Jamaica bans broadcasts deemed to glorify drugs and crime

Stephen McGregor aka: Di Genius is one of many artists criticising the latest ban from the Jamaican government
Stephen McGregor aka: Di Genius is one of many artists criticising the latest ban from the Jamaican government   -   Copyright  Instagram
By Euronews  with AP

Jamaica’s broadcasting regulator has banned music and TV broadcasts deemed to glorify or promote criminal activity, violence, drug use, scamming and weapons.

The government said the ban is meant to cut back on material that “could give the wrong impression that criminality is an accepted feature of Jamaican culture and society.”

Jamaican artists criticized the measure, saying it cuts populations affected by heightened gun violence out of the conversation, and that it will do little to stop crime.

“Art imitates life, and the music is coming from what is happening in Jamaica for real,” said Stephen McGregor, a Jamaican Grammy Award-winning music producer and singer, known by his artist name Di Genius. 

“But because it doesn’t fit the moral mold of what they would like it to look like, they try to hamper it.”

This latest ban is another initiative from the government of Jamaica in its ramping up its anti-crime mandate with amendments to the island’s gun laws that will bring harsher penalties for illegal possession of guns and other gun offenses. The Caribbean nation has been struggling for years to halt high levels of gun violence, which caused Jamaica to have the highest murder rate in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, according to research center Insight Crime.

A free speech issue

The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica said in a statement that such music or video on public broadcasts “normalize criminality among vulnerable and impressionable youth.”

“Audio or video recording, live song, or speech which promotes and/or glorifies scamming, illegal use or abuse of drugs (e.g. ‘Molly’), illegal or harmful use of guns or other offensive weapons, “jungle justice” or any other form of illegal or criminal activity,” the statement read.

Songs that promote sexual activity, drugs, and even gun lyrics would often have “raw” and “clean” versions for fans to enjoy. However, the BCJ made it clear that “clean versions” of songs are also banned.

“Any edited song which directly or indirectly promotes scamming, illegal drugs, illegal or harmful use of guns or other offensive weapons, jungle justice, or any form of illegal or criminal activity. This includes live editing and original edits (e.g. edits by producer/label) as well as the use of near-sounding words as substitutes for offensive lyrics, expletives, or profanities,” which are not allowed to be transmitted.

The directive also said that channels should avoid “urban slang” that has anything to do with making money, wire transfers, acquiring wealth or a lavish lifestyle. It cited specific words like: “jungle justice,” “bank/foreign account,” “food,” “wallet,” “purse,” “burner phone” and “client.”

McGregor said he viewed the ban as a free speech issue, and that the Jamaican government would be better served addressing root causes of violence like the pandemic-fueled economic crisis.

Others have also expressed concerns about the ban, with some even questioning whether the ban affects an artist’s freedom of speech provisions in Chapter 13 of the Bill of Rights.

The broadcasting commission declined to respond to AP’s request for comment on criticisms, and did not immediately detail the consequences of a violation. But the commission asked the public to report any alleged violators.

Painting a false picture

Jamaica has implemented such bans previously, including one in 2009. 

McGregor, 32, said his own music has been banned from airwaves throughout his career for making mentions of sex and guns, but said restrictions never really lasted. Other Jamaican artists such as Rvssian, NotNice, and Romeich have all come out on social media slamming the directive.

Many made mention that such a measure would have little practical effect on violence, especially because youth get their media from streaming platforms like Spotify or YouTube.

Rather, McGregor said, it’s a way to scapegoat artists for larger state failures to address endemic problems and discontent.

“The music that comes from that, people are not going to be creating happy, feel good ‘one love, one heart’ music in those circumstances,” McGregor said. “You can’t force the creatives to paint a picture that’s not really in front of us.”