Monday, September 6, 2010
September 2010 Tom Gruchy writes :
1 Proposition 100 lodged by the Privileges and Procedures Committee is the latest spiteful and personalized attack on the rights of just a few people who operate under the “Team Voice” banner.
2 Team Voice are “bloggers,” “citizen’s media,” unpaid reporters, campaigners or lobbyists who have published three political sites for a couple of years as :
3 These three “blog” sites include written texts, recorded camcorder interviews, still pictures and cartoons and comments from the general public.
They follow in an ancient and historic tradition for political journalism using the latest available technology and daring to challenge authoritarian, smug, undemocratic or just plain silly governments.
4 These sites uniquely offer in-depth recorded interviews with politicians or others on a wide range of subjects.
Occasionally, interviews have been recorded within the States building and a few minutes of recordings from Scrutiny Panel meetings have been published. These have always been produced wholly within the existing guidelines as laid down, with the full permission of the participants and without interference through editing.
5 Team Voice has never contravened any of the rules or protocols laid down with regard to making recordings within the States Building.
Team Voice has never recorded within the States Chamber itself.
6 No other bloggers, so far as is known, have ever sought to record any interviews within the States building or to make or publish any recordings of Scrutiny Panel proceedings.
Therefore, this legislation, where it refers to “bloggers” making recordings within the States building or its environs, is based solely upon misleading information about the activities of Team Voice and is intended to discredit the reputation of Team Voice members.
7 Why the Committee should want to present such derogatory and misleading information to the States about a few Jersey citizens is not at all evident. Yet, this is just the latest attempt by a few States members, over the past eighteen months or so, to curtail Team Voice reporting activities, by any means.
8 The Committee’s motivation is all the more odd since Senator Ben Shenton, one of the most active of the Team Voice critics, has been more than happy to be interviewed on several occasions and has never complained about the published results.
Ironically, he has been exposed as a secret recorder of telephone conversations.
9 The Committee seeks to suppress the freedom of expression of Team Voice members by resorting to extraordinary, discriminatory and heavy-handed legislation thereby imposing profound and disturbing restrictions on the free speech and freedom of expression of others, for years ahead.
10 As we so often hear in other contexts – if there is no problem, why try to fix it?
11 There are thousands of bloggers on the Internet, just as there are thousands of published newspapers, journals and other media sources. No rational observer would condemn the “Times” for the content of the “Daily Sport.” Yet, for some reason the Committee seeks to tar all bloggers by the same brush and all must apparently be condemned and legislated against, because of the few strays. However, this legislation will do nothing to address any perceived problems with those bloggers who publish false information or critical comments that offend the Committee members because these rules and codes do not apply to them. They do not operate within the States building.
12 On the other hand, this legislation will not exclude any disreputable newspaper reporters, camera operators or others who happen to satisfy the “accredited media” criteria either. Thus, those BBC, Channel TV, 103, JEP, News of the World, Daily Sport, Washington Post or Timbuktu Times journalists who want to record within the States building will be welcomed, provided they claim some credibility from any outside “authority.”
That they or their parent media operation might engage in phone-tapping, concealed sound and visual recording, bribery, misreporting or any other unethical practices is not important – just so long as they can produce a scrap of paper that says “accredited.”
13 This attempt to suppress “dissident” journalism is nothing new.
A Free Press, freedom of speech and expression or imparting views to others have not been gained by journalists passively submitting to the whims of oppressive government or to those with power. Throughout history these rights have had to be fought for and the petty rules of government censorship or bureaucracy, challenged.
14 Many have given their lives or suffered imprisonment or other punishments and hardships. The likes of John Wilkes and Tom Paine are among the many thousands who resisted the oppressive rules of their day against publishing the details or engaging in discussions that governments wanted to hide or suppress. Their battles laid the very foundation for the international Human Rights obligations that have been set down and are supposed to secure these freedoms across the world today – even in Jersey.
15 It is especially significant that Jersey’s first newspaper editor and printer – Mathieu Alexandre – was prosecuted in the 1780’s by the Island’s oppressive governing, Lempriere dominated, Royal Court.
Alexandre had engaged in critical campaigning against them and was almost ruined by their subsequent criminal libel action. It was the typical retaliation of a spiteful and all-powerful government in a small community and is remarkably similar to the reaction of the Committee towards Team Voice now.
16 Alexandre’s persecution was not unique.
John Shebbeare published pamphlets and books at about the same time against the same Royal Court tyranny and he had already been imprisoned in England for his political writing and had stood in the pillory.
The Jersey dissenters of 28 September 1769 had also challenged the same Lempriere dynasty and were threatened with execution or transportation for their various activities that included the publication of pamphlets and petitions calling for major reforms of the corrupt governmental and judicial system.
John Bailhache was another Jerseyman who held Republican views that did not fit in with those of the entrenched Jersey Royalist establishment. He trained as a printer but emigrated to America in 1810, becoming a major newspaper editor, publisher and owner.
Unlike his Jersey relations and descendants he never lost any enthusiasm for a “free press” as “the only true guardian of the people’s rights and liberties.”
Abraham Le Cras was yet another great publisher and editor of reforming newspapers out of his print-shop in Hope Street, St. Helier for several decades in the nineteenth century. He too was pursued by the ultra-conservative Jersey government in the courts in an effort to silence him and he was assaulted in the street several times.
17 Le Cras, Bailhache and Alexandre, were in the historic tradition of those brave journalists prepared to lobby and campaign against the excesses of corrupt governments and to provide a forum for critical debate.
18 The expulsion of Victor Hugo from Jersey for publishing critical comments about Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century probably represented the low-point of censorship in Jersey prior to the German Occupation, nearly a century later.
19 More recently, even the JEP has been known to wake occasionally from its great journalistic sleep on occasions to challenge secretive Jersey institutions. Thus, journalist Anthony Lewis bravely led a successful resistance against the Jersey Royal Court’s attempt to conceal the case of the “Qatar Slush Fund” in 2002. The sordid case revealed corruption at the highest levels of the international arms trade and was a great embarrassment to the governments of Qatar, the UK and Jersey. The public right to know was victorious and the JEP published details of the hearings but it was a rare occurrence from this newspaper though not from Jersey’s oppressive administration.
20 Two decades earlier the outcome for John Rothwell, then a young journalist with Channel TV, was not so good after he revealed details of illegal military exports via Jersey to embargoed South Africa. He was sacked.
21 The Committee’s attempt to suppress Team Voice whilst giving preferential treatment to the so called “accredited media” has to be viewed in the context of an Island where the Freedom of Information Law has been dropped from the agenda once again.
22 Proposition 100, serves as a sop to the lazy “accredited” journalists who have a too cosy, undemanding relationship with Jersey government and institutions.
With the Internet challenging the traditional media on a world-wide basis, especially where advertising income is concerned, this legislation is intended to help defend a press monopoly which is ultimately doomed to collapse.
23 The official silence of so many “accredited journalists” in Jersey regarding Proposition 100 is indicative of a failed press corps that is afraid to rock the boat or to engage in discussions that might impinge on self-interests.
24 The need for the Jersey government to retain a sympathetic and compliant “accredited media” is especially important during these cost cutting times where they serve as the government’s semi-official PR and publicity department.
25 With so many States publications, such as “Scrutiny Matters” or departmental freebies under threat of termination, the need to keep the private media “on side” was never more important to Jersey government. At the same time, the impoverished “accredited media” was never more reliant upon government support, advertising revenue and ready-prepared press handouts.
27 Google and friends have simply blown apart the old restraints on access to information – government secrecy is being challenged all over the world. The Jersey government’s response is predictably inadequate and ill-conceived and should be rejected. There is no point in attempting to amend or make more acceptable the proposals that are manifestly ill-founded.
28 That all people, whether within the States building or elsewhere should behave with respect towards one another is so obvious that it hardly requires further legislation to confirm it. This attempt to conceal censoring intentions against a few bloggers, under a thin veil of discriminatory codes, is a disgraceful abuse of power and waste of governmental time.
29 Quite how the Jersey administration proposes to delegate the media accreditation power to outside agencies in any other jurisdictions except Jersey is an extraordinary constitutional step – especially at a time when the Island is supposed to be developing its own “international profile” and independence.
If any of the delegated agencies decide to give accreditation to bloggers in the near future, shall they be struck from the approved accreditation list?
30 There are many such questions that need to be asked with regard to the practicalities of such a silly legislative proposal but it is built upon such absurd notions that it hardly seems to warrant further critical attention.
Who in their right mind could conclude, in this day and age, that “accredited journalists” are committed to accuracy and truth, fairness, balance, impartiality, ethical conduct etc or do not act as lobbyists or are professionally trained ?
If the Committee members really do believe such nonsense, then they have failed dismally to carry out the research that their task required and the States has been very ill-served. Where is the locally researched evidence? Is there even a register of locally based “accredited journalists?”
31 The suggestion that there are existing, effective complaints procedures against “accredited journalists” through the likes of the NUJ, Ofcom, the BBC Trust or the Press Complaints Commission also needs to be supported by locally based data. Has the Committee spoken to any Jersey residents who have actually submitted complaints and what percentage was successful?
32 As with accreditation, the delegation of the complaints process to agencies totally outside the control of Jersey government is an extraordinary one.
Why has the Committee not proposed a complaints procedure for ALL journalists and bloggers that is wholly controlled within Jersey?
33 The Privileges and Procedures Committee Media Working Party members, namely, Senator Ben Shenton, Constable J. Gallichan (Trinity) and Deputy Angela Jeune (St Brelade) have dressed up their proposals under a cloak of respectability.
Proposition 100 is padded out with attention diverting suggestions of better States information services and audio streaming of Scrutiny proceedings, but it is really just the latest attempt to suppress free expression and promote discrimination.
Such proposals are only possible in a community that has such scant regard for human rights obligations or aspirations and it is especially significant that the Committee does not even refer to any international obligations that should be considered such as those included in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention of Human Rights.
What would Mathieu Alexandre say?
The States are due to debate Proposition 100 on 28 September – ironically, the date of the Jersey Revolution in 1769 which led to the creation of a more democratic government!!!!