Mutty and John: a Conflict of Visions
Published: Sunday | December 19, 2010  


Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

(This is an excerpt from the book Jamaica Fi Real: Beauty, Vibes and Culture).

The best proof that all points of view are given free rein in Jamaica are the contrasting outlooks of two doyens of local journalism, Wilmot 'Mutty' Perkins and John Maxwell. While Maxwell remains a more or less unreformed leftist, Perkins has become somewhat of a right-wing anarchist. Ask the two former friends anything, and you are likely to get completely contradictory answers.

Perkins posits Singapore as the ideal for Jamaica to emulate, while Maxwell holds out Cuba as the model to be copied - strange positions indeed for men who bridle at any hint of government censorship. In the lands built by Lee Kuan Yew and Fidel Castro, where there is no such thing as a free press, both Perkins and Maxwell would be in jail for speaking out as they do here. Thankfully, in Jamaica these men of unquestioned courage and integrity are completely free to say it as they see it.

Past leaders

Their opinions of Jamaica's past leaders are particularly amusing. Maxwell dismisses Bustamante as "an ignoramaus and a gangster, the original two-fisted gunman", while Perkins found him "very big-hearted and generous and possessed of immense common sense". To Perkins, Norman Manley was "very arrogant and considered himself superior stuff to the common man, an aristocrat, so to speak", but in Maxwell's eyes, he was "a brilliant man of the highest principles".

Maxwell considered Michael Manley "a very complex character and an excellent prime minister". In Perkins' words, "Michael Manley is reflective of the race and class prejudices of this country. Because he was a handsome, high-brown-skin Adonis with what some called nice hair, and was named Manley, and had a wonderful speaking voice and great powers of articulation - though he had no clear idea what to articulate - people thought he had to be a genius. But had he been black with what in Jamaica used to be called bad hair, and been named Jones, people would long have recognised him for what he was - a halfwit."

All this is as it should be. Perkins and Maxwell are excellent examples of the two competing political views described by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions. One is the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish. The other is the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible.

As Sowell says, reality is too complex to be comprehended by any single mind or point of view. So a free press must not only accurately report what has happened, it should also present every plausible interpretation of the facts. One thing, surely, on which John and Mutty can both agree!

A Free and Feisty Media

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter - Thomas Jefferson.

The best reason to be optimistic about Jamaica's future is its media. Considering the country's size and relatively low journalistic pay, the press here is remarkably dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Though television and newspaper ownership is concentrated in only a few hands, proprietors tend to observe a longstanding 'hands off' tradition. Jamaica ranked 14th out of 195 countries in the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2009 Global Rankings.[1]

There are three hard-news-oriented national newspapers - The Gleaner, the Observer and the Sunday Herald; three national television stations - TVJ, CVM, and Love, plus many cable channels; and about 20 radio stations. The Gleaner was formed in 1834, and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the Western Hemisphere. An old saw says, "It's not news if it's not in The Gleaner." It was often in the past a mouthpiece of the light-skinned elite, assailing any challenge to the status quo, with the harrying of Marcus Garvey a case in point. Nowadays, it is more balanced, tending to be slightly against whichever government is in power. The Gleaner has seen off many competitors over the years, but the daily Observer and the weekly Sunday Herald have, for the past 15 years, provided respected alternatives. The common man's paper is the STAR, which focuses mainly on human interest stories, as do X-News and Chat.

Informing the nation

The newspapers do a very good job of keeping the nation informed. Some find the print-journalism level uneven and too often of first draft quality, though, to be fair, the skimpy pay and undiscerning readership can make the effort of revision seem pointless. However, this is a perhaps unavoidable problem with small media markets.

The television news shows also give excellent coverage of the goings-on in the country. Indeed, the main goal of the frequent localised roadblocks against police brutality, or water shortages or bad roads seem to be to have their grievances aired on the national news, and so brought to the attention of the relevant authorities. TV respondents go to great lengths to give the public the 'live and direct' story. During the near war-zone conditions of the May 2010 'Tivoli Invasion', for instance, reporters bravely gave up-to-the-minute coverage, even while lying flat as bullets flew overhead. Not even the BBC could have done better.

Outside of prime time, local television often seems swamped by scores of American cable stations available. Still, there are some fine news programmes such as Ian Boyne's long-running 'Profile', Dionne Jackson-Miller's 'All Angles', Garfield Burford's 'Direct' and Cliff Hughes' 'Impact'. An episode of Hughes' show - repackaged for FOX TV - won an American Television Emmy award for its interview with the mother of Jamaica-born US mass killer, Lee Boyd Malvo.

In-depth news coverage

The dominant medium for in-depth news coverage is radio and behind-the-headlines type shows on stations, such as RJR, HOT 102, Nationwide News, and Newstalk 93, are mostly high-class. Interviewers are generally well-informed and persistent, making it rather difficult for public figures to run and hide.

Then there are the talk shows that dominate daytime radio, on which callers vigorously debate every conceivable topic with popular hosts such as Ronnie Thwaites, Kingsley 'Ragashanti' Stewart, Orville Taylor, Barbara Gloudon and Mutty Perkins. Even a brief listen makes it obvious that no country enjoys greater freedom of speech, or indulges in it with more gusto.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: