Was the Shaggy story defamatory?

Yesterday, my third-year journalism students were debating whether or not the Jamaica Gleaner could be sued for this story on Shaggy and his foundation.

‘Busta’ Still Waiting – Hospital Yet To Benefit From $100m Raised At 2018 Shaggy And Friends Charity Concert

This is the headline of the story, which goes on to explain that a 2018 “star-studded” concert raised JMD$100 million. The money has yet to be handed over, let alone spent on the badly needed beds for the country’s only dedicated children’s hospital, which is located in Kingston.

I’m not an expert in media law, but I do know that had I been editor that story would not have made it out the door. I told my students it would have been a first draft of the story.

The new editor of the Gleaner, Kaymar Jordan, spoke at the forum, and defended the coverage as fair and balanced, and said there are no ‘sacred cows,’ even if the news is negative. Fair enough.

But there are still some basic tenets of journalism that must be followed. The Shaggy story got comments from the Rebecca Burrell, co-director of the Shaggy Make A Difference Foundation, who acknowledged the money has yet to be handed over. Chairman of the Bustamante Hospital Kenny Benjamin also acknowledged the lack of exchange of money. They both explained that no money is actually ever handed over, rather the requested equipment is purchased. Again, fair enough. But why has it not yet been purchased, almost two years later?

I wonder if the journalist actually visited the hospital. Had he or she done so, they would have known that there is absolutely NO ROOM for that amount of new beds anywhere. My daughter spent five days in the intensive care unit. I also witnessed other rooms with children’s cots all crammed together. It is like a maze, a warren of children in distress. It is awful. No privacy and dignity for the children and their families.

I also know one of the medical doctors in charge of Bustamante, and I know the dilemma and struggle she and the staff face daily at the hospital. There is often no soap and paper towels in the bathrooms, because people steal them, let alone sufficient space for sick children. Parents and sick children are crammed together in tiny spaces, waiting hours to see the overworked doctors. It is a horrible situation.

But back to the beds. I think it is safe to say that all involved are working in good faith, trying to provide a better experience for some of the most vulnerable Jamaicans. I think it is also safe to say that it is more productive to work towards solutions that to engage in ‘gotcha journalism’. Had the journalist done a complete job of the story, they would have known that there is no way the hospital could accommodate more beds.

The chairman explained that:

“Recently, we have had a lot of problems with bed capacity, and we are in the middle of trying to erect some more buildings for more wards, so we can have more beds,” Benjamin explained.

But the story goes on to say a whole lot more, confusing the reader even more. I’m sure I’m not the only one confused after reading it. When a story raises more questions than answers, it is at that time that it should go back to the reporter for another revision.

It is sensational, lacking nuance, and fails to see the big picture, which has ultimately resulted in the tarnishing of someone’s reputation (Shaggy said his daughter was questioning him about the money, and he was called into a meeting by Disney after the story ran). I’m not saying there was or was not any wrongdoing. We just don’t know enough, and it is at that point that a responsible editor and journalist would have waited to run the story til there was more information.

4 thoughts on “Was the Shaggy story defamatory?

  1. It might have been sloppy journalism but was it sloppier than much of the reporting carried by the paper or its major competitors? If not, why the hue and cry over that one, rather than a constant flurry of grumbles about shoddy journalism?

    • I wish I had time to do a critique every day of every media outlet. I agree, it was no worse than usual, but I guess because it involved Shaggy, some noticed who might not have otherwise. To be fair, I see a lot of criticism on social media on a regular basis.

      • But, shouldn’t the assessment of whether a story rises to the level of defamation be based on how it deals with a topic not who’s involved, so that every citizen could feel that their case gets treated akin to others, not that celebrities are ‘protected species’?

      • True, the measure of defamation is not based on who is involved, but rather how it is perceived and the perceived damage. By that measure, it should aly equally to all.

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