jamaica ban music

Written by Maryam Jilani 7:07 pm Articles, Current Affairs, Published Content

Jamaica’s Ban on Degenerate Entertainment: Moral Policing or Crime Preventer?

On 11th October, the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica issued a directive that outlawed music and tv shows supporting crime, violence, and drug use, among others. Maryam Jilani considers the recent ban an example of moral policing rather than a crime curative measure.
About the Author(s)
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Ms Maryam Jilani is a student of Sociology who passionately believes in the advocacy of human rights and women empowerment.

Jamaica: The Island Country

The island of Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean Sea, named Santiago by Christopher Columbus, who saw it first in 1494. However, it continued to retain its original native name of Jamaica. It still belongs to the Commonwealth despite gaining independence from the UK in 1962. The island’s colonial past is reflected in the numerous Spanish, French, and English place names.

The vast majority of its population, who descended from slaves brought by European colonists, are of African heritage. African and European cultures interacted to create Jamaican culture, but the apparent dichotomy in Jamaican cultural traditions and values is frequently referenced using terms like “Afro-centered” and “Euro-centered.”

Public institutions, health, Christian worship, and the arts continue to be influenced by Europe. The religious traditions, the Jamaican Creole language, food, proverbs, drumming, Jamaican music and dance rhythms, traditional medicine (associated with herbal and spiritual healing), and Anansi the Spider-Trickster stories all reflect African influences.

On the island, violent crime is a significant issue, especially in impoverished metropolitan areas. Numerous national and municipal elections were tainted by violence and fraud for many years. However, throughout the latter half of the 20th century, political violence decreased.

Internal security is largely the responsibility of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and in the event of significant disturbances or natural calamities, it is supported by the Jamaica Defense Force. On occasion, specialised police groups have been established in an effort to combat organised crime and eliminate corruption.

The large number of extrajudicial executions committed by the Jamaican police has drawn criticism. Only a few thousand people are enlisted in Jamaica’s armed forces (army, coast guard, and air force), and participation is optional. In addition to political and societal instability, drug dealing is the army’s top priority. An agreement permitting American anti-drug officers to pursue suspected drug traffickers into Jamaican territorial seas was reached by the Jamaican authorities in 1998.

Media Censorship vs Regulation

According to Fredman (2015), media regulation is the act of using a variety of distinct, frequently legally binding instruments to media systems and organizations in order to accomplish predetermined policy goals including plurality, variety, competitiveness, and liberty.

The implementation of explicit legislative norms set out by public bodies as well as more casual codes of behaviour created and applied by media organizations in collaboration with the state include regulation. In short, the media are governed or managed in a way that promotes variety, offers access to viewpoints, and is overseen by a power.

Anastaplo (n.d.) proposed that censorship is the modification, repression, or ban of writing or speech that is seen to be against the interests of the general welfare. The restriction of speech or any material that can be deemed damaging, sensitive, hurtful, or immoral is a key component of media control.

The distinction between the two concepts depends on the level of strictness, morality, and repression that each notion implies. Regulations serve as controls, whereas censorship violates human rights. Depending on the nation, censorship might be more severe. Finally, in contrast to laws that depend on ethics, censorship mainly relies on morality.

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The apparent tension between rules and censorship as it pertains to broadcast legislation is greatly influenced by these distinctions. The Broadcasting Commission was created as the regulatory authority in Jamaica to oversee the nation’s media. In 1986, the commission became a stand-alone organization.

According to the Commission, its primary goal is to act as a regulator that guides and paves the way for the growth and development of a vibrant electronic communications industry for the benefit of Jamaica and the Caribbean. The Broadcasting and Radio Re-diffusion Act (BRRA) requires the Commission to keep an eye on and regulate cable television, broadcast radio, and free-to-air television in order to guarantee that they are operating at the proper levels in terms of technical, programming, and service requirements.

The Broadcasting and Radio Re-diffusion Amendment Act and the Television and Sound Broadcasting Regulations are the two main types of broadcast legislation in Jamaica. Media organizations are obligated to abide by the specified rules set forth in the established broadcast legislation. Sanctions and fines may result from failing to adhere to them.

Flashback Alert

The opening sequence of the Steven Spielberg film “Amistad” premiered in 1997  showing renegade slaves being killed by European traffickers who were transporting them across the Atlantic, the screen all covered with blood was omitted. Slavery had a significant role in Jamaica’s history and is a common memory among the population. The depiction of a slave ship uprising, however, was deemed improper for Jamaican viewers by the regulatory authorities.

In Jamaica, where more than 90% of the population is descended from West Africans who were transported there by slave traffickers. The government-appointed Jamaican Cinematographic Authority’s action to exclude the segment was criticized by critics as weakening the portrayal of Caribbean black history in the film.

Rex Nettleford, vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, claimed that “anything that deals with the history of our people is dealt with the conspiracy of silence.” Additionally, the Cinematographic Authority forbade showing the film to anybody under the age of 18. The movie has an “R,” or restricted rating, in the US, implying that anybody under 18 must see it with an adult present.

The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica issued an order in February 2009 that heavily censored the hit song “Ramping Shop” by Vybz Kartel and Spice. The song’s explicit sexual lyrics fit under the dancehall subgenre called daggering music. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica censored the whole daggering sub-genre as a consequence of the song’s sexually graphic nature.

These “daggering” lyrics, according to the Commission, directly conflict with regulations’ clauses 30(d) and 30(l) of the Television and Sound Broadcasting Laws, 1996, which stipulate that no licensee may allow the transmission of any of the following: any depiction of violence that is offensive to good taste, decency, or public morals; d) any indecent or profane matter, provided, however, that any broadcasts to which regulation 26 applies must be regarded not to be obscene.

The ban in Jamaica also covered “soca, hip-hop or any other music,” which made the Angels’ My Boyfriend’s Back (“and you’re going to be in jail”) and Mr. Vegas’s popular dancehall song, both illegal.

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Explaining the October Ban

The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica issued instructions to all broadcast license holders on October 11 in an effort to “keep [the] airwaves clean”. On 13 October 2022, the Guardian reported that the Jamaican broadcasting watchdog had outlawed music and tv shows that it deems to celebrate or support crime, violence, drug use, con games, and weaponry.

Numerous people applauded the decision, including Minister of Information Robert Morgan, who insisted that the decision was not intended to impede freedom of speech. Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission, made multiple media appearances to support the order, emphasizing that recording studios and musicians wouldn’t be impacted and advising broadcasters that disagree with the prohibition to “walk away.”

According to the government, the restriction is intended to limit the content that “may create the false impression that criminality is an acceptable aspect of Jamaican culture and society.” Authorities in the Caribbean island tried to reduce the high levels of gun violence before enacting the ban. The research center Insight Crime dictates that Jamaica had the highest murder rate in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021.

Such music or film on public broadcasts, according to the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, “normalizes lawlessness among young and impressionable children.” The guideline further said that “urban lingo” which relates to the process of obtaining money, wire transfers, accumulating riches, or leading a luxury lifestyle should be avoided by channels. In particular, it highlighted the terms “jungle justice,” “bank/foreign account,” “meal,” “wallet,” “purse,” “burner phone,” and “client.”

Criticism and Counter Arguments

Several Jamaican artists criticized the law, claiming it wouldn’t do anything to prevent crime and instead exclude the communities affected by increased gun violence from the discourse. According to Stephen McGregor, a Grammy-winning Jamaican music producer and vocalist, “Art imitates life, and the music is coming from what is happening in Jamaica for real,” However, they attempt to impede growth since it doesn’t match the moral shape they desire it to have.

McGregor said that despite repeated attempts to prohibit his music from the country’s airwaves due to references to sex and firearms, the bans never actually stuck. Other Jamaican musicians including Rvssian, NotNice, and Romeich have all denounced the command on social media.

Many have argued that such a policy wouldn’t have much of an actual impact on violence, given that the majority of young people’s media consumption is done through streaming services like Spotify or YouTube. According to McGregor, it is a tactic used to blame artists for greater state failures to solve persistent issues and discontent.

Moral Policing or a Measure for Crime Control

Does Jamaican mainstream music actually inspire and encourage common Jamaicans to commit criminal acts, as the underlying issue implies? According to a recent public opinion study, the majority of Jamaicans think there is some relationship between music and crime, with only 22% of respondents saying there is little or no connection.

However, there were many concerns about if and how the order would be carried out. Would it highlight particular musicians or songs? Would it feature simply modern music or also older songs? Has the dancehall subgenre specifically been identified as having a negative impact on Jamaican youth and society?

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Dancehall is clearly the scapegoat, said attorney Kenyatta Powell, who criticized the directive’s ambiguous phrasing. Powell went on to say that scamming is “the material reality under which people live […] it has to do with oppression, it has to do with the rational and deliberate decisions that individuals make for self-preservation on a daily basis.” Many famous songs specifically refer to scamming in their lyrics.

Isis Semaj-Hall, a cultural analyst, posed several important questions surrounding the directive’s phrasing as well. Who will be entrusted with compiling this list of similar-sounding terms and what are some examples? If Jolly sounded like Molly, would she be barred? By this reasoning, is enjoyment also forbidden? Would a song that praises mud cloth be prohibited? I’m joking a little, but doesn’t this look like moral policing?

The majority of Jamaican youngsters access internet services like YouTube and Spotify rather than via the radio or cable television. In fact, a number of emerging music producers in Jamaica brushed off the ban as unimportant, with one sarcastically observing that nobody from the younger crowd will deliberately tune in to radio in 2022. So, in my opinion, the action was more of a show than a genuine attempt to do anything.

Moreover, as far as I can recall, in Jamaica, music has always served as the “cause” for everything. The television news show “Beyond the Headlines” observed that the definition of social commentary can be rather ambiguous: what distinguishes between a song that is a “choppa song” and one that is a “social commentary” song? Is the order likely to have any impact on Jamaica’s crime rate after all the arguments, blaming, resistance, and complaints?

Conclusion

The ban on music and tv shows imposed in Jamaica is not unique in its nature but in fact is a nostalgic reminder of the country’s history, politics, administration, and mainstream policy-making culture. To solely blame or accuse the majority of the crime on the music and tv shows is no doubt an overstatement, for the relationship of art, music, and tv shows to the society is nonetheless a reciprocal one where both are influenced by each other.

Art has been the mimicry and illustration of society, while society has also been a source for amplification and demonstration of art. Therefore, it is important to take effective measures regarding the various multiple factors responsible for the law and order situation in the country.

The reliability of the ban can be only determined by studying its effects in the long term which would need some more time. However, the past experiences of such bans do exhibit a certain level of failure, unrealistic execution, and loopholes. It can be concluded that though the effectiveness of the ban can be debated, its planning and execution surely lacks the analysis of circumstances and situation, giving the impression of a show rather than an attempt in true faith.


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