Is the Vybz Kartel Trial an Opportunity for Jamaica?

Jamaican music has always, and continues to capture the imagination of the world, and so have its musicians, especially when they blur the lines between celebrity and outlaw.

One of the most recent dancehall artists to get on the wrong side of the law is Adidja Palmer, better known as Vybz Kartel. A big name in the music business, he has collaborated with A-list hip hop musicians like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Eminem. Towards the end of 2006, he made headlines in the region over an ongoing feud with his former collaborator Mavado, which led to fans of each side mobilising themselves into two factions – Gaza and Gully – which often culminated in street clashes. Other controversies have followed him – the skin bleaching issue and now several murder charges.

One Jamaican blog, Cucumber Juice, recently examined “the value of the Vybz Kartel trial”, first taking issue with glaring inconsistencies in the media's reporting of the facts:

There is so much rich detail in the charges that were brought against Mr. Palmer. So many moving parts. I am grateful for the page on The Jamaica Gleaner that lists all its articles on Mr. Palmer’s charges. Unfortunately I realized a lot of problems with the reporting. After reviewing over 2 years worth of articles I could almost predict the phrasing and wording…there has obviously been too much copying and pasting and not enough editing or (attention to) detail. I saw inconsistent name spellings, inconsistent facts (e.g., Just how much bail was Mr. Palmer granted for Charge 2, JM$3 million or JM$1 million?).

After doing the research to come up with the above timeline and to properly refresh my memory about the charges against Mr. Palmer…I’m expanding my definition of quality to mean not only the kind of reporting being done on the trials but also how the reporting is presented. The poor quality of the former is amplified by the at least equally poor quality of the latter. It’s sloppy.

She continued, this time addressing the third offence on which the dancehall star is charged:, “the murder of Clive Williams (aka Lizard) on August 16, 2011″, which she sees as an opportunity to right some wrongs:

This trial (for Charge 3) has captured the attention of a lot of Jamaicans. A significant portion of…trial watchers are Vybz Kartel fans but others are following the case because, frankly, this is a high-profile landmark case and it’s the first time (that I can remember) a popular person actually going on trial for something and the trial not dragging out over a number of years. Evidence is being presented, the judge is making rulings; it seems that things are moving along.

But more than the unfolding of this case is the characteristic of a large number of people who are following [it]. They are people most likely to encounter Jamaica’s criminal justice system. Too often the average Jamaican’s experience with Jamaica’s criminal justice system is hostile, even deadly. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is viewed with suspicion and contempt. Our courts are viewed as inefficient, burdened, and, I think, unjust. I believe the fancy parlance is that there is a trust deficit. Like him or hate him, Mr. Palmer’s alleged misdeeds have provided us with the opportunity to teach and, perhaps, even to address that trust deficit.

I’m wondering why neither the media nor Jamaica’s legal community is grabbing hold of this opportunity.

In particular, she saw clear roles for the Jamaican media and judiciary:

I think that it’s fair to expect Jamaica’s media to be doing more with the coverage of these trial. It’s fair to expect the legal community (which would include the judiciary) to proactively engage the Jamaican public to capitalize on this interest. Use it as an opportunity; you have a captive audience – the average Jamaican – that needs the information. Kartel ah ‘dem’ artist but I guarantee you that ‘they’ also identify with him…by calling upon their own experiences: in custody for over 2 years, no bail, charged with an array of things. It’s David versus Goliath; the underdog versus the big opponent already considered unjust and unfair. Babylon at work, even.

That’s why lawyers are important: to be the interpreter and navigator of that system on his or her client’s behalf. The lawyer knows the system and that the system is meant to represent and protect the society. They must…defend their clients against it not to bring the system down but to ensure a fair result, to ensure justice.

Next, she took on the way in which information is being disseminated online and offered suggestions:

I’ve seen some journalists and lawyers live tweet the trial. Good. But their reporting is necessarily limited by their own interest and availability. There isn’t even a consistent hashtag being used to allow easy curating of (relevant) tweets. Where’s the dedicated live tweeter (perhaps a former court reporter or a law student?) who will deliver dispassionate reporting on what is said from the stand and ruled on from the bench, and who will follow that reporting up with an end-of-the day wrap up and, geez I dunno, Legal Lesson of the Day?

At most these internships could cost a newspaper a transportation stipend and a lunch per diem. The student gets credit and a good entry on the résumé. Put interns on a rotation to cover this trial (it is news) and maybe another trial on a live blog.

Why is all this so important to her – and so many other Jamaicans? She summed it up by saying:

The law touches every aspect of society; it defines the boundaries for our interactions.

If you are at all interested in justice then you must be interested in ensuring that the ‘average man’ is aware of his rights and feels empowered to exercise them. That’s the opportunity of this trial and it’s being wasted.

1 comment

  • Chad Brodkin

    The irony of this article is comical. It is essentially an article about the lazy reporting in relation to the Kartel trial consisting of copy and pasting, and a lack of fact checking. The article itself is 85% copied and the original author (who actually presented original and educated opinions) never credited. This article is the epitome of what the original blogger is ranting about. Janine Mendes-Franco, you should be ashamed of this article, your lack of journalistic abilities, and your failure to credit the true contributor. Furthermore, your very limited contribution to this article consists of the same, slightly re-written introduction that accompanies every JA Gleaner article published on Kartel.

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