Sinthing really wrong wid dem

Have you heard the news? Have you read the earth-shattering piece in the Jamaica Observer that is clearly relevant to your life, and the price of rice?

The headline: John Issa sued for ‘hate-mail’ against ‘Butch’ Stewart. Of course the article typifies the worst excesses of Jamaican media so much that it is written by that popular journalist of renown, “No Byline.”

This article is incomprehensibly irresponsible for a number of reasons; the first and most egregious being that Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart is the owner of the Jamaica Observer. In the article Stewart is identified as both “the Caribbean’s leading hotelier” and “Sandals Resorts Chairman.” But no mention is made in the article of the fact that Butch Stewart owns the Jamaica Observer. And common knowledge of his ownership is not a valid excuse. It is common public knowledge that GE owns NBC, and that Rupert Murdoch owns the New York Post. Yet I have never seen an article about GE on NBC without this fact being noted (ditto for ABC’s relationship with Disney), similarly all articles concerning Murdoch in the New York Post note its ownership. Perhaps because the Jamaica Observer is not writing to be an objective news organization, it feels no need to preserve that fact in the article for posterity.

So getting past that most startling absence and its ethical implications, note the decisive tone of the article.

HOTELIER John Issa, founder and chairman of Superclubs Resorts, has been slapped with a massive lawsuit for publishing a defamatory e-mail against the Caribbean’s leading hotelier, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, his long time rival.

Stewart is claiming damages, interest and costs against Issa for publishing a libellous e-mail, which was purportedly written by a “Dr Paulette Robinson” and addressed to Stewart’s daughter, Jaime Stewart. Issa published the e-mail to attorney Raymond Clough.

[Source: Jamaica Observer] Emphasis mine.

Even though Stewart’s suit contained only claims that are likely to be contested; there are no allegations contained in the article, only statements of fact. The Jamaica Observer is testifying about the nature of the email, and the allegations made in the suit against Issa. So we are told the lawsuit is ‘massive,‘ with no amount indicated. We’re told the email is defamatory, without being apprised of its contents, and perhaps in a libelous act of its own the Observer tells us that Issa published the email. It is customary in responsible journalism to treat the allegations of one side in a legal action as allegations and not facts. And if I were John Issa I would counter-sue Butch Stewart for libel just on the basis of this article. For all we know the same supposedly malicious person that is seeking to damage Stewart may have hacked into Issa’s email. This is one of the reasons newspapers reach out to the other side for comment. The Observer article didn’t do that or even pretend to do that.

There are other defects in the article, but let’s focus on the main reason that it is defective. The blatant self-dealing and self-referential tone the Observer takes when talking about Butch Stewart, and his business interests. This is a common feature of the Observer’s coverage, which is increasingly apparent in its Clovis cartoons that never tire of depicting Stewart in an a obscenely hagiographic light.

We see this self-dealing further in the fact that the Observer broke the RIU construction violation scandal story with relish. And while I applaud their publication of the story, what was generally absent from the Observer’s exposé is the admission that Observer Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart has a conflict of interest since the RIU Hotels and Resorts are his competitors. Let me ask a question: Do you think the Observer would ever run a story about any underage-prostitute access to Sandals Royal Caribbean, if any exists? Do you imagine for a second that there would be any critical coverage of Butch Stewart or any of his business interests in the Jamaica Observer? [John Issa it must be noted, is a Board Vice-Chairman for the Jamaica Gleaner Company, which goes a long way in explaining why this story was given no coverage there.]

Yet to their credit the Observer will publish hard news periodically, and sometimes it doesn’t relate to Butch Stewart’s business interests. Take for example the follow-up by Mark Wignall on two past Sundays. The first column End the fuss. Show those degrees now Omer Thomas; and Omer Thomas’ ad opens up more questions than answers provided (long column titles, right?)

Basically Wignall raises certain questions about Omer Thomas, former head of RADA and a former mandarin in the Ministry of Agriculture. Omer Thomas formerly known as Dr.  Omer Thomas is the recipient of several degrees from unaccredited/disreputable institutions known as degree mills. According to Wignall, rather than answer the questions raised about his credentials, Omer Thomas resigned following a report on Cliff Hugh’s Nationwide on May 9th.

Most interesting to this blog was the following:

Some years ago in the House, Karl Samuda challenged then Minister Paulwell on Thomas’ stewardship at the Bureau of Standards (BOS) and also suggested that Thomas’ academic accreditations were suspect. Minister Paulwell ordered a probe and Thomas was given a clean bill of health.

Source: Mark Wignall, Jamaica Observer.

and

Some years ago, employees at the BOS who had either left their jobs there or were fired or forced into resignation wrote a petition protesting against the management style of Thomas and other matters. Among the places they sent this petition was ‘a certain media house’ where it died a natural death. Why?

Source: Mark Wignall, Jamaica Observer.

To my ears this is a bombshell indictment of the Jamaican media which failed the citizens of Jamaica repeatedly in ignoring this issue and not investigating the claims made by Samuda in the House or the ex-employees in their petition. It is important to note as well that there is ample emerging evidence of a soil disease in Jamaica that the Ministry of Agriculture and RADA may have failed to notice under Thomas. Why fi wi media so lazy? More importantly how much does the sloth of our press cost our country in lives and dollars lost?

Why are there few or no follow-up hard-news stories in our press? When media smell blood very often there is an audit of other prominent figures in comparable agencies, once the head of RADA was outed as a liar concerning his credentials — where are the stories from the media policing other such mandarins to ensure their credentials are above impeachment? Fi wi media doan-cyak yu know, so they leave it to Wignall who writes a well-informed op-ed column to do the hard journalism that staff writers should be undertaking.

We pay a high price for their negligence and nonchalance though. As Dr. Garth Rattray said in his op-ed on June 2, speaking about the PM’s interview on the BBC:

I believe that there is another reason why the chief servant ‘lost it’ somewhat during the interview. Jamaica is so small, so networked and so filled with politicized people in influential positions that our leaders are never really pushed hard or seriously challenged on sensitive issues. Journalists are wary of them and the many die hard, powerful and sometimes violent people who support them.

Consequently, our mainstream media interview politicians by posing carefully worded questions designed to probe, but not too deeply; to tease out, but not upset or offend. That works fine in our politically charged and polarized country, but it leaves us with poor self-regulation, lacking in accountable leaders and vulnerable to international criticism.

Source: Dr. Garth Rattray, Jamaica Gleaner.

I can’t say it any better than that. As his column notes Dr. Rattray is a medical doctor, and thank God someone trained in diagnosis is out there letting us know that our media is diseased.

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3 thoughts on “Sinthing really wrong wid dem

  1. The Observer has unfortunately proven itself to be more an outlet for its owner’s view on things in Jamaica than an actual tool for providing information about the current affairs of our country. This particular article on the law suit was in my opinion was not newsworthy. It is a civil matter that does not in any way influence the lives of ordinary citizens. If anything, it seeks to influence the public’s opinion on the owners of a certain hotel chain. This tactic was also done in a few articles that came up highlighting issues faced by Mamee Bay residents during the construction and eventual operation of RUI in St. Ann. Funny enough, it was even suggested that RIU purposely sets up its operations close to Sandals resorts in order to ‘cheapen Sandals’ product.’ That too tries to sway public opinion against Spanish owned hotel chains. That is not the purpose of a newspaper, and I do hope that the editor starts playing a more active role in the quality and content of the articles that are eventually published in the Jamaica Observer.

  2. The lawsuit by Butch Stewart against John Issa was recently dismissed, the Court finding that there was no reasonable basis for Stewart to have brought it in the first place. The suit against Issa’s daugher, Muna, is also being challenged by a motion to strike.

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