Jamaica’s church lobby has forced the publishers of the 2017 Yellow Pages to produce an alternative version of the telephone directory because of an “offensive” dancehall depiction it says is spreading “wrong” values.
The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society led the campaign against the directory, which Global Directories Ltd was hoping would celebrate indigenous Jamaican music.
The depiction at the centre of the controversy shows a reggae scene with scantily clad women dancing with men at what appears to be a typical street session.
“We have challenges with our young people in terms of the values, the conduct that they are being exposed to. We thought that what was displayed there wasn’t something that was beneficial,” said Dr Wayne West, chairman of the coalition.
“We didn’t think that scene, which was sort of a dancehall scene, was ideal. It wasn’t the best thing that could have been done for the Yellow Pages – something which is so widely distributed and which is supposed to be the product of a company that should be seeking to elevate rather than to encourage behaviour that is not necessarily ideal.”
Yesterday, Ian Neita, chief executive officer of Global Directories, said while the company would not apologise for using the scene, it understood the Christian group’s concerns.
“In our response to their letter, we apologised for offending them because it was not the intention to offend them. We’re not accepting that the depiction was offensive because that is a matter of interpretation,” Neita told The Gleaner.
“We have provided an alternative cover for institutions such as churches and schools. Anybody who is offended by that depiction, they’ll have a choice in having a replacement,” he said, adding that the controversial depiction done by Lennox Coke Jackson would remain in circulation.
Three directories are printed for Jamaica yearly: one for Kingston and St Andrew, an islandwide publication, and one residential. The controversial picture is on the cover of the directory for Kingston and St Andrew.
Ska is on the residential directory, while the scene depicting reggae is displayed on the islandwide copy.
In the reggae scene, scantily clad women are shown dancing with men at what appears to be a typical street dance.
Neita said that the company admitted that there’s a “commercial and principled” aspect to the decision to print an alternative version.
“A church may be listed in the book [and] once they advertise in the book. In a kind of way, they become a co-sponsor. If it were a private magazine that we were putting forward in the public space, I think it would be a little bit different. I don’t think we’re resiling from a principled position by saying, ‘Hey, I’ll give you an alternative’.”
Questioned on whether the company was setting a bad precedent by appeasing the church group, Neita said the “power” of the local religious lobby could not be ignored.
“In our society, the Church is a powerful lobby. We are a society that is fundamentally based on Christian principles. I don’t think it’s something that we can disregard. I’d like to think we kind of took the high road rather,” he said.
“We still ended up having both (genres of music).”
Meanwhile, dancehall expert Dr Donna Hope said she did not see anything wrong with the scene.
“Dancehall culture is a very important part of Jamaican youth culture, and a dancehall scene on the front of the Yellow Pages, I and others thought it was an appropriate kind of image in a country where dancehall continues to provide response to and information about who we are as a people.”
She said West has questions to answer.
“I would question Dr West on what children are exposed to in Jamaica and also wonder if Dr West is aware of the longevity of dancehall in Jamaica and the similarity in terms of his comment with that of many others.”
The University of the West Indies senior lecturer added: “I would also want to find out if it is that Dr West, as a clergyman who is aware of the various challenges that we face in Jamaica, with multiple aspects of the socialisation planks, has also taken to task other critical aspects of our society that have been impacting our young people.”
Neita declined to give the cost of the reprinting.