WHEN Cliff Hughes, in his youth, worked for Michael Manley, president of the People’s National Party (PNP), one thing was certain — he could not have foreseen the time he would face the wrath of the party of which his mother had been a diehard supporter.
For sure, Hughes, now principal of Nationwide News Network (NNN), carries with him an enduring admiration for the late prime minister, crediting him for a policy which allowed him to get an education out of the public purse.
From all indications, the journalist maintains a long-lasting friendship with Phillip Paulwell whom he introduced to the PNP in east Kingston.
All that has not insulated Hughes and his NNN from the ire of today’s PNP, whose general secretary, Dr Dayton Campbell, has hurled the unkind and potentially dangerous accusation that the station is “an incubator for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)” because some members of its staff had taken up government jobs.
The Cliff Hughes story written in 2004 and included in the soon-to-be-published book, Desmond Allen’s Greatest Hits: Wondrous tales of extraordinary Jamaicans, chronicles the journalist’s early involvement with politics and the PNP.
“Michael Manley’s PNP had just won the 1972 General Election by a landslide. The huge, if unbridled, celebrations in the street that followed the victory impressed the 10-year-old boy and stirred ‘the first political feelings’ within him. In any event, his mother was already a supporter of the PNP,” an excerpt from the book reads.
Describing his mother, Delrose Freeman, as “very political”, Hughes told the writer: “She was a strong Comrade. She would always tell us that she would be eternally grateful to Michael Manley for the education we were privileged to get because she could not afford it. I think that underpinned her loyalty to Manley.”
He can’t forget the days when his mother would give him her weekly $25 cheque from the Crash Programme — a job scheme that Manley devised to put thousands of poor Jamaicans to work, with windfall money from the Bauxite Levy — and sent him to the grocery shop while she went to the market, the book said.
A major change would come when Hughes was offered a badly needed job at RJR by the station’s first woman news editor, Janet Mowatt. He grabbed it. But there was a stern caveat.
“Mowatt…did not beat around the bush,” the book quoted Hughes as saying. “She said to me, ‘You are a bright boy but let me tell you something… I know you are very political but I don’t want to see your politics in my newsroom. You have to make a choice if you are going to be a damn good journalist or you are going to pursue your political ambitions.’ ”
According to the book, Hughes said he had gone into politics because of a shared vision. “It was not because of the contract that you could get. I was enthralled by the politics of Michael Manley. I was a foot soldier for socialism…”
When Mowatt gave him the ultimatum he went home to discuss it with his mother and made a pragmatic choice: It would be journalism. He had to help feed his family. He introduced Paulwell to the organisation, to take up where he had left off, joined the newsroom staff of RJR, and never forgot Mowatt’s remonstrations, the book said.
Hughes continued: “God bless Janet Mowatt. She instilled in me that if you are going to be a good journalist you must be fair. I learnt from her that it is not about being objective, because no one can be objective because your positions are shaped by your own experiences.
“So, I don’t pretend to be objective. People who [say they] are objective are eunuchs, intellectual eunuchs. I have positions on issues and I tell you my positions on issues. What I will do is to make sure that the opposing view is fairly represented to the best of my ability.”
In 1991 Hughes accepted an offer from the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC), the now-defunct State-owned radio and television station, to become director of television, and so he became head of news for a major television station at age 29.
Hughes swears that he brought back credibility to JBC by being fair and professional at all times. He knew he was doing well when he was accused of being PNP one day and JLP the next. “We ruffled feathers — even at Jamaica House under the PNP,” he told Allen.
“I had reason often to resort to Janet Mowatt’s teachings. She taught me that you are not going to earn that reputation in one broadcast, because fairness and balance and respect do not come in one or two broadcasts. They come over a period of time when people can see if you are consistent, if you are fair.
“So, it’s standard for me now. Sometimes PNP people will say ‘You tun Labourite, man.’ Labourites will be happy with you today and then tomorrow when you do a story which is not complimentary of them, they say ‘de ol’ PNP bwoy’.”
Still, Hughes said he was perceived as a political appointee at JBC and there were external political pressures. “I remember the Opposition spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw condemning my appointment, saying how I was going to continue the politicisation of the newsroom. I proved him wrong. I think he will readily concede that today.”
Of the success of Nationwide, Hughes asserts that he has a virtual pact with the people of Jamaica. When anyone says he seems to know everything that happens in Jamaica, credit that to the people who slip to him information on much of what is going on.
“It is the people who have come to trust me and who have seen me as a fair journalist who really give us the competitive edge. The day I take that for granted is the day we begin to lose it at Nationwide.”
As politics continues to cast its long shadow over Cliff Hughes, a gunman last Friday shot up the offices of NNN. And while police have not yet said who the shooter is and his motive, there is already widespread speculation and questions about whether Dayton Campbell’s statement and that incident are connected. Campbell has dismissed any such suggestion.
Weighing in on the issue, the Jamaica Observer said in its Monday editorial, “… as any well-thinking person knows, fingers shouldn’t be pointed without evidence, which we hope police investigators will gather in due course. However, as has been made clear in this space and elsewhere, Dr Campbell can’t be excused for his brazen attack on press freedom in Jamaica.
“To his eternal discredit, Dr Campbell even called the names of individual journalists,” the paper said in the editorial titled ‘Our political leaders should tek sleep mark death’.