Friday, April 20, 2018

Whirlwind of Positivity for Special Needs

Excerpt from Observer column published 16 April 2018

By Jean Lowrie-Chin

The arrival of Special Olympics International CEO Mary Davis, hosted by the Digicel Foundation, ushered in a whirlwind of positivity for the special needs community last week.  

We headed out to Lyssons, St Thomas on Tuesday morning for the opening of the 10th special needs centre in Jamaica, sponsored by the Foundation.  The enthusiasm of Mrs. Jaqueline Wilmot Hendricks, Site Coordinator for Lyssons Special Needs Centre was contagious, as we toured the facilities where there are not only instructions in the basic subjects, but projects that can assist in promoting sustainability.  The students proudly showed off large games boards they had painted – Checkers, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders, that will go on sale soon.

Later that day, we enjoyed the company of our Special Olympians, their staff led by Lorna Bell and Board headed by Alrick 'Alli' McNab, and newly appointed State Minister of Sports, Culture, Entertainment and Gender Alando Terrelonge, coincidentally brother of Emcee and Special Olympics Board Director Paula Pinnock.  We watched the Unified Team of Special Olympians and students from Pembroke Hall Primary engage in a game of bocce – this sees the engagement of students with their intellectually challenged sisters and brothers, promoting respect and inclusion.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister Olivia Grange received us at Jamaica House, and we are looking forward to a Labour Day collaboration with Minister Grange, "Ramp it Up" as we build more ramps in schools and public buildings.

Our 'Conversations on Special Needs' at the Jamaica Conference Centre last Wednesday, included presentations by Pastor Phillip Johnson, the father of an autistic son, and Radcliffe Richards, the father of a daughter with Down's Syndrome.  They moved us with their passion for inclusion, and their conviction that their children are God-given gifts, who have kindled in them and their families deep love and devotion. 

Senator Floyd Morris, Director, UWI Centre for Disability Studies called on the Government to set an effective Date for the Disabilities Act, passed in 2014, to come into force. Indeed, we learned that countries that do not promote inclusion are losing millions as an increasing number of visitors and investors shop around for special-needs-friendly destinations.  

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Yes, Journalism IS Special - PAJ President Jackson-Miller

As a proud member of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) I endorse this important message from our President. 

Op-Ed on Data Protection Act
from PAJ President

Dionne Jackson-Miller

One of the perhaps predictable responses to calls by the Press Association of Jamaica & the Media Association of Jamaica to exempt journalism entirely from the Data Protection Act, has been to ask  "Who do they think they are?" and  "Do they think they're special?"

The very easy answer to that question is yes, we are! Not as individuals, but because journalism occupies a special, privileged position in democratic countries, because of the tremendous significance of freedom of the press.

Because parliamentarians refused to include a clause protecting the right to a free press in Jamaica's Charter of Rights, the press rely on the right to freedom of expression. But still, the importance of the press as a sub-set claiming protection of that right is undeniable.

UNESCO said on World Press Freedom Day 2014:

"…a free, pluralistic and independent news media, on all platforms, is important for facilitating good governance and transparency. Within the much-broadened media landscape, news media still remain central conduits for ongoing public assessments of the activities of government and other institutions that have developmental impact…Only when journalists are free to monitor, investigate and criticize a society's policies and actions can good governance take hold."

This is a principle that has been recognised by courts, advocacy groups, and inter-governmental organisations for decades.

Jamaica has consistently ranked extremely high on the press freedom index developed every year by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, and successive governments have made few overt moves to curtail that freedom. This does not mean we can relax our vigilance, as freedom of expression is easily, and insidiously, undermined.

Having grown up in a country in which we can fire off letters to the editor on every conceivable topic and call up local radio programmes (constrained only by the restrictions of defamation law), not to mention speak our minds at community meetings to political representatives and government officials, it becomes easy to take our freedoms for granted.

In the criticism of Jamaican journalism for not being better than it is, in the rush to dismiss local news output as inadequate and superficial, it's easy to forget how critical it is to have a free and open media. It's easy to forget the good work done, in condemning the poor.

It's easy to forget that Jamaican journalists have been responsible for many important stories about waste and corruption in government, stories about the plight of suffering citizens overlooked and ignored by the systems of government that exist to help them, stories about ineffective and unresponsive government agencies, and that Jamaican media have given a voice to a diversity of views on society and government policy, many sharply critical of government, and have held politicians to account.

This is not an attempt, today, to defend the quality of Jamaican journalism. We can always do better and must always aim to do better.

But what we are doing is critical in a democratic society. So no, the work of journalists cannot be equated to the work of other business operators, for the purposes of the concerns we have raised about the Data Protection Act. These include the certain chilling effect of the criminal penalties, fines and imprisonment, which could be imposed on journalists and media houses, the requirements to register and provide particulars of reasons for the collection and use of information, the lack of protection for journalistic "sources" and the dangers to the financial viability of our media houses.

It's not the same because journalism occupies a special place in democratic societies and discussions about protecting the profession must begin with this realisation.

In October 2017, the Financial Times published an article titled "UK Warns Data Rules Used to Stifle Journalism." The article said, among other things that:

-          " the tactic of invoking data protection rules to squash coverage is also being used against investigative journalism"

-          "editorial legal director at The Times and Sunday Times, said: "We are getting told when we go to subjects for comment that we can't process their personal data, which raises the concern that post-publication we might be mired in a costly action"

-          "some subjects named in the Sunday Times's 2015 investigation into blood doping in athletics — which involved the records of 12,359 blood tests taken from more than 5,000 athletes — tried to use data protection laws to prevent their personal information being released"

"even where unsuccessful, the time and costs involved for media companies in defending such cases could stifle free speech, lawyers warned"

Impacts on the much smaller media houses in Jamaica could be disastrous.

Now would be a good time to tek sleep and mark death.

Dionne Jackson Miller

President, Press Association of Jamaica


--
"A Free Press, Oxygen of Democracy"

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Food for the Poor Easter Prison releases

Sandra Ramsay & and Correctional Services Officials brief freed inmates at last Christmas FFP Prison Release


Excerpt from column 

by Jean Lowrie-Chin 

published in Jamaica Observer 2 April 2018

 

This is the 20th year of the Food for the Poor prison ministry programme which has seen the release of hundreds of non-violent inmates at Easter and Christmas, by paying their fines. Among the 113 released in the region for Easter, were two women from Fort Augusta and three from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre and the Black River Police Station. Each was given words of encouragement, a hot meal, personal care items and money for transportation home.

 

"I prayed for God to provide something new for me and my family, something different for us to start over… a new life," one of the women said through tears. "I believe, with all my heart that Food for The Poor coming here today to pay my fine, is a direct answer from God. Even last night, I prayed and I said, 'God, free me please' and today, I am a free woman."


Additionally, more than 7,000 former inmates also have benefited from Food for the Poor Jamaica's (FFPJ) "Fresh Start Programme" that helps with profitable jobs, such as welding, carpentry and farming. Two young brothers in St. Catherine who previously had their fines paid for by Food for The Poor started a successful car-washing business - FFPJ staff and local police officers are some of their most loyal customers.



A Time for Renewal - Jamaica Cabinet Reshuffle

His Excellency The Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, Governor-General (3rd left) and The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister (3rd right) share lens with the newly appointed Members of Cabinet following the swearing-in ceremony at King's House, March 27, 2018. From left are Mr. Zavia Mayne – State Minister, Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Mr. Alando Terrelonge - State Minister, Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; Mrs. Fayval Williams - Minister without Portfolio, Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and Dr. Nigel Clarke - Minister of Finance and the Public Service. 
- King's House Photo

Excerpt from Jamaica Observer column by Jean Lowrie-Chin 

published 2-April-2018

Last week's Cabinet reshuffle was a signal from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that leadership must respond to the demands of the times. The announcement was followed by the usual kudos and criticism, the right of free speech in our precious democracy. Most of the protests came from the movement of Minister Audley Shaw from Finance to Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.  However, we wholeheartedly agree with him that this is in no way a demotion. Indeed, it is a powerhouse ministry that can help us achieve that 'five-in-four' growth, by tackling our stunting bureaucracy, supporting our hardworking farmers with game-changing technology and providing enticing opportunities to stanch our ominous brain-drain.

 

The promotion of Minister Fayval Williams to full Cabinet status is encouraging for those of us who have been advocating for more women in public sector leadership. She will be the fifth woman in our Cabinet, joining Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Minister Shahine Robinson, Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte.

 

There is a balance of youth and age in the Cabinet, as we welcome the brilliant new Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke and State Ministers Alando Terrelonge and Xavier Mayne, while noting that those astute seniors Ministers Mike Henry and Karl Samuda have been assigned to the Office of the Prime Minister. The hard-working Minister Robert Montague steps across to the substantial Transport and Mining Ministry while the durable Minister Horace Chang takes up the challenging Ministry of National Security. 

 

We should make it our duty to support our Ministers and Members of Parliament (JLP and PNP) in their efforts for the development and protection of our country. Our Opposition is expected to contribute and criticize, but we should never forget our higher purpose of unity for the greater good.