Now is not the time to try and grab headlines at any cost

Letters to the Editor

Now is not the time to try and grab headlines at any cost

Sunday, April 05, 2020

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Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter to both the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner, as well as the editor of the Jamaica Observer and I hope you will allow me the opportunity to share my message with your readers.

The vital role of the media over the next few weeks and months cannot be overstated. In times of crisis the dissemination of accurate information is crucial to the managing of such a crisis, and to avoiding unnecessary panic by keeping citizens well informed. You both, therefore, carry a life-changing responsibility as the primary news sources for Jamaica, which means you need to get it right!

I was therefore quite taken aback when I saw that the United States Embassy had to come out and go out of its way to correct a story that was printed in the Gleaner on March 30th, seeking to give the impression that the US was attempting to 'woo away' health care workers from Jamaica via a recent website posting.

In a statement immediately following that story, the embassy said it was concerned that there were a number of incorrect assertions in the Gleaner story. More than that, the embassy basically said the Gleaner was not representing accurate information when it said that the embassy's public affairs officer had been contacted but had not responded. The embassy denied that it was seeking to undermine the health care system, but the damage had already been done.

Armed with its 'interpretation' of the embassy post — that medical professionals with already approved petitions were welcome to continue to apply — the Gleaner went and reached out to Minister of Health Christopher Tufton who expressed his surprise that such a thing would be going on, possibly creating a situation between the minister and his US counterparts.

But the Gleaner went even further and put this to the Nurses' Association of Jamaica, which responded by saying that the migration of nurses could shut down the local health sector — a terrifying thing in the current situation and one that would definitely create panic among the population. Only for us to hear, within hours of the story being published, that the information had been misrepresented and that proper clarification was not sought.

Now, the Gleaner carried the embassy's statement a day later but put 'clarified' in inverted commas in its story, apparently having not learnt its lesson and continuing to insist on giving the impression that its sensational handling of the information was in some way justified. The paper also chose to harp on the fact that the embassy, because of the Gleaner story, said it was going to 'more clearly word' the publication.

However, the fact that the embassy could have referred to the way the Jamaica Observer handled the story as 'an accurate depiction of US Government policies as well as a full attributed response from the embassy's spokesperson', only shows that if the Gleaner had taken its time, it could have avoided creating a situation of panic.

That's not the behaviour needed at this time when our people are already under the shadow of COVID-19. As demonstrated when the Gleaner put its spin on the information to the health minister and then the Nurses' Association, the accumulation of errors was dangerous since they, in turn, could trigger highly dangerous events that should not happen in the first place.

This behaviour just will not do, and I put it to the Gleaner, and I hope the Observer and all local media in Jamaica can learn from this incident, that they need to be more responsible in what they distribute to the public.

Now is not the time to try and grab headlines at any cost, particularly where that cost is the compromising of the cardinal principles of journalism. Now is the time for proper, accurate and responsible reporting, because we are all in this together.

Frank Solomon

Kingston 8

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