Why does The Gleaner not publish online comments?

I can understand why a print edition limits the publication of comments from readers, eg letters to the Editor: there are real space constraints. I do not understand, however, why an online edition would limit the publication of comments, other than those that are clearly offensive or abusive: digital space is very elastic and almost limitless. So, I am puzzled by a practice I’ve noticed for some time with The Gleaner, which I have started to track, of not publishing online comments. Of course, I can only track my own offerings, but that is plenty for this issue.

I’m not backward in coming forward, as the British say: I have views on many things, or can form opinions on them, and I am not generally afraid to express those. I try to keep my comments ‘on point’ and not attack a person, but tackle the ideas expressed. Some say that I am eloquent. My comments can sometimes be long, but that’s usually because the subject matter and views expressed by the author are not simple, and I don’t pretend that things have easy solutions.

So, twice in recent days, I have expressed critical views–on a ‘Letter of the day’ about currency stability, and on a article about the BPO sector. I’m an economist, and both topics lend themselves to some simple and complex economic arguments. On the latter, I’ve had a vigorous discussion on Twitter with the author about the style of his ‘attack’ on the sector. I posted my comments early, but so far I have not seen them published. In the case of the former topic, online comments are now closed (it’s nearly a week since publication of the letter). Now, I know that the Gleaner sometimes converts online comments to letters to the Editor. But, I wonder what the policy is with my or others’ comments, which having been moderated, and consigned to somewhere out of the public eye.

Let me share links to the relevant articles, and my comments: I took care to make screenshots (and will continue to do so, for the record, going forward).

Currency stability crucial. Here are my comments:

For the record, I show the comments published on that letter.

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‘Only’ two comments published, as of this morning?
The second topic was ‘BPO growth at what cost?‘, published on February 23. My reactions were written and submitted early that morning (and appear below, as a Twitter post). As of this morning, ‘only’ three comments have been published online.

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‘Only’ three comments on BPOs?
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My interest is several-fold. First, as an ‘editor’, myself, of online comments on my blog: I moderate all comments, and publish all, except those that are abusive or use offensive language. So, I will take comments whose content I know or suspect to be untrue, but then deal with them in my replies. I rarely delete comments, unless the author asks for that. Secondly, as a simple member of the public: I would like to know the full range of public opinion on a topic. Thirdly, there are some who think that they see ‘the world’ of public approval and disapproval in online comments, implying that these get published all the time: this is clearly a misunderstanding of what goes on.

For a range of reasons, I do not comment much of pieces I read in The Observer, but I will be monitoring my comments online and how they are dealt with in the case of that paper, too. For reference, comments I’ve made on a range of other news publications, such as The Washington Post, New York Times, or Times (of London) have always been published after moderation.

For further context, I have had letters published by The Gleaner, including several ‘Letters of the day’, and also had commentaries published as guest columns in The Gleaner and The Observer. So, I don’t believe they have a problem with me and my views in general. So, I’m more puzzled with what I see happening online.

I’d love the Gleaner to react and offer some explanation. I hope, sincerely, that the response will not be ‘It’s our paper and we can do what we like’. 

Branded Jamaica

If I believe what I read yesterday, I would think that some Jamaican musical artiste is “appalled and disappointed”. Reports indicated that her appearance at the Rastafesta event in Canada has been cancelled. imageQueen Ifrica has been engulfed in a public firestorm since she used her moment on stage during Jamaica’s Independence gala to denounce homosexuals. Significantly, the Ministry of Culture, which put on the event, was not amused: it issued a statement where it regretted that an artiste had used the platform “to express her personal opinions and views on matters that may be considered controversial, rather than to perform in the agreed scripted and rehearsed manner”. She is, of course, entitled to her personal opinion, but should she have used her own time and space to do that, rather than at a government-organized public event?

Russia found itself recently in a similar swell of international disapproval because of its policies regarding propaganda supporting homosexuality. Russia is entitled to make whatever policy it wishes, but how did its views sit with athletes who have to visit the country to compete in the World Championships last week and what happens if they engage in the banned propaganda? The matter
takes on a different tone when Russia hosts the next winter Olympics, and its policies are set against the Olympic ideals of friendship, fair play, and solidarity.

Both artiste and country might have fallen on the same thorn, homosexuality, but similar controversy has faced others over other touchy issues. In the USA, those for or against gun control or abortion, for example, have had their views assessed and been forced to reconsider. China has found itself facing international condemnation of its human rights records. Years ago, South Africa’s apartheid policy was a hot potato.

In the Caribbean, I remember Barbados’ prime minister banning Jamaican dance hall artistes, Movado and Vybz Kartel, from visiting the country in 2010, citing concerns about consequences from their violent lyrics. Also Vybz Kartel was banned in other Caribbean due to his profane lyrics. Time was when Rastafarianism was vilified as both a religious and cultural movement in Jamaica. But, isn’t time a wonderful healer.

One simple modern truth is that you cannot hide in this world. Modern technology now puts any seemingly obscure event into the eyesight or earshot of the whole planet. A policeman beating a suspect. A politician saying something offensive. A burglar creeping through a window. All are now easily captured as images and sound, then shared. That wasn’t Queen Ifrica’s problem, but she seemed to forget that her provocative comments would be seen and heard, not just in little Jamaica, but also in a bigger country she was about to visit, and worldwide. Canada has a more-liberal attitude toward homosexuality and someone should have suggested to Queen Ifrica to hold her comment till after the rasta gig. Maybe someone did but she couldn’t resist the rush of excitement on stage in front of 25,000 spectators. I wonder if she had planned to give the same anti-homosexual message in Canada; we may never know.

Whether Jamaica realizes it or not, it has a multidimensional image in the rest of the world. Sure, it’s great to be known for producing fast runners like rain. We love to be loved for our music. But, the world knows us, also, for a range of less-flattering traits. All the recent talk about ‘brand Jamaica’ and whether that would be tarnished by revelations of failed drug tests by star athletes did not tackle the prospect that Jamaica has many brand marks. One brand is its violence: that is why some countries give their citizens severe warnings about personal safety when visiting the island, and why all-inclusive resorts are popular. “Jamaicans are violent. Beware!” The message is clear. Tourists are warned about driving on our roads: “Jamaican drivers are dangerous and reckless.” The message is clear.

Another brand is that the island is a drug paradise. Tourists may believe that smoking cannabis is legal and that they can get away with toting a spliff. Sorry! Jamaica tries to correct that image, but, I suspect the message is lost.

Jamaica is branded an economic failure. Some will try to contest that view; others will say only the blind cannot see it. The fact that we are trying anew with an IMF arrangement is clear enough to me.

One more brand is the country’s anti-homosexual stance, often seen as uncompromising and very violent. This is not something to deny, but it’s also something that the rest of the world seems to lie less about the island. We are not alone, but we are renowned.

Queen Ifrica could have wanted to promote that last brand. Was she naive to do so just before a gig in a country with a more-accepting philosophy? Canadian reactions shouldn’t have been unexpected. Perhaps, the adverse Jamaican reaction was novel. Did she, who seems so wise in her social and political observations, just lose the plot? I wonder if she’s getting ready to assail us on other dislikes she harbours. Watch out politicians. ‘Don’t cry, Mr. Bunting’ may soon seem like a nursery rhyme. Look out media moguls. Watch out other fans. Will the Queen call out at her next Jamaican concert those who bleach their skin? The mouth is ready to bite more hands that feed it? Why don’t I think so?

Jamaican ambassadors, formal and informal have their hands full trying to present their country at its best. I don’t know whether Usain Bolt has had to field questions on all or some of these brand images. Maybe the PM, on her recent jaunt to China, has had her ear bent. Did Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica have a word with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in private or formally about how our Queen may be seen as an unwelcome guest?

Just as a brand may sell well, so too may it be taken quickly off the shelves. Sponsors running away from brands is often a bad sign. Tell that to the athletes. Who’s running to buy brand Jamaica? Who’s getting ready to clear us off the shelves?

Taxing their patients

I have to laugh out loud sometimes. Humans amaze me for their supposed ability to solve complex problems coupled with an incredible inability to resolve simple issues. That awful combination sometimes makes my blood boil and that of others, though not necessarily for the same reasons. I suspect there is a reality show in the making, which looks at international comparisons of what failures of public administration drive people crazy. I suspect that Jamaica would do well–or is it badly?–when pitted against other countries.

Yesterday’s papers had two letters, which struck me between the eyes as possible candidates, though the first would struggle in the qualifying rounds One letter was from an irate woman, who was offended and could not understand why she and her group of workers were asked for their ID documents before entering some famed national attraction.DunnsRiverD1200840510NG The bottom line was that, as is common in many countries, nationals or residents are charged less than foreigners and visitors for visiting such sites, and ID is usually needed to proof eligibility for the lower price. The default price is the higher one. She found it biased and ridiculous, and got all huffy and hissy about it. Biased? Yes. Ridiculous? No. Nationals in some sense own such attractions and have in some sense already paid for the provision and upkeep of them, though taxes; foreign visitors have not. It could also be about perceived ability to pay higher prices, but that is dicier logic. A cynic could say it is an appropriate ‘nuisance tax’, with foreigner placing more stress on the resources than national. That one, too, is not for my plate today.

Similar discriminatory practices are often seen when it come to national provision of health care or education: for example, Britain is contemplating imposing higher charges on non-EU nationals to access the National Health Service. I wonder if the lady would think that ridiculous. Price discrimination is a normal part of business, and people who have not experienced it either don’t realize what’s going on or decide that in certain circumstances it is acceptable: student discounts, loyalty discounts, employee discounts, discounts for certain times, discounts for volume–the list is long.

The other letter was from an irate man, who could not understand why he and others could not get their taxpayer registration numbers (TRN) because the cards were signed by the former commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department, who is in some dispute with her employer, the government. As if she had some personal responsibility in a matter that should just be simple public administration. This seems about as idiotic as saying that bank notes bearing the signature of a former governor who’s in dispute with his employer, the central bank, are no longer legal tender. But, it’s also in the vein of “The lady who does refunds is on holiday and won’t be back for two weeks.”

These two instances struck chords elsewhere, judging by the fact that the latter letter was today published in the other main daily paper, and the former generated a lot of online comments, many in support of the policy.

I wonder if as much bile rises when people try to drive around Kingston. (I won’t attack yet how one tries to navigate the bus system, which appears to offer no route guidance to riders.) I say to people who say they are leery about dealing with seemingly Kamikaze drivers in Jamaica, that it’s a wonder there aren’t more road accidents due to people trying to crane their necks looking for road signs, which are either not there, or obliterated. Where do you turn at an intersection when the street signs are both blank. Given that residents in some areas have already taken on the task of repairing roads (and here they may have the responsibilities because the road is actually private though open to the public), why don’t some pick up some tins of Sherwin-Williams and get painting? I wonder if the tolerance for this is deeply ingrained in a society, which for the longest time had few road signs on major routes (let alone on something easy to maneuver as city streets). Many a trip towards Montego Bay was made more adventurous by having to remember the right turn to head over the hills north. My little daughter understands fully why we note landmarks as we drive round town–purple wall, orange house, etc. After all, we live in a land where directions are often of the form “Go till you reach the mango tree, then turn up till you cross old Mr. Thomas house with the broken fence…” That’s understandable in standard English, but wait till it comes at you in labrish.

I’m sure plenty of other examples are out there, and Jamaica needs to get into serious shape to be able to fend off the competition. I’d love to track some other instances that are more bilious, whether they are Jamaican or foreign.