I would like to respond to Paul Clarke’s story ‘Ombudsman’s office threatening free speech, says social scientist’ ( Gleaner, September 30, 2019) and clarify what the political ombudsman does and how it does it.
As the political ombudsman for Jamaica, I absolutely support freedom of speech.
It is the laws of Jamaica and the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct that stipulate what utterances breach the broad span of this freedom.
In most modern democracies, including our own, the right to say something is always to be balanced against the effect of the words on a particular audience. While the physical expression of the partisanship of yesteryear is no longer virulent here in Jamaica, harmful words proliferate in political space and social media. The current situations in the United States and the United Kingdom offer a cautionary tale about political rhetoric and potential harm to individuals, groups and our democracies.
That is why we have a parliamentary commission, the Office of the Political Ombudsman, and a Code of Conduct which both parties have signed to ensure standards in politics. The fourth principle of the code is devoted to public utterances, proscribing party officials from making statements that are inflammatory or likely to incite others to confrontation, defamatory, or malicious in reference to opposing candidates, their families and party officials.
So it is not just any utterance, but also the context in which it is delivered and understood. That is what my office investigates. We do so in a way that follows the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act and the laws of Jamaica.
Discussion of differences of opinion in the public space between state, civil society, politicians and media is vital for a democratic society. May the conversation continue!
DONNA PARCHMENT BROWN