Censorship In Paradise – Broadcast Commission Banning Songs Ill-Advised

“Censorship in Paradise” Statement by William O’Shaughnessy, President, Whitney Media, Editorial Director, WVOX and WVIP

The new “rules” announced on Saturday by the Jamaican Broadcast Commission to ban songs and music videos in that magnificent island nation is ill-advised.  And dangerous.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding is a man of great intelligence and character who does not need to be reminded about the wisdom of our First Amendment which has served America so well for so many years.  It is thus to be urgently hoped that the Prime Minister will “crack down” on his own government regulators who are trying to stifle free expression.  

The broadcasters of Jamaica are “permittees” and “trustees,” with a fiduciary relationship to the airwaves which rightly and properly belong to the people of their country.  Many, most of them, believe that a radio station achieves its highest calling when it resembles a platform, a soapbox.

Someone has to tell the Jamaican Broadcast Commission in no uncertain terms that the popular songs of the day deserve protection – no matter how gross, raucous, raunchy, vulgar, outrageous or “explicit.”

Like we said in the attached piece:  Some of it ain’t so pretty … but all of it needs to be protected.

A song is like an eyewitness report.  The writers of those songs write of the daily life in Jamaica, the daily passions of their countrymen, the milieu in which they live.  They write in the vernacular and with the currency of the day.  

In any society there’s a fine line of taste that constantly changes.  The populace redraws it every season and government can’t stop it.  

People have been making songs to reflect their environment since the beginning of time.  

Jamaica has given wonderful gifts to the world from the collective genius of Bob Marley, Byron Lee, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tesh, Desmond Dekker and Bunny Wailer.  They wrote and sang in the vernacular and with the currency of their day.

Nothing “encourages” people to sin or change history.  Songs are signs, banners:  they do not make history.  

Restricting language is only possible in a totalitarian atmosphere.  It was possible in Germany, in Bulgaria, in Cuba.  It is possible where only one mode of communication dominates.  So, no, you can’t sing an off-color song in Bulgaria.  But even without such songs, they have drunkenness, adultery and suicide – but not on the radio.  

Apparently the Jamaican Broadcast Commission wants a world that is uncomplicated, without pain for their children, not obscene, not profane.  But it is a great mistake to blame songwriters, musical performers and broadcasters for the coarsening of the culture which is occurring worldwide.  

John Updike writes that “popular” composers, from generation to generation, “if they do not teach us how to love, do lend our romances a certain accent and give our courting rites and their milieu … a background of communal experience.”   

It should never be left to government to decide what is “worthy” or meritorious, even one as wise and prescient as the one presided over by Prime Minister Golding who, after only one year, seems so well begun in the hearts of his countrymen and in the eyes of the world.  Nor should it be the province of a regulatory authority to decide what isnot.

Let the people of Jamaica exercise the only permissible form of censorship – by tuning out offensive material.  

Jamaica should get out of the business of censorship and stick to the vital business of hospitality and tourism for which it is so justly renown.