Monday, November 3, 2008

Classist Reports in Jamaican Print Media

One day, while leisurely reading through the Jamaica Observer online, I was shocked to come across this article, which seemed to me a subjective evaluation of "ghetto people", as opposed to the impartial news report it should have been.

Residents protest against detention of 53 people
Saturday, November 01, 2008- The Jamaica Observer

RESIDENTS of several communities along Spanish Town Road in Kingston yesterday staged a noisy demonstration to protest against last Friday's fatal shooting of a gang leader and Thursday's detention of 53 people.

The noisy protesters, who congregated at the entrance to the volatile (not poverty stricken or impoverished) Crescent and St Joseph roads (along Spanish Town Road, lambasted (criticize harshly) the police of unfairly targeting their communities and accused them of killing their community leader in cold blood last Friday.

The gang leader, identified as Dave Sterling, alias 'Machine Man', was shot dead when he allegedly pointed a firearm at the police along Collie Smith Drive in Trench Town. Among the 53 detained in the early morning raids by the police on Thursday was a man who the police said was earlier this week 'installed' as head of the Rat Bat gang, less than a week after the death of Machine Man.

Police did not release the name of the reputed gang leader but said he was behind a series of criminal activities in Kingston, including murder, rape and extortion.

The detainees, which include two women, were still being processed late yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, the placard-bearing demonstrators accused the police of targeting their communities, even as (what, they were brazen in their accusations? Mistaken in their approach?) a group of officers kept watch from the opposite side of the road.

"Them a terrorise we and we not warring with anybody," a lanky youngster said. "Machine Man take care of we; is him send whole heap of people pickney go school and them kill him, for what?" a bleached-out face woman asked.

"Them come lock up the people them from yesterday (Thursday) and is them same people keeping the peace in the place," said another woman, clad in a skimpy outfit as she stood at the entrance to Delacree Park.

Sections of Spanish Town Road, Crescent and St Joseph Roads and Coral Lane, where the raids were carried out on Thursday morning, have been tense since Machine Man's death last Friday. According to the police, the Rat Bat gang and men from other sections of the community located between Spanish Town and Waltham Park roads have been involved in an ongoing fight for turf. More than a dozen people have been murdered in the bloody rivalry since the start of the year, the police said.

In grade 8 at St. Mary High School, I was taught that unlike tabloids and magazines, which sensationalize headlines in reaching a target group of individuals, the Observer and the Gleaner were more objective. I trusted that view, until I was able to discern subjective blabber from that which truly serves to enhance the intelligence of Jamaicans, in lifting the illiterate and unaware from the abyss of ignorance.

An article printed in the Observer on November 1 entitled “Residents protest against detention of 53 people” is one example of the ‘subjective blabber’ I detest reading in these reputed sources of news and information. Though I am aware that it is difficult to be completely unbiased in reporting anything, it was startling to see the writer blatantly convey a bias towards one impoverished, and marginalized community in Spanish Town.

It is well known that criminal masterminds shrewdly take advantage of the destitute in their communities, by offering them money and ‘security’, which inadvertently buys their allegiance. It is therefore not surprising that community members passionately turn to the streets to protest the death of their ‘community leaders’, whatever the cause of death.

In the article, the writer labels the community members as ‘noisy protesters’ and further invalidates their claims by using descriptors such as ‘lanky youngster’, ‘bleached-out face woman’ and ‘woman, clad in a skimpy outfit’. These terms undermine both the value of their opinions, and the authority of the Observer, which has failed in its responsibility to accurately report the views of Jamaicans from all socioeconomic backgrounds. With this article, a great disservice was done to those in Jamaica who are mired in an exploitative relationship they are oblivious to and helpless to changing.

Jamaicans everywhere are under attack from societal ills we seem powerless to solving. We must fight together as a nation, against the realities that lead to the exploitation of people in our marginalized communities. How brazen of the writer to articulate such despicable prejudice in a news report. The media has the capacity to shape perceptions, and must be careful that it does not promote divisiveness. Objectivity is but an ideal, but greater effort needs to be made towards achieving it.


  1. wow, this is so good. glad i discovered it even if belatedly. class bias in the media is something ive been writing about for a while, but i've become so used to this kind of reporting that i must say i didn't even pick up on the inherent biases in such stories.

  2. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I have to wonder sometimes if the people writing for the Gleaner and the Observer have their heads properly attached to their bodies. The reporters sometimes think so parochially, with no sensitivity to certain sociocultural issues that Jamaica faces. Newspapers should receive critical opprobrium for pieces such as this one, because such classist views subliminally help to perpetuate divisions that retard Jamaica's development.

    Thanks for reading Annie.

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