Wednesday 25 November, 2020

We stuck to our remit, says PAJ head in response to member criticism

George Davis

George Davis

The President of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), George Davis, has swiftly responded to a letter from journalist, Abka Fitz-Henley, calling out the PAJ over its stated position on an extremely personal question that a journalist posed to Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, last Thursday.

The letter to the PAJ was carried by Loop News, and can be reference through this story. 

In the letter, Fitz-Henley questioned why the PAJ took a very limited position on the perceived inappropriateness of the question that was posed to Tufton, and the likely implications of the association having seemingly left that ball outside the off stump.  

Below is the edited response from the PAJ president, a former stablemate of Fitz-Henley at Nationwide News Network:

Abka Fitz-Henley

℅ Nationwide 90FM

6 Bradley Avenue

Kingston 10

Dear Abka,

So much things to say’ is track number 2 on ‘Exodus’, Bob Marley’s widely acknowledged magnum opus.

‘Exodus’ was ranked by Time Magazine as the best album of the 20th century.

It’s arguable that no artiste has ever used the facility of the proverb with as much effect and relevance as Bob Marley. And Gong (Marley) was at his proverbial best from the opening bar of ‘Exodus’ to the last. On ‘So much things to say’, he dropped a gem when he observed:

“... for when the rain falls

it don’t fall on one man’s housetop”

Those 12 words pack much punch and make a major point. In the context of the song, I interpret the major point to be that no one is so cursed that problems will only accrue to them. Troubles will assail everyone, and there is no utility in someone extracting mirth or adopting sanctimony when difficulties confront another. It’s not just because their time will come. It’s because their time could be now.

Dr Christopher Tufton

The PAJ’s position on the matter of the exchange last Thursday, July 16 between one of our own and the Honourable Minister of Health and Wellness, as expressed by me, was a considered one. At the plinth of this consideration was the guidance set down in the constitution of the organisation. Section 3 declares:

The Association shall:

a) Foster a high standard of journalism in Jamaica by means of improving the journalistic education of its members and in the furtherance thereof, make awards, give scholarships, bursaries and/or grants and other encouragement to such members and to the community at large.

b) Maintain and improve the professional development and welfare of its members.

c) Safeguard and protect the rights and privileges belonging to and the facilities usually accorded to the press in all democratic countries.

d) Showing recognition to members of the press for meritorious work in journalism, and to members of the community and/ or representative groups of the community for meritorious work on behalf of the community.

e) Promote activities in the interest of the public welfare.

This sets out the PAJ’s responsibility to its members, and offers no avenue through which the organisation can function as a trade union, regulating the relationships between journalists and their employers. The PAJ and the issue of trade unionism have indeed exchanged furtive glances over time. But the conditions for coitus do not yet exist.

Abka Fitz-Henley

The stridency of the PAJ’s representation of its members and members’ rights and privileges is supported by our constitution. The excoriation and public humiliation of our members is not.

The Most Honourable Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his recent public statement outlining his reason for shifting the Honourable JC Hutchinson from the Agriculture Ministry, spoke of having ‘frank and meaningful’ talks with his Cabinet Minister. I strongly suspect that what he said to the minister in private was far removed from the words (Holness) used in his public statement.

And though many people were baying for JC Hutchinson’s blood, the prime minister gave support to his minister by speaking of his satisfaction with his intentions. He did acknowledge the presence of multiple breaches as he acted to move the minister out of the line of scandal.

Many feel JC Hutchinson should have, along with being reassigned, been verbally whipped by his boss for actions that appear corrupt, and which could damage the Government politically. And yet the prime minister did not oblige.

JC Hutchinson

Following my interview on ‘Nationwide This Morning’ to discuss the issue arising from the press conference (involving Minister Tufton), I spoke with numerous persons, including journalists, about the matter. Many people were satisfied with how I used an experiential approach to talk about how I would have asked the relevant question, and what I would have done had one of my reporters asked the relevant question in the manner it was put.

Some persons were upset at the form and substance of the actual question (that was) posed. But they were satisfied that at least the PAJ was not endorsing same.

I know I offer you no assistance with the definition of the word ‘inelegant’. But I will include it in this missive for the purpose of context. I borrow from dictionary.com:

Inelegant;

adjective

not elegant; lacking in refinement, gracefulness or good taste.

I firmly believe this descriptor does no harm to the narrative that the structure of the question was problematic. In your letter you state, ‘it cannot be right for us to view as merely inelegant the move by one of our members to ask a public figure about sexual activities in his bedroom while drawing into the mix the individual’s spouse who is a non-combatant…….’ In the Nationwide interview I said only that the question was inelegant.

You speak truth when you highlight the potential grave danger of journalists as public officials being asked questions about their carnal desires and bedroom activities. The possibility of this being the spark for this kind of questioning to become de rigeur is frightening! It must be resisted.

You also speak truth about the need for the PAJ to maintain its credibility in the public’s eye by being consistent, just and fair. That we fall short in the eyes of some is not proof of our abandonment of this commitment. Rather, it is simply a reflection of the difficulties inherent in balancing the expectations and demands of our various publics, even as we strive to do right by our members.

I would not agree with your use of the term hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a choice. It does not occur by happenstance. The PAJ has not chosen to condemn public officials for their actions while choosing not to criticise our own when they transgress.

Our record shows that we speak to and about public officials only when their decisions or actions impede or otherwise frustrate our members and the ability of our members to do their work.

The PAJ does not weigh in on political scandal or controversy, demanding action be taken against whichever minister may be under the cosh. Therefore, there is no basis to impute hypocrisy in the PAJ’s modus operandi.

I am grateful for you commending Horace Helps’ column in the Sunday Observer. Horace is a man I admire. He is one of many seniors who can give me advice or criticism at any time, in any context. He speaks with the customary iron in his words in writing about the matter that has detained us since Thursday.

But to prove the point of the song from Gong (that is) mentioned at the top of this missive, I will ask, where was Sir Horace’s intervention in the backlash (that was) caused by the Clovis cartoon of June 5, 2020?

The Observer… apologise(d) for a cartoon (that was) condemned by many for being… inflammatory and insensitive. What, if anything, was said by Sir Horace then?

I will end by thanking you for your letter. I am heartened that one of our most prominent members, born in the 1990s, cares enough to criticise the organisation in this manner.

Indeed, we can only be stronger if we are first held to account and challenged by the members whose interests we represent.

I mention the decade of your birth only to underscore the fact that usually it is the PAJ’s veteran members, often with iron in their hair, who see themselves as the conscience of the organisation.

I am pleased that you care enough to register your disagreement in a formal manner. By your words I am reminded of part of the message in Proverbs 27:5: “open rebuke is better than secret love”.

All the best.

Like you, I intend to share my comments publicly.

Selah.

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