Media coverage of the new Governor-General

January 16, 2009

I sent a version of this letter to the editor on January 16, 2008.

To the editor:

I find the media-driven discussion about the newly appointed Governor-General to be quite disturbing. The absence of basic contextual information, the oblique prejudices as well as speculative claims being expressed about Mr. Allen’s religious beliefs reflect the shortcomings of the reportage on the issue.

It is curious to me why the Gleaner has chosen to represent the new Governor-General in a particular way ie. of highlighting his religious affiliation and thus using it as a qualifier. In light of the prejudices and misinformation that persist about SDA, producing a headline about a “pastor turned GG” and “Adventist cleric” is bound to both inflame public prejudices as well as distract us from the important questions like: why do we still have a Governor-General, and what role do we want the Governor-General to fulfill, given that there is little effort being made for Jamaica to become a republic?

If there has not been any discussion about the religious orientations of the former Governor-General, why is so much being made of the current appointee? Surely it is Mr. Allen’s decision about how he will balance the needs or demands of his spiritual faith in light of this particular position that he has chosen to accept? Surely, given his stature in the SDA denomination, that he would know about the requirements of the job, and that he would have consulted with other members of the SDA leadership before making this decision?

Likewise, the public queries of members of the SDA also reflect their own sense of betrayal, as well as a staunch defense of those practices which they seem to think are being called into question by Mr. Allen’s appointment. Here again, the confusion about and intolerance of diversity of religious practices among SDA becomes evident, and which the media reportage could clarify, but has not done so far. If indeed it is a matter of interpretation whether Mr. Allen is indeed violating some core religious tenet that precludes members of the SDA from participating in political duties, then it would be helpful if the answer did not come from hearsay and speculation, but from the research conducted by the reporters.

But more to the point, it seems as if the objections about Mr. Allen being religious and thus prone to using his political status to proselytize and impose his religious beliefs onto the society, are really about his being Seventh-Day Adventist and not, say, a member of the Church of God. The hypocrisy of many of those who complain becomes evident: there has been no such outcry about melding individual religious beliefs with politics up until now, no matter how retrograde those beliefs have been, and no matter how often we see such a lethal combination of religious beliefs and political power working against the interests of Jamaican people. Indeed, it is rare that media reportage treats religious affiliation as anything but an ordinary, albeit required, part of one’s biography, especially for persons involved in politics.

As I hear all the jokes about jerk pork being banned and people being forced to close their shops and stay home on Saturday, I also hear how easily it is for Jamaicans to be mobilized based on fear and ignorance, rather than on actual information. Underlying the obsessive detailing of all the ways in which the new Governor-General will be handicapped by his religious orientation, then, is the profound fear that one version of fundamentalist Christianity is about to eclipse the other version that is increasingly holding us hostage in this society. That may well happen; after all, the SDA denomination is very active and successful in terms of creating viable institutions that can have a meaningful impact on Jamaican society beyond the physical places of worship and direct proselytizing. Its fundamentalist rivals haven’t been as successful in this regard.

In practice, we should have and continue to be concerned about all our political leaders – appointed or not, symbolic figurehead or not – and the ways that they continue to manipulate and misinterpret religious doctrine to support their own narrow stances.

Given that there is little recognition of the dangers of making religious fundamentalism a part of our political structure, those of us who would prefer a more secular polity are seeing more of the same, and are duly afraid. It seems that all the chatter about “the church” becoming more involved in public life has fallen on the PM’s ears. Aside from the specific practices that SDA use to distinguish themselves, the moral conservatism articulated by Bruce Golding is no different from that coming from the new Governor-General.

So, if there is anything to fear about this appointment, it is this: Amidst the political and economic failures that surround us, this government is being remarkably consistent in finding ways to enshrine conservative religious views everywhere it can, including in the most symbolic of positions. I would think all the devout “law and order” folks who are constantly decrying the death of “morals and values” in Jamaica would be happy; they may have just gotten their strongest ally and defender yet.

Sincerely,

Long Bench
longbench@gmail.com

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13 Responses to “Media coverage of the new Governor-General”

  1. powerofpride Says:

    The Gleaner coverage is more than appropriate, because Adventists have every reason to feel PRIDE

  2. powerofpride Says:

    The Gleaner coverage is more than appropriate, because Adventists have every reason to feel PRIDE about the Great Advent movement!

    http://powerofpride.wordpress.com/2009/01/01/adventist-theology-attractive-to-disenchanted-catholics/

  3. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    Interesting read, you have definitely raised some very salient points regarding the limitations and short comings of the Gleaner’s coverage regarding Dr.Patrick Allen, the newly appointed Governor General, who also happens to be a prominent member and executive of the Seventh Day Adventist(SDA)Church. Certainly,the Gleaner can and should do a much better job,in terms of researching,reporting,and general elucidation of the the various issues, questions, fears, and anxieties that/which concern Jamaicans and would/will inevitably be raised by various groups within the society, including secularists, sundry denominations, members of the SDA, et al,involving the appointment of Dr. Patrick Allen, as a consequence of his denominational affiliation. Yes, indeed, the Gleaner fumbled, mismanaged and certainly dropped the proverbial ball on this one. Also, one finds the last paragraph of your piece, with respect to possible fear or fears and the dedication, apotheosizing and enshrinement of religious conservatism extremely poignant. Nuff respect!!

  4. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    By the way,I hope your piece will be published soon as an LTE.I did look for it in today’s Gleaner, but I did not see it.I wonder why!?

  5. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    Longbench, keep on twittering away. I am enjoying them. Also,your frankness is greatly appreciated.Indeed,twittering is the new revolutionary journalism.LOL!

  6. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    Apparently,we have become a nation of mendicants and panhandlers,from our political elites to the sufferahs downtown.HOW TRAGIC!?

  7. longbench Says:

    @EAR Can you imagine? I really cannot believe that we actually think it is acceptable for these men to be voluntarily hitching our cart to somebody else’s half-dead horse. Yes, better trade agreements and all that would be nice, but they also really didn’t hear what Obama said when im lik out ‘gainst dem oddah country: “your people will judge you not by what you destroy, but by what you build.” Is not only dem who deh fiyah rocket who him put pon notice. Destruction comes in many forms; we well know dat by now.

  8. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    With respect to your last twitter installment re BG surprised and dissapointed in his administration’s performance,I find such a state of constertation and dismay on the part of BG extremely hilarious,amusing and comical in a non-sequitur manner — an inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence. Quite interestingly, and also frankly,one is of the perspective that the Prime Minister needs to break loose from the sycophants who surround him constantly. And in so doing,the real Jamaica will immediately become conspicuous as opposed to constant flattery, adulation, and boot-licking on the part of servile self-seekers.

  9. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    Please read consternation in terms of the spelling error above.Apparently,I am experiencing difficulties with the keys on the computer.

  10. duttybwoy Says:

    I didn’t even know we changed GG (shame). They should have appointed a Rastafarian then some closed minded prejudice individuals would loose their minds.

  11. longbench Says:

    But DB, a wich’e rockstone yuh deh unda all dis time?? I sure wish I could block out the madness the way you were able to. Share some tips!

    A Bobo-dred would be the height of irony: not only someone with absolutely no respect for the notion of a white queen who is their overseer, but who would thinks the PM is the spawn of Babylon. Oh, that would be precious. Not here though..

  12. Javed Jaghai Says:

    Longbench, we need to talk. I need more people like you in my life. 😀

    That said, I strongly believe that religious conservatism and its sister, moral objectivism, stifle intellectual curiosity and hinder the development of a national worldview to guide us through the 21st century.

    It upsets me when I hear Adventist praising Mr. Allen’s appointment as an honour for the Adventist church; people can never look beyond the narrow confines of their own reality. In his role, he is foremost a Jamaican, and frankly, I could care less if he was Muslim, Jew, Jehovah’s Witness or Baptist.

    I remember reading an editorial in the Gleaner a few weeks back, in which the writer was saying how the prolonged, unwarranted marginalization of Adventists has finally come to an end (similar to how people short-sightedly say racism, and racial prejudices are no longer characteristic of the American reality), and I thoght to myself, “what the eff are you going on about?”

    Then there is the representation of this issue in the print media. Sometimes I wonder if the Gleaner and Observer reporters have brains. Their simplistic analyses and often prejudiced representations of certain classes, work to further entrench Jamaica’s intellectual deficiencies, and further divisiveness in the society.

    You know what though, I have no time to ponder on the appointment of figurehead, who has no place in today’s Jamaica. Wen wi kuda go Britn iizi iizi, i wehn mek lik sens…but now, let us not kid ourselves. Our allegiance to the British Queen as our head of state has no tangible benefits, and rest assured, di kwiin figat bout wi lang taim! hehe

    • longbench Says:

      Javed: Thanks for stopping by and for leaving trails for others to follow. Nuh badda chrow rockstone backa yuh a’right? This blog is my small response to the half-assed reportage that finds its way into print. I just don’t know what goes on in the editorial meetings that would lead news editors to accept the kind of stuff that the journalists put out. There are some that are marginally better in terms of writing and analytical skills. But I can tell there are constraints on what they can write about. There doesn’t seem much emphasis on having a single reporter follow through on all the angles of a story, for example. That would force more indepth analysis, at least in theory.


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