‘What transpired was disgraceful’
RJRGleaner Communications Group CEO rebukes PNP for attack on journalists; party apologises, says it will investigate incident that took place at its headquarters
FOLLOWING A flood of condemnation for an incident in which a female journalist was threatened with rape, and the same reporter and another media colleague castigated for wearing green at the People’s National Party’s (PNP) headquarters on Monday evening, the party says it deeply regrets both incidents and has issued its unreserved apology.
President of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), Milton Walker, said the threat of rape is a new low which has sent chills among female journalists in Jamaica.
Walker says the PAJ strongly condemns Monday night’s attack on journalists at the PNP headquarters in St Andrew.
The female reporter from the RJRGLEANER Communications Group was subjected to the offensive and threatening comment as she sought to interview PNP Vice-President Mikhail Phillips about a public interest matter regarding the installation of Dr Alfred Dawes as the party’s standard-bearer for the St Catherine South East constituency.
One of several persons who turned up at the PNP headquarters on Monday to protest Dawes’ selection reportedly issued the threat, saying “Mi can rape you, enuh.”
This development comes at a time when Jamaica has plunged 20 places in the World Press Freedom Index.
The country now ranks 32 out of 180 countries, down from a rank of 12 in 2022.
The 21st World Press Freedom Index was published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on May 3 to mark World Press Freedom Day.
In its report, RSF noted that physical attacks on Jamaican journalists are rare, but they do happen.
“We wish to express our deep concern regarding last night’s (Monday) incident at the PNP headquarters. The entire affair is regrettable, and the party tenders its unreserved apologies to the media workers and the public at large,” said Donna Scott-Mottley, opposition spokesperson on information and justice.
And in a letter to President of the PNP Mark Golding, Chief Executive Officer of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, Gary Allen, expressed alarm, disgust and disbelief about the incident on Monday in which an employee of the company was verbally abused and threatened with rape by one of several persons who were unhappy that the journalist was pursuing a legitimate public-interest story about the party’s selection controversy.
Allen charged that “what transpired was disgraceful conduct towards anyone, especially towards a female, and particularly towards a media worker”.
In a sharp rebuke, Allen said that the RJRGLEANER Communications Group “condemns this behaviour and expects a full and clear repudiation of those involved, an apology to our staff and all media workers who were verbally abused at the facility yesterday” (Monday).
He urged the party to commit to providing an acceptable environment for media workers to report on matters of public interest surrounding the party.
The Media Association of Jamaica Limited (MAJL) said that “this is not an occurrence to be taken lightly; journalists must not be subjected to any threats or attacks, verbal or otherwise, whilst carrying out their duties on behalf of this nation”.
In a release to the media yesterday, the MAJL denounced the threat of rape and lack of comment on matters of public interest; and called on the PNP to take action against the guilty individuals.
“The threat of rape is representative of the low we have reached in our society where too many of our females are being harassed and, in many cases, physically attacked. Further, the refusal of the public official to comment on matters of public interest is worrying, and the discrimination against a journalist’s attire smacks of tribal politics. These actions have the effect of eroding our foundation of press freedom and threaten our democracy,” the release said.
It added: “ The leadership of the PNP must take immediate action to discipline those who are involved in this travesty and demonstrate very clearly that they distance themselves from this alarming behaviour unbecoming of the leadership this country deserves.”
In a statement yesterday, Scott-Mottley said the party “strongly condemns such comments and does not support any act of violence against citizens, especially our women, and will support any investigation by the authorities of this matter, and are prepared to take swift and appropriate action against the perpetrator”.
Further, she said that the PNP “unreservedly extends our sincere apologies to the journalist who was subjected to such abuse”.
“We have spoken with her directly, as well as with her supervisors, and have expressed our regret for what happened and have offered our unreserved apologies. She has been assured of our commitment to investigating the matter fully and ensuring that the offenders are disciplined,” Scott-Mottley added.
In a Gleaner interview, Scott-Mottley said that supporters from St Catherine South East descended on the party headquarters on Old Hope Road, St Andrew, to protest the selection of Dawes to represent the party in the next general election.
“This is not unusual, nothing like that is going to be seamless,” she said. “You are going to always find disgruntled supporters, and you are also going to find persons who simply take advantage of the situation to create mischief.”
As the only female vice-president of the party, Scott-Mottley said she was making it “absolutely clear that there are certain things that I am not going to tolerate and I am not going to uphold”.
PNP DISTANCES ITSELF FROM DEPUTY GEN SEC
At the same time, the PNP is distancing itself from the disrespectful conduct of its deputy general secretary, Dexroy Martin, who sought to chase two reporters, one from the RJRGLEANER Communications Group and the other from Nationwide News Network (NNN) from the party’s headquarters for wearing green.
The RJRGLEANER reporter was wearing a green pants and the NNN reporter a green shirt.
Allen described Martin’s conduct as shocking, noting that “such tribal vestige is to be abandoned by any serious person or organisation as nonsensical”.
Responding to this development, Scott-Mottley indicated that the country had come a long way from the divisiveness associated with party colours and tribal politics.
“I am intolerant of that. We have come a long way from that. Even when we sit in Parliament, people on the other side wear red or orange, and persons on our side wear green,” Scott-Mottley said.
“This sort of conduct, we thought we had thrown it away a long time ago, we had discarded it, and I am deeply disturbed that such an observation would have been made,” she added.
She noted that Martin had expressed his sincere apology and deep contrition for his behaviour towards the media workers.
“I know that he felt that he had gone too far, and we have made it known that we are intolerant of that kind of attitude towards the press, or, indeed, any citizen of this country,” she stated.
“He knows that he has crossed a boundary, and I am sure that the media will hear from him as he conveys his apology to the journalist, and to the young female journalist in particular.”
Commenting further on the incident, Walker said there were two incidents almost simultaneously at the party’s headquarters.
He said in one incident, a Radio Jamaica journalist was threatened with rape and, along with a NNN reporter, verbally attacked.
The other incident involved a Television Jamaica crew. The crew was threatened by a PNP supporter at the party headquarters. The supporter reportedly picked up a stone and began approaching and threatening the reporter, before eventually throwing away the stone.
“These acts are unacceptable and a violation of the fundamental human rights of the journalists,” said Walker.
He said journalists play a critical role in providing information to the public and must be able to do so without the fear of violence or intimidation.