Commission Executive Director Cordel Green has rubbished claims that its decision to ban the transmission of any recorded material that “promotes and/or glorifies illegal activity on radio and television” is an attempt by the Government to fight crime.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer from Geneva, Switzerland, where he is on official business, Green, on Wednesday, echoed minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan, who had earlier told a post-Cabinet media briefing that there was no direct link between the ban on the songs and the fight against the crime monster.
“Let me be very clear, the Government does not, and cannot instruct the Broadcasting Commission. That doesn’t happen, and it cannot happen; and if that were to happen I certainly wouldn’t be the head of the Broadcasting Commission as a trained lawyer and a broadcaster. That would violate all the tenets of good regulation,” Green told the Observer.
“As a matter of fact, what people don’t know is that the Broadcasting Commission can investigate the Government. Part of our mandate, for example when election comes around, is to deal with political advertising and political broadcasts. That alone tells us that the commission has to be independent,” Green declared, adding that the commission has, in the past, ruled on broadcasts from political platforms.
He noted that the commissioners are appointed for a five-year term and do not serve based on who is the minister, or which party is in power, as the commission is an independent body set up to ensure that broadcasting standards are upheld.
Green underscored that the commission has repeatedly ruled against stations that have played songs that promote or glorify illegal activities, but it has asked the radio stations not to call the names of the songs or the names of the artistes when they broadcast apologies.
“This matter is drawing attention because it is a specific approach to regulation that we have taken, because we see it as a problem that is systemic. But if persons pay attention to radio and television, almost every week there is an apology being aired for various content standard violations.
“These violations are documented in the commission’s annual report and the quarterly reports that we put out. On some occasions — and it happened with the ‘daggering’ songs, which were a certain type of songs with some themes — the commission then moves in and does something that is systemic other than dealing with each radio station and each song every time there is a complaint,” Green told the Observer.
“Once the commission identifies that there is something that is systemic, and it is not just like one radio station that has committed a breach… then it intervenes, and that might be the reason that this intervention is getting attention. But we are not [just] entering now, we have always dealt with content that is problematic,” added Green.
Earlier on Wednesday, Morgan, who has portfolio responsibility for the commission, told journalists at a post-Cabinet press briefing that he fully supports efforts by the commission to clean up free-to-air broadcasting.
“It is not about fighting crime, it is about decency and standards, that’s all it is about,” declared Morgan.
The commission has faced a barrage on criticism from players in the music industry since its announcement on Tuesday of a ban on “any audio or video recording, live song, or speech which promotes and/or glorifies scamming, illegal use or abuse of drugs, illegal or harmful use of guns or other offensive weapons, ‘jungle justice’ or any other form of illegal or criminal activity”.
The ban, the commission said, “includes live editing and original edits (eg edits by producer/label) as well as the use of near-sounding words as substitutes for offensive lyrics, expletives, or profanities”.
Even people who support the ban have warned that this will have no impact on the country’s crime rate and have pointed out that children will still have access to these songs through various media.
But responding to a question during the Wednesday morning media briefing Morgan underscored that it is not the mandate of the Broadcasting Commission to fight crime.
“The commission’s responsibility is to govern content based on the Radio Re-Diffusion Act… The Act and the regulations are clear that we cannot promote illegality, or that [broadcasters] cannot promote content that violates their licences,” said Morgan.
“I think that a lot of us, including members of the media, have complained, over the past several years, about the type of content that they hear on the airwaves,” added Morgan as he pointed to instances in which children are bombarded with lewd or violent lyrics in public spaces and even from the radios at their homes.
“We have a responsibility for the spaces that we control to set the standard and set an example. We are not fettering people’s right to express themselves; there are so many other portals people can use and promote their artistic freedom. But when it comes to free-to-air that is accessible to every single member of our society, no matter their age [we must act],” added Morgan.
In justifying its decision, the commission on Tuesday argued that this was part of its commitment to keeping the airwaves free of harmful content given the important role traditional media still play as agents of socialisation.
“The use of the public airwaves to broadcast songs that promote/glorify illegal activity could give the wrong impression that criminality is an accepted feature of Jamaican culture and society. It could also unwittingly lend support to moral disengagement and further normalise criminality among vulnerable and impressionable youth, and the young adult demographic,” said the commission.