or more bodies (corporate or other associations) that:
(a) has as one of its purposes the commission of one or more serious offences and
(b) in relation to which the persons who are a part thereof or participate therein (individually jointly or collectively)
(i) have engaged in unlawful activity in order to obtain directly or indirectly a financial or other material benefit or to gain power or influence or
(ii) issue threats or engage in conduct to create fear or to intimidate or to exert power or influence in communities or over other persons.”
Our own Charter of Rights contains a provision seen in constitutions of other countries, namely that Parliament may pass no law to infringe the rights set out, including the right of freedom of expression “save only as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
In other words, any attempt to limit the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution must meet the test of being “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” This is a provision that has been tested in court in different jurisdictions (and I’ll try to look at some of the resulting court decisions in another blog post). The relevant provision of the Anti-Gang Bill will therefore have to be examined in that context.
The controversial provision is section 15 (1) which states that
“A person may not use a common name or identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, colour or style of dress or graffiti or produce record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organization.”
While we do need to look more closely at the provisions, and what has happened in other countries, it is clear that songs generally talking about Jamaica’s gun culture, for example, and yes, Bob Marley’s “I shot the Sheriff” will not be caught by the provision. The song would have to be promoting or facilitating the criminal activity of a criminal organization. Do we think it would be unjustified to ban such a song?
Sure, we need to look at the Bill closely, and see if any of the provisions are problematic in their wording or likely effect, but how about we calm down first? Freedom of expression is not absolute. Do you really think it should be?