Foot in mouth

In the wake of several social media gaffes by members of the political directorate in recent times, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Prime Minister Andrew Holness has ordered an immediate review of its social media policy.

Holness has also extended the directive to include a review of the JLP’s Political Platform Code of Conduct.

“In this era of rapid communication and digital interaction, it is imperative that we adapt and ensure our online behaviour aligns with our party’s core principles of unity, respect, and inclusivity.

“Social media wields immense influence in shaping public opinion, and by addressing issues like hate speech and divisive language, we aspire to foster productive and meaningful discourse that serves the best interests of Jamaica,” said Holness.

The directive from Holness comes days after the JLP found itself on the back foot over a social media post by the Member of Parliament for St Thomas Western Dr Michelle Charles in which she was recorded stuffing an orange rag under the dress of a woman.

In the video, captioned “All orange rag have fi hide”, a laughing Charles placed her hand with the orange rag under the dress of the woman, identified as “Ms K”, at her constituency office while the woman seemed to offer a shy and embarrassed smile.

The video, which was later deleted by Charles, drew sharp criticisms from several social media users with the People’s National Party Women’s Movement (PNPWM) describing it as “an act of abuse and humiliation towards a constituent”.

“This disgusting incident has shocked the nation and goes against the principles of respect, dignity, and equality that we expect from our political leaders,” the PNPWM said in an open letter to Holness and Minister of Gender Affairs Olivia Grange.

“If we are to believe that the JLP values Jamaican women, we call upon you to take decisive action and indicate to Dr Michelle Charles that her actions have disqualified her from running in the next election. The issue of abuse of women and class prejudice must be addressed frontally, and Jamaicans need to know that their leaders will treat all citizens with dignity and respect in spite of their socio-economic background,” added the PNPWM.

But even before the letter from the PNPWM was issued, Charles took to social media to offer an apology.

“I made a post recently that, in hindsight, was inappropriate and inadvertently caused people discomfort and concern,” said Charles.

“I would like to offer an unequivocal apology to my constituent, JLP supporter and friend, Ms K and to anyone offended by the post. Although the post was meant in jest, I acknowledge that it should not have been made at all, and for that, I apologise,” added Charles as she announced that she would temporarily withdraw from the social media space, “while the necessary internal safeguards and standard operating procedures are developed”.

While not referencing the Charles incident the JLP, in a release on Monday, said Holness used a meeting of constituency chairpersons and councillor/candidates at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston on Sunday to issue his directive.

According to the release, the objective of the review to refine the guidance provided to party members and representatives regarding their online conduct and behaviour on various electronic media platforms.

“The primary focus of this initiative is to nurture a culture of respect and dignity towards the Jamaican people while upholding the party’s principles and values,” said the JLP in the release.

It said Holness has instructed the JLP’s Public Relations (PR) Committee to lead the revision process.

Head of the PR committee Robert Morgan told the Jamaica Observer
that the review has already started and it will be submitting its proposal for discussions and a decision.

Morgan noted that the committee does not have the power to suggest action against people who breach the revised policy as that would be the work of other organs of the party such as its disciplinary committee.

“We will do the research, look at best practices and submit our recommendation,” said Morgan as he noted that Holness has emphasised the importance of clear directives that promote responsible online conduct and reduce the occurrence of inappropriate language and actions originating from party platforms.

He pointed to the release which stated that the JLP acknowledges the significance of professional expertise in this digital age and will collaborate with specialists in the field to establish new benchmarks and codes of behaviour for all party members and representatives.

The party has also said that to facilitate the transition to these updated standards it will organise workshops designed to engage party members and representatives.

“These workshops will provide a platform for a comprehensive understanding of the revised policy guidelines. The JLP is committed to nurturing a positive online environment that strengthens its connection with the Jamaican people.

“This commitment extends across all levels of the party, from dedicated grass-roots supporters to aspiring candidates seeking public office. By setting higher standards, the JLP aims to lead by example and inspire other political entities in the country to adopt similar responsible online behaviour,” said the release.

“The forthcoming workshops will equip party members and representatives with the necessary skills to navigate social media responsibly and contribute positively to public discourse. Through education, awareness, and guidance, the Jamaica Labour Party is empowering its representatives to uphold the highest standards in their online interactions with the Jamaican people,” added the release.

Members of the political directorate have frequently found themselves in hot water over comments made on the political platform and in social media.

Among the most recent was then head of the People’s National Party PNP Human Rights Commission, attorney-at-law Isat Buchanan who aimed foul-mouthed comments at Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn during a YouTube programme.

PNP President Mark Golding recently had to walk back comments he made about dead voters on a political platform in St Andrew, while PNP General Secretary Dayton Campbell is facing three possible lawsuits for comments he made on a platform in Clarendon about a plot to kill Holness.