OUR CARIBBEAN: Remembering a media icon
I DO not know how many of the new breed of journalists in member states of our Caribbean Community had more than a passing interest in the contributions of John Maxwell to journalism.
The Jamaica-born journalist and social commentator has been a formidabe voice and tower of strength in advocacy journalism in his native land for most of his working years while maintaining a firm commitment in his articulation of people-focused regional integration.
Since his passing at home last Friday at age 76 after a two-year battle with cancer, very eloquent tributes have been flowing in Jamaica from government, political parties, academic, business, trade union, cultural and environmental circles and, quite naturally, local and regional media organisations.
It may seem ironic that some political and business voices now recalling Maxwell’s admirable courage and journalistic qualities as a fearless warrior, passionate defender of the rights of the poor, were once among the silent when he battled the powers that be and endured much personal sacrifices and inconvenience for his crusading journalism.
I recall the incident when I had the privilege of staging a walk-out with a group of local and foreign journalists from a press conference by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, a long-serving leader of the Jamaica Labour Party.
It was in protest against Seaga’s refusal to permit Maxwell’s rightful participation in that event at a time of a general election. It was public knowledge that there was no love lost between that very tough politician and the fierce journalist.
I think it is good for the record, and quite relevant to our regional social and political history, to follow the tributes of so many, in various walks of life – including the rich and powerful, intellectuals and cultural personalities, entrepreneurs, as well as representatives of organised labour, recalling the vigour, the passion, the fearlessness and quality of Maxwell’s journalism.
His name has long been associated, in different ways, with the primary media enterprises in Jamaica, starting with the Gleaner to the Observer (of which he was a columnist up to the time of his deteriorating health); as well as with the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) – having earlier etched his stout reputation also with the BBC and as a lecturer in mass communication with the University of the West Indies.
The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) – the oldest and the best functioning journalist body, warts and all, in our region – is said to be considering how best to honour the veteran pace-setting journalist.
I have a humble suggestion: One is the publication as a reference manual for Jamaican journalists and interested CARICOM colleagues, John’s excellent contribution in the “country reports” section of Speaking Freely (Expression and the Law in the Commonwealth, edited by Robert Martin and published in 1999 for the Commonwealth Association for Education in Journalism and Communication. Farewell John, most admirable colleague.
The last time I had the good fortune to participate in a public forum with John Maxwell was in Barbados on June 28, 2006 when we were on a panel, organised and sponsored by the Caribbean Development Bank on Development Issues Through The Lens Of The Media. I join in extending condolences to John’s widow, Dr Marjan de Brun, and their three children.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.