Veteran journalist urges media to endorse a political party, help fight crime

The Jamaican media is being called upon to adopt the practice of endorsing a political party at election time, as a way of encouraging politicians to strive to be better in order to win the support of the media.

Jamaica Observer Founding Editor Desmond Allen, at the same time, urged the media to consider establishing a Media Crime Watch, under the aegis of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), representing professional journalists, and the Media Association Jamaica, representing media owners, to help fight crime.

Allen, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary in journalism, was delivering the University of Technology, Jamaica’s (UTech) 65th Anniversary Distinguished Public Lecture, under the title ‘Five Decades of Journalism and Politics: Past, Present and Future Tense’, on Thursday, November 9, 2023 to guests at its Papine, St Andrew, campus and hundreds viewing via live stream on YouTube.

Among his audience were top echelons of the university Dr Kevin Brown, UTech president; Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president; Rev Dr Stevenson Samuel, university chaplain, as well as deans and heads of the school. Moderator was Professor Shermaine Barrett, dean of the Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies.

Allen noted that between 1992 and 2023 “the flavour and tenure of Jamaican politics has been bland, and the temperature mostly tepid, likely because of the absence of an articulated ideological framework, or a vision for an alternative path forward, politically or economically…

“In other words, there is very little to differentiate between the two major political parties. In this vacuum, journalism has largely turned its focus to fashion, sports, and entertainment. The finance department, and not the editorial department, has taken centre stage as the fight for financial survival engulfs the entire media industry,” he argued.

“I believe that the media can incentivise the political parties to revive and energise themselves, to renew their original intention to serve the country. At election time, the media should seriously consider endorsing a political party which best meets a set of criteria that will redound to the benefit of the entire country as a whole,” he proposed.

Allen said that the endorsement would not be for a lifetime, but would be exercised ahead of each general election.

“It might be a new concept to the Jamaican media, but it is something which is commonly done in developed countries, notably the United States, where it helps the electorate to decide on a candidate to support,” he explained.

His second proposal of a media crime watch was based on his view that, “Our politicians have lost the battle against crime. They have run out of ideas, calling for divine intervention, in which they don’t even believe, or relying on states of emergency, which were meant to be temporary shock treatment but [are] rapidly becoming permanent.”

Under the media crime watch the public would be encouraged to operate as the eyes and ears of law enforcement, providing anonymous tips about the whereabouts and activities of criminals to the media, which would onpass it to the Office of the Commissioner of Police, the Observer executive editor – special assignments stated.

In addition, the media would appeal to the political parties to remove crime as part of their partisan political agenda and lead their supporters to unite in the national fight against crime.

Allen also noted that jostling with the traditional media is “the new guy on the block”, the social media, but cautioned that there is a “real information jungle out there”.

“I don’t run with any information I get on social media without first checking the source. My mantra is: When in doubt, check it out; still in doubt, leave it out,” he concluded.

Arguing that social media had undoubtedly become one of the wonders of the world, and had only one way to go, which is up, he questioned: “…How good it is right now to a small, information-starved, still not literate enough country like ours to be dominated by social media? And can we manage to advance this country without the traditional media?

“I don’t think so. A country existing on fake news; touched-up, Photoshopped images; and manufactured scenarios is bound to go backward not forward,” he added.

He also warned advertisers, in particular, to contemplate the demise of the traditional media, and what it would mean for their own products.

“And so, until we reach that point where we can be confident in managing the information surge from social media, we need to protect the traditional media where information has to be cleansed before being disseminated. It’s a national imperative,” he insisted.

“It is my considered view, after 50 years in the Jamaican media, that these proposals I have made can help to revitalise both the media and the political community to lift their game in their stated quest to create a better Jamaica. Let us do it,” he urged.