On many occasions, members of the public are upset about stories published by members of the media. The most recent example is the Star headline in a case of sexual assault on a child, for which the Gleaner’s Managing Director Christopher Barnes has apologised.
On occasions such as these, there are calls for the Press Association of Jamaica to condemn the offending publication.
While I understand the public’s desire to have an industry-specific organisation speak out in such cases, this is not, and should not be, the role of the Press Association of Jamaica. The PAJ was not established for this purpose and its Constitution does not list this as a function of the organisation.
It is a well-known axiom that no one should be a judge in her or his own cause. It means that no one should judge a case in which they have an interest. The Executive and the wider membership of the Press Association of Jamaica are made up of working reporters and editors from the very media houses which would be called to book.
In addition, it’s important to remember that not all cases are clear-cut. What of those situations where the PAJ might rule in favour of a newsroom or media house? Because it cannot be that having gone down this particular wicket, the PAJ would be expected to keep silent where a media house deserved to be vindicated!
Can you deny that there would be immediate accusations of bias given the composition of the PAJ?
What should be under discussion is not the role of the PAJ in this but the establishment of an independent self-regulatory Media Council to which such complaints can be referred. This has been mooted for years, and has been consistently supported by the PAJ. The emphasis here is on self-regulation, not state regulation, which we would strongly oppose because of the serious potential for abuse.
In 2005, the PAJ through a UNESCO-funded project developed its Code of Ethics, which, it was intended, would be followed by the establishment of a Media Council to adjudicate on breaches. Several past presidents including Byron Buckley in 2010 and Jenni Campbell in 2012 have made it clear that this was the PAJ’s position.
In fact, after the PAJ’s 2012 AGM, President Jenni was quoted by the Gleaner as saying “The PAJ cannot establish this body without the full support of media owners and operators and the AGM has instructed that it should be made clear that we are not opposed to the establishment of a body to hear complaints from the public but that needs the support of the media owners," said Campbell.(Gleaner, September 2012).
The form such a council could take is open to discussion, and there are many examples in different countries. There could, for example, be a relatively inexpensive Council of Elders meeting on an ad hoc basis, or a more formal body. However, the discussion cannot go ahead without the agreement and participation of the media owners, who, through the Media Association of Jamaica, have consistently opposed such a proposal.
We are more than willing to continue to facilitate the dialogue, but want it clearly understood that this is not a job that the PAJ can, or should, take on.
Dionne Jackson Miller
President, Press Association of Jamaica