‘A new low’

THE Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) was forced on the defensive on Tuesday after one of its supporters threatened to rape a female Radio Jamaica journalist at the party’s Old Hope Road headquarters on Monday evening.

“Mi can rape you enuh,” said the so far unidentified PNP supporter, who was reportedly among a group protesting against the party’s decision to select Dr Alfred Dawes as its standard-bearer in St Catherine South Eastern over long-time Councillor Alric Campbell, who had also offered himself to contest the seat.

With the initial statement missed by the journalists on the scene, the thug repeated his threat, which was not picked up until the audio recording was sent to Nationwide News Network.

As the audio recording sent shock waves across the island on Tuesday, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) condemned the attack on the journalists and noted that the rape threat was not the only incident.

The PAJ pointed out that the Radio Jamaica journalist, and a colleague from Nationwide News Network were verbally attacked while a Television Jamaica crew was threatened by a PNP supporter armed with a stone.

“These acts are unacceptable and a violation of the fundamental human rights of the journalists,” said PAJ President Milton Walker.

He argued that journalists play a critical role in providing information to the public and must be able to do so without the fear of violence or intimidation.

Walker added that the threat of rape was a new low which has sent chills among female journalists in Jamaica.

“The Press Association is also deeply disturbed by the actions of the party’s Deputy General Secretary Dexroy Martin who criticised the Radio Jamaica and Nationwide reporters for wearing green clothing to the PNP headquarters. Mr Martin objected to reporters questioning PNP Vice-President Mikael Phillips and then ordered them to leave the compound,” said Walker as he called on political parties, and their supporters, to respect the role of journalists and to refrain from any actions that may threaten their safety or independence.

“The association reminds all political parties that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and that journalists must be allowed to carry out their duties without fear of reprisal,” added Walker.

The MAJ voiced similar sentiments and said the incidents were not to be taken lightly as journalists must not be subjected to any threats or attacks, verbal or otherwise, whilst carrying out their duties on behalf of the nation.

“The threat of rape is representative of the low we have reached in our society where too many of our females are being harassed and, in many cases, physically attacked,” the MAJ said.

“Further, the refusal of the public official to comment on matters of public interest is worrying and the discrimination against a journalist’s attire smacks of tribal politics. These actions have the effect of eroding our foundation of press freedom and threaten our democracy,” the MAJ added.

It said the leadership of the PNP “must take immediate action to discipline those who are involved in this travesty and demonstrate very clearly that they distance themselves from this alarming behaviour unbecoming of the leadership this country deserves”.

Both associations noted that the incident came just one week after World Press Freedom Day on which Jamaica plunged on the global Press Freedom Index moving from 12th to 32nd.

“This event will no doubt have further negative impact. We must do better,” the MAJ said.

Faced with a barrage of criticisms, the PNP issued a mid-morning release in which it said it had deep concerns about the incident at its headquarters.

“The incident involving Mr Dexroy Martin, a deputy general secretary of PNP, and a journalist of the RJR Media Group was completely unacceptable and does not reflect the position of the PNP with respect to engagements with the media and guests on the PNP’s property.

“The PNP disassociates itself from Mr Martin’s behaviour, and would like to take this opportunity to reassure the media that such behaviour will not be tolerated within our party. We value the role of the media in a democratic society and recognise that the media has an important role to play in holding public officials accountable,” the party said.

According to the PNP, it remains committed to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and respect in all interactions with the media and the public.

“We will take all necessary steps to ensure that our members understand the importance of this commitment and that such incidents do not recur in the future,” added the PNP.

The party said it faced discomfort over the inappropriate behaviour and offensive comments from other unidentified persons who were present on its property. It said neither Martin, nor any other party officer, witnessed the abusive rape remark.

“The PNP strongly condemns such comments and does not support any act of violence against citizens, especially our women, and will support any investigation by the authorities of this matter and is prepared to take swift and appropriate action against the perpetrator,” the party said and unreservedly extended sincere apologies to the journalist who was subjected to such abuse..

The PNP’s statement came hours after Cabinet member with responsibility for information Robert Morgan issued a release in which he said the Government strongly condemns any attempt to intimidate, threaten, or harm journalists and media workers.

“These actions represent a serious attack on press freedom and require swift and decisive action against those responsible,” said Morgan.

He highlighted that Jamaica has a strong reputation for protecting press freedom and called on senior members of the PNP who were present during the incident to report those responsible for the threats of rape to the police.

According to Morgan, the PNP officials have a responsibility to do the right thing to not only protect Jamaica’s reputation as a country that ensures a free press but more importantly, the safety of law-abiding Jamaicans doing their jobs.

“This Government is committed to press freedom and media safety. The PNP Opposition must embrace a modern approach to media and turn its back on a well documented past of intimidating, attacking and threatening media workers,” said Morgan.