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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica


Dominica Broadcasting Corporation (DBS radio) decision to ban Sye’s “Doctor Finger” last week brought into sharp focus the issue of censorship in Dominica, and how calypso fans here in Dominica detest any level of interference by the State in the art-form, justifiable or not.

On the Sun’s front page article last week, station’s programme director, Shermaine Green-Brown stated that will not be the last time that the state-owned station will deem a song inappropriate for broadcast.

Of course, some persons criticised DBS’s decision, and conveniently ignore the fact that the station has a responsibility to protect itself against being sued for libel and that its management would be extremely irresponsible to act contrary to professional legal advice.

The State-owned radio station was also considering banning of two politically charged songs, which accuse the ruling party of corruption: Yakima’s “Looking for your pocket’ and Prosper’s “Ma Dominique’s garbage bin”. But after a bitterly contested general election, Dominicans are just slowly recovering and cannot be blamed for coming to the conclusion that politicians had a hand in the decision to quarantine these songs.

Nevertheless, Dominican authorities must pay close attention to other lyrics which glorify guns, drugs, violence or deviant behaviour. Calypso, as a art form have tremendous influence on the behaviour of youth, in particular, and governments have a responsibility to ensure that the values of society are respected and maintained.

And If such is the case, shouldn’t the government demand that Jamaican artists who are invited to our country to perform at various concerts have to be forced to respect our anti-narcotics laws. As far as we are aware, ganja is still an illegal drag; recently a Jamaican artist who performed at the Harlem Plaza strutted onto stage with a large ganja plant. Or does the law only pertain too certain individuals?

Dominican Artists, please take note.

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Comment by Dan
2010-02-06 11:31:33

Chris, your editorial is well-reasoned and well-stated. I come from the US, which has wrestled for years with the division line between speech freedom and societal good.

It is easy to quote John Stuart Mill on free speech, but his application only truly fits an impossible Utopian society. Likewise, it is easy to quote the “law and order” zealots on speech, but their prohibitions usually trun out to be increasingly repressive.

And it is easy to blame the radio stations or the government for “censorship” and conveniently forget that the speakers also have responsibility for what they say.

Also, what motivates this supposedly “political” speech? Is it a profit motive? Are the speakers’ intentions political or commercial?

Comment by Steve Foerster
2010-02-06 22:28:39

There is no “division line between speech freedom and societal good”, because censorship is not a societal good. There’s freedom of speech, and it’s an absolute — like virginity, it’s either intact or it’s not.

As a state-owned media outlet, DBS has a responsibility not only to act in an impartial fashion, but also to be perceived as acting impartially. By not playing songs critical of the government, and by refusing to cover the recent elections in a way that was widely believed to be to the benefit of the incumbents, they have failed in this responsibility, even if they haven’t done these things at the behest of the government.

This raises the question why DBS must continue to be state owned at all. The only compelling interest in having a publicly owned radio station is if it reaches populations in Dominica who otherwise could not be served by radio. Is that really the case? If not, couldn’t DBS be sold to raise funds in this time of economic need? Or, for those who dislike commercial enterprise, couldn’t it be spun off as an independent charity that sustains itself through advertising like it does now?

Consider that if DBS were independent, and had made all the same decisions recently, that the argument that it is beholden to the current government would be much weaker. Perhaps the silver lining of these recent controversies is that they show that privatisation is an idea whose time has come.

Comment by Dan
2010-02-07 09:01:11

Steve, as I wrote, you’d be correct about absolute freedom of speech in a Utopian society. But what if the media, the speaker, or the government or others spoken about are imperfect (as they must be)? And what if the listeners or readers are gullible, as some surely are?

Here’s an interesting take:

Law barring lies about medals is tested
February 06, 2010 11:36 AM

DENVER — The federal courts are wrestling with a question of both liberty and patriotism: Does the First Amendment right to free speech protect people who lie about being war heroes?

At issue is a three-year-old federal law called the Stolen Valor Act that makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military. It is a crime even if the liar makes no effort to profit from his stolen glory.

Attorneys in Colorado and California are challenging the law on behalf of two men charged, saying the First Amendment protects almost all speech that doesn’t hurt someone else. Neither man has been accused by prosecutors of seeking financial gain for himself.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School who is not involved in the two cases, said the Stolen Valor Act raises serious constitutional questions because it in effect bans bragging or exaggerating about yourself.

“Half the pickup lines in bars across the country could be criminalized under that concept,” he said.

Craig Missakian, a federal prosecutor in the California case, argued that deliberate lies are not protected. He also said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to raise and support an army, and that includes, by extension, “protecting the worth and value of these medals.”

The Stolen Valor Act revised and toughened a law that forbids anyone to wear a military medal that was not earned. The revised measure sailed through Congress in late 2006, receiving unanimous approval in the Senate.

Dozens of people have been arrested under the law at a time when veterans coming home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being embraced as heroes. Many of the cases involve men who simply got caught living a lie without profiting from it. Virtually all the impostors were ordered to perform community service.

In one case, a man posing as a Marine war hero was accused of using his hero status to receive discount airline tickets and a free place to stay near Phoenix.

Defense attorneys say the law is problematic in the way it does not require the lie to be part of a scheme for gain. Turley said someone lying about having a medal to profit financially should instead be charged with fraud.
One of the men challenging the law is Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif. He had just been elected to a water district board in 2007 when he said at a public meeting that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.

His claim aroused suspicion, and he was indicted 2007. Alvarez, who apparently never served in the military, pleaded guilty on condition that he be allowed to appeal on the First Amendment question. He was sentenced to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000. The case is now before a federal appeals court.

The other person challenging the law is Rick Glen Strandlof, who claimed he was an ex-Marine wounded in Iraq and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He founded an organization in Colorado Springs that helped homeless veterans.

Military officials said they had no record that he ever served. He has pleaded not guilty, and a judge is considering whether to throw out the charge.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in California quoted Alvarez as saying in 2007, “I must have mis-said things. It wasn’t supposed to go that way.” Strandlof’s lawyer has said his client may suffer from bipolar disorder or other problems.

Attorneys challenging the law say that lying about getting a medal doesn’t fit any of the categories of speech that the U.S. Supreme Court has said can be banned: lewd, obscene, profane, libelous or creating imminent danger to others, such as yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Army veteran Pete Lemon of Colorado Springs, who received the Medal of Honor for turning back an enemy assault and rescuing wounded comrades in Vietnam while injured himself, supports the law, saying that pretending to have a medal can bring undeserved rewards.

“It gives you the power to entice somebody into marriage,” he said. “It could give you the power to be able to join an organization, get special treatment with regards to getting tickets to a football game, getting license plates, getting preferential treatment in a job situation.”

Doug Sterner, a military historian, said the law embodies the wishes of the nation’s first commander in chief, George Washington. Sterner noted that Washington created the Purple Heart, the nation’s first military decoration, and wrote: “Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them, they shall be severely punished.”

“I think that speaks to the intent of the framers,” Sterner said, “that George Washington saw this kind of lie outside the scope of this freedom-of-speech issue.”

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Comment by Steve Foerster
2010-02-07 14:19:27

But what if the media, the speaker, or the government or others spoken about are imperfect (as they must be)? And what if the listeners or readers are gullible, as some surely are?

What if they are? Do you believe that those individuals in government not only know better than other individuals what’s best for everyone, but also make those decisions without regard to their own self-interest? If so, that strikes me as far more Utopian than complete freedom of speech could ever be.

Comment by CWE
2010-02-07 22:18:42

While one can appreciate the justification for this debate, one fails to see the relevance of committing the crime of copyright infringement regarding a foreign statute that concerns bragging. The Associated Press frowns on the unauthorized and illegal copying of its intellectual property. I am rather surprised that Dominica Weekly permits such flagrantly illegal activity on its website.

More to the point, the case in Colorado has to do with the distinction between bragging and fraud. Is this the case in Dominica, or does the Calypso issue hinge on political speech? If it hinges on political speech, then the more relevant US case law would involve public personalities, who give up slander and libel protections by dint of their being public personages.

Citing US statutes and precedents weakens the Dominican government’s position in this context, as Dominica is not a subdivision of Colorado; and Colorado is not a member of the Commonwealth.

The Colorado bragging case is irrelevant here. The more relevant case law for Dominica would be British, one would expect, in which one can be found guilty of slander or libel even if one speaks or writes the truth. Is this what Dominicans aspire to? Fear of uttering the truth, lest one offend the powerful?

As for Dan’s claim that the USA is a utopian society, based on Steve Foerster’s point about freedom of speech and societal good, US residents enjoy a level of freedom of expression that is as close to unfettered as one can find anywhere in the world. However, it is a bit of a stretch to claim that just because US residents live in a society in which the benign arrogance of the ruling elites recognizes the right of individuals to share their opinions, however ill-informed those opinions might be, they live in a utopian society.

Mr. Foerster is correct. Speech freedom serves the societal good, and speech discrimination pushes dissent underground. Choose incorrectly which path you will take at your own peril.

Comment by Dan
2010-02-08 16:54:25

No society is Utopian. I did not write that the US is. I wrote that the US Supreme Court has wrestled with the issue — when does speech incite? When is it pornography with no redeeming value?

As to truth being a defense against libel, it is — now. But England had (and Pres. John Adams tried to bring back) a “seditious libel” law that made any statement, even a true one, that offended the government a crime.

The US still criminalizes some speech; just not as much as other countries.

All I’m saying is that some very well-meaning people have some very good intentions placing some limits on what can be said, when, and to whom. Would you want certain things said, for example, to very young children?

John Stuart Mill was right — in a perfect adult society, and that society doesn’t exist. You’re right, all attempts to limit speech, however well-intentioned, have undesirable unintended consequences.

I don’t think that no limits work, and I don’t think that limits work either. I don’t know the answer. It would require a perfect society independent of human nature. That is all I’m saying, that it is perplexing and, to me, unsolvable.

Comment by CWE
2010-02-09 00:40:42

Dan writes, “[T]he US Supreme Court has wrestled with the issue — when does speech incite?”

The Calypso issue does not assert that anyone incited violence. This is about, albeit colorful, political speech. Again, you cite utterly irrelevant US precedent, while ignoring the conditionally relevant ‘public personality’ exclusion. The radio station’s managers were concerned about slander and libel, and not about the inciting of riots.

“When is it pornography with no redeeming value?”

The Calypso issue is not about pornography; it is about slander and libel.

“As to truth being a defense against libel, it is — now.”

You misrepresent the truth.

In England and Wales the presumption is that a derogatory statement is false; there, the accused must prove his or her innocence. Simply asserting that the statements are true and leaving it to the plaintiff to prove otherwise is not how it works in much of the Commonwealth.

“But England had (and Pres. John Adams tried to bring back) a ‘seditious libel’ law that made any statement, even a true one, that offended the government a crime.”

Irrelevant. We are not discussing the USA of the 1700s. We are discussing Dominica in the 2000s.

“The US still criminalizes some speech; just not as much as other countries.”

What does that have to do with Dominica? Dominica is not under US jurisdiction.

“All I’m saying is that some very well-meaning people have some very good intentions placing some limits on what can be said, when, and to whom. Would you want certain things said, for example, to very young children?”

That’s it? ‘Think of the children?’ You left out National Security and Y2K. This right-wing obsession with thought and speech control and ‘protecting the children’ has nothing to do with the matter at hand.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

“John Stuart Mill was right — in a perfect adult society, and that society doesn’t exist. You’re right, all attempts to limit speech, however well-intentioned, have undesirable unintended consequences.”

If all attempts to limit speech, however well-intentioned, have undesirable unintended consequences, then why this right-wing Will to Control in support of limits on speech, so long as society continues to be imperfect?

The Calypso issue is not about establishing a perfect society. It is about limiting, albeit colorful, political criticism, and thin-skinned crybabies who allegedly abuse their positions of power to silence that criticism.

What are the criteria of a perfect society? How can we know if we have achieved a perfect society?

“I don’t think that no limits work, and I don’t think that limits work either.”

That leaves a nihilistic empty set. A nihilistic empty set is useless as a basis for setting the bounds of what is tolerated and what is forbidden.

“I don’t know the answer. It would require a perfect society independent of human nature.”

So… In the absence of a perfect society, there is no answer, and… therefore… we should limit political speech… based on what nihilistic right-wing principle?

“That is all I’m saying, that it is perplexing and, to me, unsolvable.”

No, it is simple, and eminently solvable. Let adults act like children during the Bacchanalia that is Calypso Season, and don’t listen if you are offended; one of the first signs of maturity is discovering that the volume knob on the radio turns counter-clockwise.

During Calypso Season they get drunk, and they act foolish. Let them vent, and don’t drive their frustration underground, where it can fester, unseen.

Better to have it out in the open. Let a thousand fetid blossoms bloom, and if politicians cannot take the heat, they should get back into the kitchen.

Comment by Dan
2010-02-09 17:46:17

I wasn’t writing about whether the US laws should be followed here. I was writing what I knew about the freedom of speech issue from the perspective I know it best, which happens to the the US.

And I wonder: How you feel about the freedom to teach children prejudice?

Comment by Steve Foerster
2010-02-09 18:34:57

As a dad in a multi-ethnic family, I personally wish parents wouldn’t teach their kids prejudice. But if the power exists to make those people teach their kids what someone else thinks best, it exists to make me teach my kids what someone else thinks best. That’s not just censorship, or even oppression — that’s a unmitigated nightmare.

Comment by CWE
2010-02-09 19:15:08

Dan asks, “And I wonder: How you feel about the freedom to teach children prejudice?”

Teaching children prejudice, however one defines it, has nothing to do with political censorship, which is the original issue here. Children do not vote.

Nonetheless, the question is fair and it deserves an answer.

The problem with Dan’s question begins with the definition of ‘prejudice’. What one considers to be prejudice and what those who disagree with one consider to be prejudice cannot be resolved.

There is no single, universally agreed-upon One True Way, no matter how ‘nice’ one might try to make it sound. If there were, we would have no need for war, political parties, or colorfully critical Calypso lyrics.

If we apply a religious test, individuals who either are not religious or belong to religions other than the one that underlies the test will disagree. If we apply a secular test, religionists will disagree. If we apply an individualist test, social welfarists will disagree. If we apply a communitarian test, libertarians will disagree.

Even something as seemingly self-evident as democracy is problematic. If one calls for universal direct democracy and citizen referendum, another can point to Palestine and Russia as examples of democratic failure and to Monaco and Singapore as examples of autocratic success. And woe be unto the American who goes among the Chinese, French, or Iranians and tries to ‘enlighten’ them, and vice versa!

A hypothetical example might be to imagine that one individual notes that more individuals have been killed throughout human history in the name of religion than than in the name of any other world view, including communism, fascism, nationalism, racism, or imperialism. Imagine further that this hypothetical individual pointed out that religion underlies a disproportionate amount of the discord among individuals in the world today. If this individual called for a ban on teaching children religion, this individual would be seen as prejudicial by many and anti-prejudicial by others.

In the end, the only workable solution is to put up with each others’ foolishness and colorful Calypso lyrics, and to focus on minimizing violence among individuals, rather than on the contents of individuals’ minds, whether those contents be prejudicial, liberal, self-contradictory, or nonsensical.

Comment by elizabeth xavier
2010-03-19 08:03:17

I strongly disagree that it is workable to accept foolishness and colorful ideas, especially referring to Calypso and its lyrics in Dominica. There has to be a measure of control.

The mind that is able to process ideas and to reproduce those ideas in their distinctive form, through words or action, is not foolish. The mind that processes and producess its ideas in a normal mode does so with a specific intention–to rebuke, reprove, criticise, accept, encourage, or edify. The same goes for colorful ideas, which I would refer to as satire or sarcasm in the lyrics of Calypso, or anything that is structured and revealed to the public or community.

What some people might simply accept as foolishness or colorful ideas, may be offensive and devastating to others. We all have a different measure of a sense of humor. Some of us have no sense of humor at all.

I love all music, and, as a West Indian from Dominica, especially Calypso and Reggae. But both Calypso and Reggae writers, composers, and vocalists, have a danderous way of using the business to express their hearts desire for their own benifit, regardless of the cost to their community or individuals.

I believe that as a Public Broadcasting Service, the Dominica Broadcasting Service has the right to censor the products it receives before revealing them to the public. Even the most heartbreaking news should be censored, before going on the air.

It is true that there is freedom of Rights; freedom of Speech, but there is still the Law, when rights or speech offends, offering the privilege to contend. I may have the right and freedom to speak and act, but society also have the right and freedom to accept or dismiss my words and actions.

Just as Calypsonians believe that they have the right to sing whatever they feel like, it is the same way that DBS has the right choose whether or not to put their songs on the air.

The conclusion is that, whethet we are a community, or individuals, we must learn to compromise, for through genuine compromisation everyone gets a fair chare.

Comment by Steve Foerster
2010-03-19 12:32:14

Censorship isn’t just infringement on the right to speak, it’s infringement on the equally important right to listen. There’s no way to advocate “control”, as you put it, without believing that government officials are better suited to decide what people should hear than people are for themselves. The opportunities people have to hear unflattering opinions about the politicians who seek to rule them is an important measure of how healthy liberty is in a society. To remove those opportunities isn’t reasonable compromise, it’s the first step in the road away from freedom.

That DBS being publicly owned makes it vulnerable to this sort of political influence only highlights that it should be completely privatised.

Comment by elizabeth xavier
2010-03-20 07:42:22

My understanding of control does actually mean that someone else tells us what to say and do. God, Himself does not do that. But we are nothing, if we do not know His authority in our lives. We, ourselves must decide whether our mind is functioning with strong control. That form of control is known to me as self-control. which is a necessity in every person with a normal mind. A person, or people, who functions with self-control normally makes strong positive decissions and reproduces excellent fruits. That person, or people, is sure to earn great respect. Authority, of some form, has to step in when attitude and conducts are demonstrate without self-control, unless we choose to live in a corrupted society.

God has given us a government, as He wants His people to have some form of authority, that they might learn to maintain order. If we do not know how to maintain physical or mental order, how will we ever begin to know what Spiritual order is about. But the mind without Spiritual order remains in its perishing state.

The government is not always right, but they are put in rulership by the people, which means the majority accept their authority. The majority is also given the right to remove them out of rulership.

As I said earlier, we all have the right to speak and act; I now include, we all have the right to listen. Those rights cannot be taken from me, as an individual. Censorship does nothing to this right and freedom. The intention of censorship is to protect those whom it serves. My personal rights and freedom do not decide that my government, my community, my relatives, and friends must accept what I choose to do and say. The privilege for me to listen is always available. If I do not hear from one source, it will come from another.

I believe that censorship through government , leaders of a community, or organization, should be an unselfish exercise, but the fact it that, censorship has to be applied when services are for the public interest. The idea that DBS should be privated sounds like a scary idea to me.

Comment by Steve Foerster
2010-03-20 10:39:02

There’s nothing whatsoever about the government of Dominica or any other state that makes it divinely ordained. It’s an entirely human institution made up of humans like you and me who have their own interests at heart. This is not a criticism of Skerrit or any particular government, it is simply the intersection of human nature and the nature of political power. You refer to self-control, saying that there’s no need for government to censor information so long as the people censor themselves. But “do what the majority wants or you will be silenced” is not self-control, it’s oppression.

As for privatisation being “scary”, it’s better to base policy decisions on reason and information rather than fear. Besides, I’m not talking about selling DBS to Rupert Murdoch, I’m talking about spinning it off as a charity so that it’s insulated from political interference.

Comment by elizabeth xavier
2010-03-20 13:20:42

You have msunderstood my point in reference to God and Government. Believe me, no one is more aware of the difference between Divinity and the attitude and conducts of human beings more than I am. But I have no intention of preaching to you. I simply recommend that you read Romans 13 verses 1-7. I am not suggesting that you accept that opinion either. If we were to view every institution of our existence in this world as divinely ordained, then there would be no need to hope for Paradise. But the fact still remains that God is in control whether or not we are aware of it.

You have also confused my suggestion of applying self-control in our attitude and conducts. And I repeat, that this application is a must, in our daily routines of existence. I do not have to do what the majority wants; it does not mean that I will be silenced. But I cannot expect the majority to accept my products because I have the right and freedom to process them. In regards to Calypso Lyrics, DBS, under the authority of the Government of Dominica, has the right to censor the nature of the lyrics for the benefit of those in public, who are interested. The oppression can only come from within myself because I choose to be selfish, by doing the things that pleases me, even if the majority will not accept my products.

I am not pointing finger at no particular person, group, leaders or authority. We all demonstrate selfish or uncontrolled attitudes at a certain point or stage, no matter who we are. That is the reason I believe that, on offering our products to someone else, group, organization, or authority, to present to the public on our behalf, we should endeavor to present quality products with confidence, that our products will not be respected.

The policy of Dominica Broadcasting Service at the moment poses no fear to me, it is the idea of privatizing it, which poses the fear. I have rested my case.

Comment by elizabeth xavier
2010-03-20 13:46:56

I meant to write that, we should endeavor to present quality products with confidence, THAT OUR PRODUCTS WILL BE RESPECTED

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