Much of the violence in Jamaica goes unpunished. Yet, much of the violence in Jamaica is reported.
When I say violence, I’m talking about the violence of irresponsible reporting. I’m talking about headlines that are crafted to be more enticing than accurate. I’m talking about articles that are written with such a narrow focus that they corrupt reality and dispose of critical thinking in favour of sensationalism. This post looks at 3 articles that were printed during the last 2 weeks.
When Junior Gong sang that “the pen is stronger than the knife” (2001), he was right. A little over a week ago, Jamaica’s print media brought its problematic news a little too close for comfort. On February 12, 2019, the Jamaica Observer newspaper ran an article headlined: “Should a woman be assaulted because of how she dresses?” In doing so, the writer and editors proved that the journalist’s pen is both strong and negligent. Here’s why: the Observer was invited to cover and report on an anti-rape campaign launch. But by reporting on only a small quoted moment, the Observer neglected the whole. The whole was the #NotAskingForIt campaign conceptualized by Zanda Desir to help correct how society views rape and victims of rape. Desir wants society to know that nudity is not consent, skimpy clothing is not consent, and being in a dark alley late at night is not consent. It might be bad judgement to do these things, but it is not consent. So when the Observer decided to focus on a few problematic comments, it took attention away from Zanda Desir’s campaign goal. UWI students are #NotAskingForIt even when drunk in their carnival costumes or at parties. UWI students are #NotAskingForIt when sober and walking near an aggressive hall (dormitory) late at night. No matter what the circumstances are, without express verbal consent, no one is asking for sexual contact. Sure, “sexy” clothing can make suggestions; but we have to understand that clothing cannot give consent for sexual contact. Please, Observer, do better than this in the future. Irresponsible reporting is completely negligent and violently misrepresents the goals of the entire campaign.
Now to my next example.
On February 20, 2019, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper reported this headline: “Protoje Blasts Gov’t For Not Sponsoring His Upcoming Event.” But where is the truth in this headline? The event being misreported was one I hosted on February 14 with Protoje and the In.Digg.Nation Collective. It was a Reggae Talks event at UWI, Mona where the panelists discussed and advised students about entering and surviving in the creative industries. The event lasted nearly 2 hours in the lecture theatre and continued for another 40+ minutes in the Faculty courtyard. As a lecturer in the Department of Literatures in English, I praised the musicians for writing analytical lyrics and I asked the panelists to talk about the value of reading. I also asked Protoje to talk about the Grammy’s reggae category and whether it limits Jamaican artistes. Students asked the panelist how they can better develop their talents and how they can gain creative experience before graduation. My question to the Gleaner is, exactly when did Protoje blast the government for not sponsoring his A Matter of Time Live concert? (Each of the headlines pictured below are all similar for one reason: SENSATIONALISM.)
Any dictionary would define “blast” as an explosion or vigorous attack. Protoje used just one minute of the nearly 90 minutes of the Reggae Talks event time to question — not blast — the organizing goals of Reggae Month. Did the Gleaner article talk about Protoje’s love of reading? Did the Gleaner article note that some 200+ students were gathered well into the night because they are eager to turn their UWI degrees into profitable creative jobs? Did the Gleaner consider the student who asked a critical question about the reputation of Jamaican dance in the post -Nettleford era? Did the Gleaner article mention that Lila Ike, Claire Osman, and Yannick Reid all encouraged the students to match their creative passions with practice and preparation so that they can earn a living doing what they love? Did the Gleaner consider the big picture at all? Does the Gleaner know what the big picture is? Let me clarify it. Humanities programs are shrinking if not dying world-wide, but the creative industries — which are at the intersection of technology, creative design, and the arts — can save the humanities and help to invigorate a UNESCO creative city like Kingston.
The Gleaner article did not mention any of this. Instead, the Gleaner chose irresponsible reporting and made clickbait out of a sound-bite. Responsible journalism would have demonstrated critical thinking, pointed out the In.Digg.Nation’s investment in the creative industries by doing free visits to high schools and universities, and highlighted how the Collective is helping to motivate a new generation of young people to dream and create in Jamaica.
Lastly, readers of Jamaica’s newspapers, I turn my attention to you/ me/ us because we too can do better. My final point is in response to the article titled “Below The Bar – UWI Law Society Faces Heat Over ‘Vulgar’ Photos” posted Saturday, February 23 and showing some Instagram photos of UWI law students on the front page of the Gleaner in “dancehall” attire. Yes, the Gleaner disgustingly used semi-nude women to entice buyers and encourage internet clicks, but we readers have free will to choose — so shame on us. Furthermore, of the more than 500+ comments that I scanned through on the Gleaner’s Instagram page, the majority of the commenters expressed anger over perceived hypocrisy in how dancehall-dress is deemed “vulgar” while carnival wear is “acceptable.” But there is another concern that was barely raised, if at all. Why does a law school have a pageant event in the first place? Unless this is a competition to determine who has the highest GPA, what is its usefulness? But, I digress and the responsible reporting question still looms: was this story only front-page news because the women law students were exposing so much skin? Isn’t that exploitation?
I’ll end this post here. No, actually I’ll let Protoje end it with this lyrical reminder from his second album. Kingston, please be wise. Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora, please be wise because the news writer’s pen can be stronger than a knife. Use your free will to reject clickbait and question sensationalism. Fake news is dangerous and should never be reported.