The image running through my mind these past days is of a country poised to explode in a rash of escalating revelations as the pressure of impending elections—no date yet announced—starts to dictate how those who have brains wired for political shenanigans work. Thone with working brains may lead but they have a lot of sheep following. That image because very vivid on Sunday, when I thought about colors, notably green and orange make brown. Yes, we are in for a s**t storm it seemed as political flavour took hold of limited common sense.
Where the imagery got messed up was when it also became clear that the media was on sort of feeding frenzy and stories with wildish allegations started to hit the headlines and the front pages. Now, I think that most times, Jamaican ‘news’ media stays above a certain line of decency, though it toes it closely. At other times, someone steps a bit past the line. Last week, we saw and heard and read a few things that stepped over the line.
First, there was the “Did you cheat on your wife?” question to the health and wellness minister during a press briefing. I’ll let people use their own compasses to guide them on whether the question was appropriate in the sense of its going to the heart of matter of public interest—how contracts are awarded. Titillating though it may be to know about other people’s peccadilloes, it’s not really a matter for unsolicited public discussion. To my mind, if there were a one-on-one interview that was being recorded, not live, it would be appropriate to broach the question, giving the questioned a bit of space and time to reflect on how and if they wanted to respond. There’s always something a bit off with the ‘Gotcha!’ type of question, which catch people off-guard and then are answered in time and manner that’s easy to interpret in many wrong ways.
The fact that the question came from the principal of a sometime-TV News magazine show/online news outlet made it a bit more problematic. I often give some slack to a piece clearly authored by a journalist for the fact that some editorial influence has been used to craft the final article But, when the editor or principal speak, eg in an editorial, that slack goes away. To me, this is the face of the organization on full show.
Anyway, to my mind, that was the most yellow of journalism last week. Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as: ‘the use of lurid features and sensationalized news in newspaper publishing to attract readers and increase circulation’. It’s called ‘tabloid journalism’ in the UK and has many organs that made it big by using it, eg the News of the World and The Sun. There’s always a market for sensationalism, especially if it comes at the expense of those in the public eye who often try to create ‘clean’ images of themselves.
Where I stumbled last week was on what was the purpose of the question. I had a brief exchange with some friends on Saturday morning about the incident, with one man saying he thought the question was on point as it touched on the appropriateness of a relationship that might have given extra favour. But, the point is that the question never took anyone remotely close to that legitimate concerns, even though it had been preceded by two questions that pointed there; the link was missing. My friend added that sensationalism sells. So, I asked him where the story had been ‘sold’. So far, I’ve seen various other media outlets make news of the journalist making news but nothing from the questioner. Now, having had her judgment questioned by the president of the Press Association of Jamaica, and her question deemed “inelegant”, could have offered an opportunity for several kinds of story on top of the story that was sought through the questions, but nothing. So, again, what was the question’s purpose even when the answer is incomplete or unsatisfying or whatever? It value to the media house is so far a tangible what? History will show nothing directly on its books, though there’s plenty of time to write some stories.This is just a simple take on the economics of the matter, nothing more. Where’s the value? How has the bottom line been affected?
Some say, listening to the exchange, that the question was unfinished. What’s that adage about getting the main point out first—the ‘hook’? The hook wasn’t about procurement, except in some salacious sense.
Some, have taken the salaciousness bait and dangled it in the water. The Gleaner did an interesting thing at the weekend when showing an image of principals in the contractual affair, choosing a cropped version of a picture taken on a private jet of them sitting beside one another. Interesting! Well, not really, given the real context of the picture, which they had published originally—of a boy being airlifted for emergency medical treatment. If a picture says a thousand words what does doctoring a picture say? The media house isn’t obliged to explain its choices, and know well that once a red herring has been dragged across the trail, its scent lasts a long time.
But, as with so many things in life, once something gets set in motion it’s not clear what will follow.
With the PAJ president laying down a marker about the principles of good journalistic behaviour, his stance soon became the focus and now the media profession has become the story, not just the journalist. How did we get there? Knit one, purl one.
Then, one of the profession’s outspoken young practitioners took exception to the PAJ’s president’s stance:
This has been followed by a lengthy reply:
Many will see the length of the PAJ reply as excessive, but it’s purpose was what? One can overthink it, but I detect more than an whiff of ‘damning with faint praise’. I noted especially the references to Sir Horace Heaps, used like a firm pillar in the original letter then kicked over by the PAJ president in a ‘do you really know what you’re talking about?’ manner. Anyway, just my brief interpretation.
But, here we are: the media is now the sensation. Well, that is if you care to notice 🙂
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