Journalists and the right to offend – A must read article – This is great!!!

The article below written by Franklin Johnston [right], mirrors my belief completely.  Here is a person who truly understands  freedom of speech, the right to have ones own opinions, the right for individuals to be different, the right to challenge religions are anything for that matter.

Recently, “man married” Elton John called Jesus “a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man” and made the headlines. The British church and public were indifferent; no one took offence, so it fizzled. Jamaicans would have been offended. Why? We know nothing of Jesus’ private life. Whether gay, straight, bi, trans or devoid of sexuality, he clearly was not in practice. But would his sexuality diminish his message? I think not!

Why take offence? Are we so expert, bigoted or insecure we are closed to new ideas? A new opinion should cause us to re-examine and be open to change. Offence breeds hurt, resentment, anger, disgust and humiliation. My senses are offended by visual, olfactory or auditory content – the despair I see in parts of Africa, the nasty smell or the rubbish music that violates my ears. My intellect is offended by the unreasonable and abusive – but only when the offenders should know better. Spiritually, I am not offended by other beliefs. Why should I be? I can’t even fathom some areas of my own faith much more to judge others.

ELTON JOHN… the British didn’t take offence when he called Jesus “a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man”.

ELTON JOHN… the British didn’t take offence when he called Jesus “a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man”.

Can offence be disproportionate? Haile Selassie, whose photographs we have, is god to a Rasta. No one knows what Abraham, Jesus or Muhammad (peace be upon him) looked like. So, who knows if a sketch or cartoon resembles them? A man refused to shake President Sarkozy’s hand (said he might be soiled) and got a swingeing retort – not the C*** word, but close. Are these responses proportionate to the offences? Does the person or context matter? Rihanna’s friends call her “ho” and Diddy’s call him “nigger” in public. They are not offended, but if George Bush did so, Fireworks! We choose to take offence!

The old is offended by the new. Scientists once believed that the earth was flat and the centre of the universe. It’s neither; but they were offended and did not explore the new ideas. What we don’t like offends us and what we don’t like most is for anyone to question our opinions. I offend many people and am ready to be offended. Take thefollowing case.

I found out that my favourite journalist is a closet bigot who tried to limit free expression. Maybe! My opinions offend him. Even journalists are not a “safe pair of hands”. Fragile vessels hold our freedoms and those we expect to defend them can also be abusers. In his apoplexy, he outed me by citing a claim I did not make, took offence at his own figment, dissed me as a “quasi-journalist”; wrote to get me fired (I need the work badly!) and in his fit, fell off the pedestal I put him on in my youth. Yet, his opinion is just an opinion, not wisdom from God. Eminent scientists (climate change) and historians disagree; so why not opinion journalists as our writings undergo no scholarly review? I forgave him as I think that was his “senior moment”. He is back on the plinth!

To give offence is the essence of opinion journalism; exactly what St Paul meant in “the cross is an offence”. If you take it up you will offend people! Emails tell me I offend powerful people and will get no work on my return to Jamaica. Bulls! Years ago I voided my contract to be the second host of Public Eye as my partners felt I might offend clients and hurt the firm. They were right, this is not Obamaland where right, left and centre opinions do prosper. We must claim our freedoms. Journalists must offend and expect to be offended; “suck it up” is par for the course. However elegant and erudite our columns, the only thing readers can expect is a well-written opinion, honestly stated and some tongue-in-cheek too. We do not write history or treat medical conditions, though some columnists are trained historians and physicians. Veteran or fresh from school we offer the same fare, our take on a slice of life – a very thin slice – in 800 words. Years as a journalist is irrelevant. We have fruity young wines and sadly, vintage ones which have become vinegar-rancid and sour! I have written many books of proprietary reports for governments and firms and I am still learning. A poor traveller on a rocky road to the light, I am in no hurry as the journey is the thing and Ilove it!

You say a columnist is “good” as you agree with his views. Yet an offensive column can cause you to think and grow. If you need to hear “Amen brother” over and over, go to a prayer meeting! A column presents a new reality, a new angle, drills into a matter or is entertaining and inspiring. Whatever it takes to get people going!

Journalism is best studied after a degree in a core discipline and some of the best never studied it. A journalist – news, specialist, opinion – needs a “long suit”, a core which allows him to view life’s refractions through a single prism before he dares to write on life in 360 degrees. If not, he will regurgitate the regurgitations he gets through the information chain, but he can add no value.

I write to offend. I try to be tasteful but with an edge to draw some blood! My nation is not at the point where I can lavish praise. It is still in the crucible. So long as we lie to ourselves about Jamaica “no problem”, tolerate inept leaders, poverty, corruption and crime, it is the duty of an opinion journalist to offend – it is his highest calling! Upset the inertia and nudge us on the path to glory! Access to email, blog, comment is the leveller as readers can bite back! The teacher can learn, the pupil can teach and we all can change. The glass is half-full but it’s also half-empty – both equally true. Offend with civility and good humour and take offence at the opinion, not the person. It is my duty and my privilege to offend you, my friend. You may cuss me or be edified. Your call!

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