Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Understanding Violence in my Country

The Gun to our Hearts (first published in the T&T Guardian, December 6, 2017)

Last week, my take on the current, extended wave of criminal violence invoked a metaphorical gun to our collective heads. I related my doctor’s tale. His deep sadness. The pervasive air of impunity, and the desperate prescriptions for brutish vengeance.

Then came Saturday and the lead pellets in little Candy Loubon’s body. On the front page of Monday’s T&T Guardian, the two year old is lying in hospital with two fingers in her mouth, a yellow-sleeved IV needle in her heavily-bandage left hand and a tiny neck brace that prevents her from nodding ‘yes’ to anything. Candy’s eyes are fixed on Kevon Felmine and his camera.

It is the look a stranger gets from a child, just seconds from the crucial breaking of the ice and a transition to either smiles or tears. You can almost tell from her eyes, that Kevon, hard-nosed reporter and decent human that he is, had planned to extract a giggle, a show of scant teeth, a shade of laughter, anything but a look of pain.

The late, great Guyanese poet, Martin Carter, spoke of a “festival of guns, the carnival of misery” – a period in which “the stranger invader (is) watching you sleep and aiming at your dream.” None better than Candy’s image to capture the gun to our hearts and aimed at our dreams.

We should know that none of this started two and a half years ago, around the time of Candy’s birth. Or even after five years or tranches thereof - depending on the twisted imagination of the mindless partisan. It is in fact the rot of social and political aimlessness, and a descent as much rooted in authoritarian prohibition and religious fervour as in the creative disorder of a nation adrift.

How many in the jail cells weren’t whipped and slapped? How many didn’t go to school or church or temple or mosque?

And so pathetic and puerile has been official edict that prayer and flag and ritual are routinely proposed to simulate the impact of reason and science and interventions fed by fact. It cannot be that we are truly serious.

Within these very pages, some weeks ago, we explored the trauma of an angry society. People moved to irrationality, displaying an inability to confront conflict and change. Witnesses to growing impunity and inequity. Emerging from the darkness in Candy’s brace – incapable of signaling ‘yes’ or even ‘no’ to changing circumstance.

Instead, the quick resort to “we” and “them” and violence as if it persists in its own solitary right – a scar without an initial wound. How does the noose or whip really differ from the cutlass or gun in other hands other than being united by the cold blood of revenge of one kind or the other?

Here we are, looking and looking for different faces, different skins, and different places of abode. Punishment barely distinguishable from revenge, yet reaping the whirlwind of collective neglect.
There must have been that moment when we determined that the best way out was through mindful violence. That because “we” can never be “them”, through pedigree, since victimhood remains the psychological domain of one and not the other.

Through this, some have lost the love of our land perhaps forever. Trapped though, by a thin strand, by all there is on offer in this tiny space – bounty upon bounty of music and dance and art and poetry everywhere as in Candy’s infant eyes on the front page of the newspaper.

In this resides our hope, if there had to be any. Those who speak of a “lost generation” do not know what they are talking about, are trapped by the message of terminal political wounds and are out of here anyway.

We who choose to remain do well to look and recognise the guns to our heads and are ever mindful of those aimed at our hearts. To do otherwise would be to die.

The Gun to our Heads (first published in the T&T Guardian on November 29, 2017)

So, my GP for more than half my life is moving out of an office he has occupied in east Trinidad for over 30 years and is devoting all his professional time to patients at his facility in the west. “Abandoning the East-West Corridor proletariat?” was my cheeky question last Tuesday.

Medical doctors have a way of lowering their heads and looking at you from above the upper rim of their glasses. There was a sadness I had never seen in the eyes that appeared from behind the glare of thick lenses. “Have you ever had a gun aimed at your head?”

The following day, a relative was posting on social media about the disappearance of equipment being used to prepare her new home. Then, to keep things rolling last Thursday, Beetham Highway became a crime scene somewhat reminiscent of March 23, 2015 – albeit at the hands of different players.

In the midst of it all, a thread of despair kept turning up everywhere like a pervasive spider’s web. “The guns,” my friend Elizabeth Solomon declared, “are pointing at all of us.” To me, this question raises at least two additional challenges: Whose (metaphorical) guns? And, once we have determined who “we” are: What do we do about this?

Prime Minister Keith Rowley appeared to have his finger on some important elements of the puzzle when he spoke on Friday, following an intemperate outburst the day before.

Some opposition wags, increasingly inclined to gloat over misfortune, held on to Thursday’s blunder even after the PM went on to present his take on one important element of the task before the entire country – that of the universal nature of personal responsibility.

It was an important intervention against the backdrop of the perception that application of the rod of criminal correction is viewed as being uneven across social divides. However insufficient the analysis, it was a significant observation.

However, by his own admission at the press conference, the prime minister had yet to consult meaningfully with senior security officials on a specific course of action to deal with still smoldering remains on the Beetham Highway.

It is important in such matters not to approximate what Canadian journalist, Andrew Nikiforuk, derides in a recent column as the increasingly popular, and deceptive, political creed of “deliverology.”

I am not good at MBA gobbledygook so I do not pretend to understand everything I have read on the matter, except that it sounds like an excellent strategy to promote a notion of accountability even as little can be expected to be eventually delivered.

Last Sunday, I also listened to what Jamaica PM, Andrew Holness, had to offer at his JLP congress. We always seem to trail Jamaica when it comes to such matters – on both the good and the bad points. (By the way, Holness also wants to outlaw all corporal punishment).

He conceded that the heavy-handedness of state security in the past had not only earned negative global attention, but had also not sufficiently addressed the problem of inner city violence and crime.
Holness held out greater hope for the island’s experiment with Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) which, he claimed, had already started yielding results. The enabling legislation is worth a read, since it addresses serious human rights concerns invoked at the time of our ill-advised and bungled state of national emergency in 2011 – “deliverology.”

Another important initiative in Jamaica, which I am certain has been raised here more than once, is the planned introduction of a comprehensive National Identification System (NIDS). Though quite (and understandably) controversial, a database built on information acquired through the NIDS system can provide law enforcement with a sound start in the pursuit of sensible policing.

Holness prescribed three key applications - the law, intelligence and citizen cooperation.
A few weeks ago, I reprised the late Lloyd Best’s admonition to apply “educated common sense” to our problems of the day. Between the anguish and fear, leadership here requires such a quality at this time.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Journalism in the Digital Age

The transformational impact of the so-called ‘digital age’ on traditional, legacy media is undeniable. As an industry, mainstream media have virtually lost monopoly status with respect to news, views and information that matter.

In many ways, this follows on a longstanding relationship between mass media and technology. Think of the value of the modern printing press to newspapers and the innovations in wireless communication to broadcast media. Print lost to radio what radio went on to lose, in part, to television. Yet, whatever their respective conditions, they endure to today.

The immediacy of broadcast media now shares important space in the world of online content. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are broadcasting and narrowcasting ‘live’ and way in excess of the reaches of broadcasting towers and cable connections. At the helm of these new platforms is a cadre of ordinary people telling ordinary and often extraordinary stories – much of it ‘journalistic’ in nature, but this is not ‘journalism’ in its purest professional sense.

The relationship between technological change and the practice of journalism however appears to have been important but somewhat less linear in character when compared with developments in the media industry as a whole.

On this question, for example, it had not mattered at the elemental level of journalistic practice, that the Gutenberg press and its associated functions had given way to more efficient mechanised processes. Tracing the development of the T&T Guardian over its 100 years tells us as much about the news of the day, as it provides us with an insight into the application of new publishing technologies.

It is undeniable though that the current era has challenged both traditional media and the journalism they produce. This has been achieved through the undermining of previously impervious revenue streams that served as platforms for the practice of professional journalism and through a diversification of alternative, virtually unmediated sources and streams of data, information and opinion.

Yet, journalism remains steadfastly relevant and important. This is in part so because though the aggregating of news and information is now possible by way of app and algorithm this is incapable, on its own, of advancing knowledge to the point of understanding or providing meaning. What some offer as the “DIKW continuum” comprising data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Some insert “understanding” before the word “wisdom”.

There are numerous studies on the manner in which the new digital landscape affects notions of verifiable news and information. GML technology correspondent, Mark Lyndersay, has written extensively on the subject. He points to the fact that online publications are already turning to “automated solutions to create basic stories” and in the process dramatically challenging the “modus operandi” of newsgathering and therefore some important pillars of traditional media practice.

This may eventually prove that the nature of what is broadly defined as “newsgathering” may evolve beyond current reliance on journalists as we know them (already there is the vexing question of so-called “citizen journalism”) and turn attention to the mechanical features of aggregating vast streams of data and information.

Yet, journalism remains at the core in so far as there continue to be the imperatives of verification, accountability and the nuanced voices of reporters on the ground, whatever their professional or vocational manifestation.

A Tow Center for Digital Journalism paper on Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present prepared by C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky concludes starkly that while all journalism may not prevail, “hard news is what matters in the current crisis.”

Yes, journalism matters. But the real question is, which journalism. In my view, Lyndersay and the Tow Center researchers are not those many poles apart.

Another Tow study ‘The Story So Far’ by Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves enters the discussion from the vantage point of the media industry.

“Fifteen years after most news organisations went online,” they ask, “it is clear that old media business models have been irrevocably disrupted and that the new models are fundamentally different from what they once were.”

“What made traditional media so vulnerable to the Web? Or perhaps the better question is this: Why has digital technology, which has been such a powerful force for transmitting news, not yet provided the same energy for companies to maintain and increase profits?”

They conclude that even as the industry wrestles with the monetising of news and information in this new era, “we think the world needs journalism and journalists.” Why? Because while people now have unprecedented access to data and information, much of what media audiences need to know “will go unreported and unexposed without skilled, independent journalists doing their work.”

It is true that the nature of the job remains in transition. Today’s journalists are reporting and editing, but also aggregating data and information from a much deeper and wider pool of resources. Anderson, Bell and Shirky describe the process as capable of yielding “the iron core of news.”
It is this “iron core” that remains as the steadfast bastion of professional journalism. To me, this represents an important moment to reflect on the value systems that drive and motivate the work of journalists.

As a working journalist and trainer of some seniority, it has occurred to me that the current generation occupies favourable technological space even as they confront the dilemma of medium and message in ways we could not have previously countenanced.

Clearly, tomorrow is already here. What it portends for the media industry shares space in the eyewall of the storm alongside journalism and all the profession continues to offer.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A Brief Media History - T&T and the Caribbean

Though the technological advances of Britain’s Industrial Revolution toward the end of the 18th century were generally slow in reaching colonial outposts in the West Indies, the printing press established itself as a significant exception.

Peter Boomgaard and Gert J. Oostindie challenge traditional views on this in their provocative study ‘Changing Sugar Technology and the Labour Nexus: the Caribbean, 1750-1900’, but it is clear that the advent of the printing press rode on the tide of social and economic change in the colonies in the years prior to the freeing of African slaves.

So important was this new technology, that by the end of the 1800s, there were well over 100 modern newspapers being printed and published in the English-speaking Caribbean. The Jamaica Gleaner, which began publication in 1834, is the oldest survivor of that era, followed by newspapers such as the Catholic News (Trinidad) in 1892 and the Barbados Advocate in 1895.

The first indigenously-printed Caribbean newspaper on the records of the American Antiquarian Society was the Weekly Jamaica Courant in 1718, followed in 1755 by the Antigua Gazette.

By contrast, in Trinidad, there appears to have been little evidence that any printing was taking place on the island at the time of the changing of hands between the Spanish and English in 1797.

Gertrude Carmichael’s History of the West Indian Islands of Trinidad and Tobago 1498-1900 suggests that printing was actually not introduced into the island until the late stage of Spanish occupation.

The history of newspapers in the colony therefore usually begins with the launch of The Trinidad Weekly Courant in 1799.

Carmichael however notes that British officials exercised “strict control over the press” and that then Governor Sir Ralph James Woodford was in the habit of sending polite notes to editors asking to borrow the handles for their printing presses – without which printing would have been impossible.

However prolific their publishers and active their printing presses, it was not an easy time for newspapers in the colonies back then. Public opinion expressed through such publications, and the official backlash they generated, had played important roles in the turbulence leading to the Declaration of Independence by 13 American colonies announcing the United States of America in 1776. Official censorship was par for the course in overseas holdings and most, not all, publishers chose to play it safe.

Early-year newspapers and periodicals in the Caribbean were also important organs for information on developments in the UK, Europe and other colonies in the region and contained important information currently used by researchers interested in trade and commercial activity, and insights into life on the colonies at that time.

For example, passenger lists of arriving vessels were regularly published, along with obituaries, court cases and the outcomes of public, political events, sometimes with the preferred perspectives of early publishers.

In T&T, the launch of the Courant was followed by the establishment of the Port-of-Spain Gazette in 1825 and there appeared to have been no turning back for what was becoming a very active industry, to the extent that the authorities moved to register all newspapers in 1834.

In the years that immediately followed, there emerged more than 10 important newspapers in Trinidad. In Tobago, seven years prior to establishment of the unitary twin-island state, a Tobago News had already been in existence since 1892.

That was the same year the Catholic News was launched. By then, a number of significant publications such as the Trinidad Standard and West India Journal in 1872 and publications such as the French-language Critique and Tobago Chronicle and Public Gazette had emerged.

Other major newspapers at the turn of the 19th century included The Trinidad Chronicle which opened in 1864 and The Mirror, launched in 1898.

By the time the Trinidad Guardian came along in 1917, there appeared to have already been a wholesome appetite for privately-published news and information. The Trinidad Chronicle was already in its ascendancy and a number of activist publications had increased in popularity and influence.

Among these were the left-leaning Argos newspaper, launched after the First World War by Sino-Trinidadian Aldwin Lee Lum as a voice of labour and as an important organ of early social justice activism. The East Indian Weekly followed in 1928 as a significant platform for Indian issues. And, there were also several important periodicals including Beacon magazine, launched by the Trinidad Labour Party, and The Nation, published by the People’s National Movement (PNM) and edited by CLR James.

There were also special interest publications including The Independence Chinese News, launched in the 1940s, Cheng Chi Chinese Weekly published in the 1960s, Tapia first published in 1969, The Vanguard by the OWTU and the Labour Leader, an offshoot of the British socialist newspaper.

The Evening News was launched as the country’s first daily evening newspaper in 1935, followed by The Sun which was launched by the Trinidad Express.

Early, locally-generated radio broadcasting came with the launch of the US armed forces radio station, WVDI in 1943. It actually pre-dates the establishment of Radio Trinidad, usually cited as the country’s earliest radio station which went on the air on August 31, 1947 as a part of the Trinidad Broadcasting Company (TBC), owned and run by Rediffusion (Trinidad) Ltd.

The TBC network, which at the time operated one AM and three FM frequencies was acquired by Trinidad Publishing in 1998 and the media group later launched CNC3 television in 2005, expanding in 2008 to operate free-to-air broadcasts.

Fifteen years, to the day, after the launch of TBC, Rediffusion was holding a 30% stake in the inauguration of the country’s first television station, Trinidad & Tobago Television (TTT) which began operations a week before the hoisting of the flag of independent T&T.
The main shareholder in the station was the International Thomson Organisation of the UK (50%) with smaller holdings by Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) of the US with 10% and the Government of T&T 10%.

The Daily Mirror newspaper, which had previously competed vigorously with the Trinidad Guardian, was acquired in 1966 by the Thomson Organisation and, folded that very year. This led to the introduction of the Trinidad Express in 1967. Weekly newspapers such as the Bomb newspaper, launched in 1970, the Sunday Punch in 1972 and the TnT Mirror in 1982 were also significant publications that helped change the face of newspapering in the country under late journalist, Patrick Chookolingo. Trinidad Newsday was launched as the country’s third and newest daily newspaper in 1993.

As was the case at the changing of colonial hands in the late 1700s, new technologies - in this era the digital revolution industry - are challenging important connections between key sectors of the economy and the growth and stability of a mass media industry.
There are currently six free-to-air television broadcasters, 10 television broadcasting services via cable and 14 registered subscription television broadcasters.

Additionally, there are 37 FM broadcasting services and one AM service still on the books of the Telecommunications Authority. A number of online news and entertainment platforms have also been launched in recent years and traditional media enterprises make use of social media and digital formats delivered online.

It is 100 years since the launch of the Trinidad Guardian and more than 200 years of the English-language newspaper in T&T. Industry leaders would do well to consider a future unlike any other period in the country’s history.
* First published in the 100th Anniversary edition of the T&T Guardian on September 2, 2017

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS Issues in the Caribbean Media – Addressing Stigma & Discrimination

This paper was delivered at a workshop on Caribbean media coverage of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in December 2006


Not unlike media elsewhere in the developed and developing world, the Caribbean mass media have been recognised for what is believed to be their considerable potential to deliver direct information, influence attitudes and behaviour and affect public policy on a range of developmental issues. Researchers however claim that the very characteristics that render mass media a powerful ally can also have severely negative impacts on agendas to promote positive change.

Knowledge is power in the struggle to cope with and contain HIV. People who are well-informed about the epidemic are able to assess the threat posed by the virus and to know how best to avoid infection, or, if they are HIV-positive, how to look after themselves and their partners and families.

But for individuals to be able to act effectively on what they know, they need an enlightened environment. The mass media have a huge contribution to make on both fronts. Besides delivering direct information, they have the potential to influence attitudes, behaviour and even policy-making in a myriad of ways through their coverage of the epidemic in news, drama, documentary and discussion.

However, this is a double-edged sword. The media reflect as well as shape culture and social norms. Ensuring that the messages conveyed assist people to cope with and resist HIV rather than inadvertently falling victim to the epidemic requires wisdom, sensitivity and clarity of purpose. 

Recent events in Jamaica are salutary. Murderous homophobia there has been fuelled by a number of popular rap artists, whose shows and songs have been given exposure in the island’s media. Besides spreading misery and fear in the gay community, this has caused serious setbacks to AIDS programmes, because of the association between homosexuality and the spread of HIV. Sadly, similar examples from elsewhere in which the media, wittingly or unwittingly, help to fuel prejudice and discrimination are not difficult to find. – (UNAIDS, 2005)

Such ambiguity has generated concern that while mass media can serve as an important tool in the process of health promotion, they can also present the process with some of its sternest challenges. Relative relief is found in the recognition that the media are but one element of a range of interventions to promote behaviour change and that literacy, interpersonal communication and explicit programmes of media advocacy are important factors that both complement and counter the presumed impacts of media content.

It has also been recognised that prior notions of behaviour change through individualistic models of mass media messaging on the HIV/AIDS question are challenged by other processes that impact on community action and social change.

In 2002, Nancy Coulson noted in her discourse on developments in the use of the mass media at the national level for HIV/AIDS prevention in South Africa there exists “a plethora of models and schools of thought that public health specialists can use to inform the development of public health communication campaigns. These models include the founding vision for health promotion captured in the 1986 Ottawa Charter which represents a fundamental shift away from individualistic health education behaviour change models to acknowledge the profound impact physical and social environments have on people’s opportunity for health and their health behaviour.”

In this context, communication experts appear now to be turning full circle on the question of mass impacts versus individual behaviourial transformation.

Media Mainstreaming

The “mainstreaming” of HIV/AIDS information in the media is related to the belief that integration of the subject into routine media content will attract to it a greater level of credibility as “earned” media output while reflecting its multi-faceted character. This, it is presumed rewards such interventions with mass appeal.

The Bridgetown Declaration on the Caribbean Media Response to HIV/AIDS acts on this very assumption. Regional broadcast executives declared:

“We, the leaders of the Caribbean broadcast media, gathered in Bridgetown on this 10th day of May 2006, inspired by the UN Secretary General’s call to action under the Global Media AIDS Initiative, acknowledge that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a threat to humankind and an urgent impediment to the future prospects and wellbeing of all our nations, undermining our efforts to build social capital and strong economic systems in our countries.

Convinced that media have a critical role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that Caribbean broadcasters can make a unique and important contribution to HIV/AIDS information dissemination, awareness, behaviour change, and care and support in our countries and communities …”

Silvio Waisbord’s Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication however cites Flay & Burton 1990 and Hornik 1989 in concluding that much of the current thinking is that successful interventions combine media channels and interpersonal communication. Against arguments of powerful media effects that dominated development communication in the past, recent conclusions suggest that blending media and interpersonal channels is fundamental for effective interventions.”

Additionally, the mass media are being recognised for functions including the independent verification of specific health promotion interventions and the sourcing of mass communication skills outside the direct ambit of journalistic practice.

It is clear the shifting bases of mass media theory on the question of development communication have embraced the notion of behaviour change as a function of a process that owes much less to previously held positions on the effects of mass media than it embraces a wide range of socio-economic factors.

For example, recent social marketing models embrace the view that “while media can be an important aspect of social marketing, other components, including rigorous planning and consumer research, channel-specific strategy development, and formative evaluation are equally important. Likewise, other types of interventions, such as training programs, community activities, and materials development, are equally as valuable as media campaigns, if not more.” (Bellamy, H., Salit, R. Bell, L. Social Marketing Resource Manual: A Guide for State Nutrition Education Networks, 1997).

One activity that has assisted in the mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS issues in the Caribbean media is the annual Media Awards programme of the Pan American Health Organization Office of Caribbean Programme Coordination. In 2004, the institution introduced the new category of HIV/AIDS in response to a recommendation from its Panel of Judges that this be done to help keep the public up to date on information and approaches to the treatment and management of the disease.

Since then, there have been awards for coverage of HIV/AIDS Prevention; the CAREC Award for an Alternative Media Story on HIV/AIDS and the CARICOM Award for Coverage of HIV/AIDS.
The PAHO Media Awards programme is the leading media awards scheme in any sphere in the region. It has developed into an operation that covers a wide portion of the Caribbean area and has assisted in generating greater awareness by media professionals of their role in properly covering the subject.

PAHO says it sees the programme as being designed “to promote higher standards in regional health journalism and stimulate quality reporting on a regular basis in all the media.”

The Caribbean Media

It is important, as well, to discuss the nature of Caribbean media and the social, cultural and economic antecedents that drive their development. There is little doubt that the media have played a historical role in affecting public policy discourse and action.

Understanding the Media in the Caribbean states: “Newspapers were first established in the English-speaking territories as far back as the mid 18th Century at a time when primary production for export to European markets, under conditions of colonialism, dominated the socio-economic landscape. Mediated information flows thus engaged domestic developments primarily at the level of their impacts on the relationship between Caribbean production and the state of a market itself in the throes of dramatic change.

Newspapers were a way of reinforcing a status quo which, by and large, co-existed well with the changing circumstances, serving as efficient advertising vehicles for new products and ensuring the smooth flow of information between the colonial homelands and their overseas operatives. So important was this role that by the mid 1800s, there were more than 100 newspapers in the colonies.” (Gibbings, 2004)

It is also indicated that the relative upsurge in socio-economic crises that have accompanied Caribbean societies into a new era of international stringency and interaction have been met by a string of corresponding social policy initiatives that have brought the media into sharper focus. Many Caribbean societies are, for example, debating cultural policies and new directions in training and education. New policy frameworks are also being devised to attend to issues such as conflict and the disintegration of Caribbean societies.

These initiatives have not been having a neutral impact on the free press. Cultural policies to counter the impact of what is described as the penetration of non-Caribbean cultural value systems have led to the proposed imposition of measures such as broadcast content quotas and other such threats to the free operation of media enterprises.

Matters of social cohesion also, for example, led in Trinidad and Tobago to formulation of equal opportunity legislation which, in its initial design, dramatically threatened notions of free expression and, by extension, the practice of the free press. In Jamaica, proposed anti-corruption legislation was eventually amended when it was brought to the government's attention that restrictions on media reporting on corruption investigations considerably hampered the work of the free press.

The region has also recently been characterised by a new era of politics with an unprecedented string of changes in government and, in some instances, a rotating of roles between government and opposition. Exposure to this dramatic degree of political vulnerability is partly responsible for what can only be described as a new wave of subtle but dangerous threats to free expression and the free press in the Caribbean.

There are also distinct but not unrelated concerns linked to perceptions of media and cultural imperialism. Such concerns have often led to policy initiatives to promote cultural protectionism.

Bilali Camara et al, for example suggested in a paper to the first Champions for Change workshop in 2004: An issue is that Caribbean states have little control of the content, cultural framing and sheer volume of the foreign media. At the start of the epidemic, there was little data and information on the regional expression of the disease and most of the media reports were from North America. A number of issues raised by the disease, particularly as they relate to sexuality, condom use, and sex work, were foisted on the Caribbean publics. The range of responses of the health educators and information, education and communication (IEC) material developers in the region ranged from clarity, to ambivalence, to denial. This, therefore, is the challenge the region faces.

To suggest that non-regional media were capable of foisting undesirable material on unsuspecting Caribbean media audiences to an undetermined and undefined degree would be to ignore current thinking on mass media effects as outlined above and to invite policy interventions that have increasingly tended to prescribe regulatory control over media content.

In any event, as noted in the PAHO 2005 study on Coverage of Health in the Media of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Many studies on HIV/AIDS have found that initial coverage includes mostly foreign stories which become localized over time as local governments start to address the issue within their own country.”

The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) has led efforts to resist policy and regulatory interventions related to foreign content in the regional mass media. Current debates over broadcast content quotas to promote greater domestic content have, in my view, distracted from the urgent imperative of action to develop indigenous broadcast content through direct support for the enhancement of specific production skills.

Broadcast content quotas contravene basic principles of free expression and fair business practice and vainly attempt to legislate taste. In their place, regimes of fiscal support and promotion of higher technical standards in domestic broadcast media production can go a long way in addressing perceived shortcomings.

The ACM has also argued in favour of professional development strategies in the field of journalism to better reflect the Caribbean experience and to instill an ethic and aesthetic reflective of the needs of Caribbean society.

Caribbean media have however played an undeniable role in validating values that promote stigmatisation and discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). Stigma is described as reflecting “qualities that discredit individuals or groups” while discrimination is examined as the process which denies services, entitlements and opportunities to persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Sir George Alleyne, United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean suggests “there are basically two approaches to the reduction of stigma and discrimination that are worth considering. The first is how to reduce the level of stigma and consequent discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and those perceived or suspected of having a life-style that increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The second is to accept that stigma and discrimination currently exist and find measures to protect persons against them.”

A media study conducted by Internews Network’s Local Voices project, in collaboration with two of the leading international networks on HIV/AIDS, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+), and the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO) entitled Frontline perspectives on how the global news media reports on HIV/AIDS was launched on World AIDS Day 2006.

The report analyses views from more than 130 PLWHA leaders and 200 HIV/AIDS programme managers from more than 44 countries. In one section on Inaccurate and Stigmatising Language, there is the contention that “discriminatory, stigmatising and inaccurate language used by local news media about HIV/AIDS remains a serious concern and continues to undermine effective coverage of HIV news, according to PLHIV respondents. They link this failure to a weakness in research and knowledge of HIV/AIDS by local journalists as well as a lack of interest by their editors and publishers.”

According to the report, respondents to a survey conducted by the project “agreed across the board that the biggest failure of media coverage is in the portrayal of PLHIV, while acknowledging some improvement as activists engage more proactively with journalists. Ninety-six percent of PLHIV respondents said that stories opposing stigma and discrimination need more coverage, such as reporting on internalised stigma of PLHIV and the effect of homophobia on national strategies to combat HIV and AIDS.”

This statement can be said to be largely true of the Caribbean situation and interventions are clearly required to address these shortcomings.

Journalists’ Views

Media outputs are recognised as contributory factors in both the promotion and mitigation of stigma and discrimination against PLWHA.

A survey conducted for this workshop solicited the views of 10 senior journalists in Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, St Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago on the question of media mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS issues, stigma and discrimination and perceived shortcomings in media coverage of such issues.

Six respondents said they did not believe that their media institution had sufficiently mainstreamed HIV/AIDS issues. Mainstreaming is here defined as the integration of HIV/AIDS issues into routine media content.

When asked what changes had been recognised in the treatment of HIV/AIDS material in their media over the past five years, the responses included:


i.                    “Inappropriate” language is now generally not included in news stories;
ii.                  Greater care is taken to report HIV/AIDS news “responsibly”.

St Vincent & the Grenadines

i.                    The issue is now covered seasonally on occasions such as World AIDS Day;
ii.                  There are more workshops and conferences to cover.

St Lucia

i.                    The issue has gained greater prominence in the news (maybe because more people are dying);
ii.                  It however faces the danger of being “overplayed” and therefore be eventually accorded less attention.

Trinidad & Tobago

i.                    News media present such stories with a greater sense of its human interest nature;
ii.                  PLWHA are now viewed in a more favourable light in the media;
iii.                More informational material is now published in the media.


i.                    AIDS is no longer a “taboo” topic in the media;
ii.                  It is present in the media more in terms of its educational value

St Maarten

i.                    HIV/AIDS news and information is viewed mainly as material for special supplements.


i.                    The disease is reported less as a “doomsday” story;
ii.                  More informational material is now published in the media.

The survey also sought to determine whether these journalists viewed coverage of HIV/AIDS issues as “multi-sectoral” in nature. All respondents agreed the HIV/AIDS story was cross-cutting in nature and was eligible for coverage under the following headings:

  1. Economy/Finance
  2. Tourism
  3. Social Affairs
  4. Education
  5. Child Welfare
  6. Culture/Entertainment
  7. Crime
  8. Lifestyle
  9. Politics
  10. Population
  11. Labour

Significantly, 7 respondents thought that “media attention is being paid to HIV/AIDS to the detriment of coverage of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.” There was one journalist who said reporting on these diseases was, in any event, “seasonal”.

On the question of whether the media have been helpful in promoting responsible sexual behaviour in their countries, 6 of the journalists said “yes”, one person said “not as much as we should” while 3 said “no”. Some who said “yes” had provisos such as: “we have tried but no one pays much attention”, “there is room for improvement”, “there is less shame in reporting these things now.”

Asked whether they believed PLWHA are discriminated against in their countries, the respondent from St Maarten said “no”, another said “somewhat” while the rest said “yes”. The ways in which PLWHA are discriminated against included: denial of employment opportunities, school places, services and stereotyping based on sexual orientation.

The journalists were however divided on the question of whether the media “play a role in promoting negative images of persons infected with the virus.” Two respondents said the media were “somewhat” responsible.

Asked to rate their level of HIV/AIDS awareness of their journalistic colleagues seven described it as “medium” and three said levels of awareness were “high”.

Asked whether they believed they knew enough about the disease, all responded they would like to know more.

The journalists then suggested ways of promoting “greater awareness of the disease and its impact among media workers”. These included:

i.                    More regular seminars and workshops
ii.                  More media-friendly information from the experts
iii.                A regular media-focused HIV/AIDS newsletter
iv.                The use of more graphic images of impact of the disease
v.                  More direct access to PLWHA

Development of journalistic skills in health reporting and the re-directing of editorial policies are recommended as effective strategies in addressing the multi-faceted phenomenon.

In a survey among a wider group of regional journalists conducted by the ACM in collaboration with the Population Reference Bureau of the U.S, in May 2005, coverage of HIV/AIDS is among the five major areas of concern of journalists engaged in environment and health reporting.

The survey attempted to gauge the most important sources of news and information that advised reporting on population, health and environmental issues. Person-to-personal interviews were the major source (82%); the Internet (73%) and Press releases (55%).

Ninety-five percent of respondents said they consulted regularly with experts and government offices on such issues. Sixty-eight percent consulted regularly with Non-Governmental Organisations while 63% relied heavily on Press Conferences.

When asked what were the most important professional needs to enable them to perform their duties at a higher level, the following were identified:

-          Training in investigative techniques (79%)
-          Lists of experts to contact (68%)
-          Tips for interpreting and citing data (63%)
-          Training in how to effectively use internet (47%)

A follow-up workshop was hosted by the PRB together with the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute and the ACM in Barbados on May 30-31, 2006. The workshop, recognising the needs identified, focused on:

-          How to frame issues
-          Some contact with experts
-          Some exposure to investigative techniques
-          Some tips for reporting using population data and internet sources

These kinds of efforts have been replicated through activities involving the Pan American Health Organisation, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESC) and Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) over recent years.

The Panos Institute of the Caribbean has also led several direct journalistic interventions on the coverage of HIV/AIDS issues. One of its more innovative efforts has been the use of “child journalists” to tell the story of Haiti through the eyes of children.

It is advisable that follow-up activity involving PANCAP proceed on the basis of clearly identified needs as described by the journalistic community.

Programmes of professional, journalistic development also need to take into account the changing face of the work environment for Caribbean media workers. In a paper presented to The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, Caribbean Dialogue in Barbados in April 9, 2003 entitled Caribbean Media Workers and the Social Dimension of Globalisation, Gibbings pointed out that:

The introduction of new information technologies to the communications industry has significantly changed the media workplace. It can be observed that in many instances, a shrinking share of financial resources is being devoted to the remuneration of media workers engaged in newsgathering.

There is now a greater degree of multi-tasking in the mass media with the resulting elimination of some human tasks in both electronic and print operations. The implications for journalism are recognisable through the non-moderated nature of much more easily accessed foreign news inputs and the negative impact of multi-skilling in the production of both print and broadcast media products.

There is also growing concern about authors' rights, especially in the case of the growing number of freelance journalists. The efficiency with which news outputs can now move beyond national boundaries has both increased the range of benefits linked to the practice of freelance journalism and presented it with its sternest challenge.”

Media Studies

There have also been a few attempts at more closely examining media content and coverage of HIV/AIDS issues. In 1995, a content study on Reporting on HIV/AIDS in Trinidad (1992 – 1994) was executed by the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Mona following a similar study in 1994 which looked at Reporting on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica during the course of 1992.

The results of these studies are not easily accessible and do not appear to have been widely circulated at the time. However, a rather comprehensive investigation of The Coverage of Health in the Media of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was commissioned by PAHO in 2005 under the leadership of CARIMAC lecturer Livingston White.

This report concluded that the coverage and treatment of the HRC (health-related content) was described and the findings suggest that there is room for improvement in the area of health journalism especially in the way journalists explore the health implications present within stories which on the surface do not seem to have any potential for a health focus. The study showed that there were 164 missed opportunities where journalists could have explore more fully the health implications of certain stories.”

This finding suggests the existence of gaps between coverage of otherwise unrelated events and their potential to emerge as HRC. This is an area that can be addressed both through a revision in the approach of agencies concerned with coverage of health issues and via a process of systematic orientation of journalists. It can be argued that the gap emerges largely from the failure of agencies concerned with health promotion to identify essential links between otherwise mundane information and news and the implications for health.

The study is being replicated in six other countries and an audience response component is being included.

Over the past 10-15 years the Caribbean media have made great strides in reversing the tendency to propagate misconceptions about the nature and scope of the disease which led to pervasive social disapproval of PLWHA and persistent discriminatory practices in the labour market. But, media reportage of conspiracy theories and misinformation regarding the means of transmission have served to validate unsubstantiated views and information, some of which still exist.

It has also been found elsewhere, and confirmed in the St Vincent and the Grenadines study, that the use of “negative terminology” in reporting on HIV/AIDS has been readily associated with popular descriptions of the virus and the disease. In the Caribbean, media research on this subject has been largely confined to limited analyses of media production (the form and source of the media coverage) while considerably more attention has been paid to media content (the information being conveyed). There has meanwhile been little or no attention paid to the impact of production and content on media audiences.

Hopefully, the PAHO/CARIMAC study will begin to fill this information void.

The WHO’s Technical Report Series No 938 cites the findings of a study which looked at the influence of media interventions on HIV/AIDS through the findings of 15 studies that evaluated such programmes between 1990 and 2004.

These findings do not examine the effects of non HIV/AIDS specific material but, importantly, notes, some of the influences observed. The studies were however confined to three main types of mass media interventions including: radio only; radio with supporting media and radio and television with supporting media.

The outcomes measured included: knowledge, skills (self-efficacy in terms of abstinence or condom use), sexual behav­iour (condom use, numbers of partners, abstinence), communica­tion (parents, others), social norms, awareness and use of health services.

The findings of the studies supported the effectiveness of mass media interventions in increasing knowl­edge of HIV transmission, improving self-efficacy in condom use, influencing some social norms, increasing the amount of interpersonal commu­nication, increasing condom use and boosting awareness of health providers.

The review con­cluded that mass media programmes can and do influence HIV-related outcomes among young people, although not on every variable or in eve­ry campaign. Campaigns that include television require the highest threshold of evidence, yet they also yield the strongest evidence of effects.

It is evident that the paucity of media effects research in the Caribbean context has served to undermine confidence in the interventions of the developmental community through the almost exclusive focus on content analyses which, though useful, do not interpret the actual impacts of such interventions and/or the effects of general media content.

Even so, advocates of mass media interventions should bear in mind that the evidence strongly suggests questionable general returns in the context of fundamental behaviour change.

M. M. Cassell et al indicated in their 1998 paper Health Communication on the Internet: An Effective Channel for Health Behavior Change? that “within the field of public health, much attention has been devoted to potential uses of the mass media to modify attitudes, shape behavior, and generally persuade audiences to protect their health (Amezcua, McAllister, Ramirez, & Espinoza, 1990; Hornik, 1989; Wallack, 1989). However, where newspapers, magazines, radio, and television have been used to modify health practices, research indicates that these mass media are not very compelling channels for effecting behavior change (Backer, Rogers, & Sopory, 1992; McQuail, 1987; Rogers, 1983; Rogers & Storey, 1987). Although mass media channels have proven capable of reaching and informing large audiences, interpersonal channels have been more successful in influencing attitudes and motivating behavior change (Backer et al., 1992; Rogers & Storey, 1987). For health educators, the practical implication of this research is that mass media channels are appropriate for creating awareness, but interpersonal interactions are essential for persuading individuals to adopt health-promoting behaviors.”

The need clearly exists for greater investment in the monitoring and evaluation of programmed mass media interventions in the Caribbean and estimations of the impact of general media content on behaviour change.


Though there exists a basis to suggest favourable mass media responses to the thrust by developmental agencies on the question of HIV/AIDS, with particular but not exclusive attention to stigma and discrimination against PLWHA, there appear to be gaps in the attempt to relate the presence of more information to behaviour change.

The following recommended actions can assist in addressing these gaps, together with concerns expressed in this paper regarding the absence of an empirical basis for determining the efficacy of media-oriented interventions.

i.                    The need to establish a cadre of Caribbean media professionals fully equipped to address informational shortcomings both with their media enterprises and among media audiences is well recognised. These professionals can benefit from the development of a Handbook for Caribbean Journalists on HIV/AIDS.
ii.                  There have been several attempts to convene lasting online networks of Caribbean health reporters. In 2004, the ACM, in collaboration with PAHO established Caribbean Healthnet – a network of journalists interested in health reporting. Though the network has become moribund, it provides the region with a model that ought to have been initially supplemented by a further strategy to encourage production of journalistic outputs. Such a model existed in the Caribbean Environmental Reporters’ Network (CERN) which offered journalists the opportunity to earn freelance incomes through such reportage while the network made use of international media alliances to ensure broad usage of the material generated. A similar model is currently being development by the ACM with assistance from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) named CARN – Caribbean Agricultural Reporters’ Network.
iii.                Resources ought to be allocated to enable the conducting of long-term media effects research to investigate the impact of HIV/AIDS media content on specific aspects of behaviour. CARIMAC is perhaps best placed to partner in this exercise.
iv.                This paper, especially its accompanying survey, firmly establishes the cross-cutting nature of the HIV/AIDS journalistic story. It would therefore be important that journalists across a wide variety of ‘beats’ receive exposure to specific information on the disease and its impacts. The participation of business/finance, labour and political reporters should be encouraged at HIV/AIDS workshops to stress multi-faceted nature of the subject.
v.                  Journalistic workshops should also disaggregate print and broadcast media for specialised treatment. This should be at media workshops and efforts should be made to identify leading figures in emerging new media, especially online media.
vi.                Given the increasing injection of funding into media interventions against HIV/AIDS, there should be some effort at a closer examination of the media’s treatment and effects, specifically audience response, that may help to better inform the effort to prevent and/or control HIV. This is a costly undertaking but will undoubtedly build on the work already being engaged in this area.


Bellamy, H., Salit, R. Bell, L. (1997) Social Marketing Resource Manual: A Guide for State Nutrition Education Networks

Bridgetown Declaration on the Caribbean Media Response to HIV/AIDS (May, 2006)

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Cassell M., Jackson C., Cheuvront B. (1998) Health Communication on the Internet: An Effective Channel for Health Behavior Change? Department of Health Behavior and Health Education University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Coulson, N., (2002) Developments in the use of the mass media at the national level for HIV/AIDS prevention in South Africa

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Gibbings, W. (2004) Understanding the Media in the Caribbean, Seminar Paper.

Gibbings, W. (2003) Caribbean Media Workers and the Social Dimension of Globalisation, Seminar Paper The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation – The Caribbean Dialogue, Barbados.

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International Federation of the Red Cross (2005) - Combating HIV/AIDS and Stigmatisation Campaign – Georgia.

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Maluwa, M. (2004) – HIV/AIDS-related Stigma and Discrimination and Human Rights: Case Studies of Success St. Kitts and Nevis.

PANCAP (2002) – The Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS 2002-2006

PANCAP (2005) - Reducing HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination in the Caribbean - Champions for Change.

UNAIDS (2006) Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic.

UNAIDS (2006) Preventing HIV/AIDS in Young People: A Systematic Review of the Evidence from Developing Countries, UNAIDS Inter-agency Task Team on People.

UNAIDS (2005) Getting the Message Across: The Mass Media and the Response to AIDS.

Waisbord, S. (2003) – Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication (Rockefeller Foundation)

White, L. et al (2005) - The Coverage of Health in the Media of St Vincent and the Grenadines – A Content Analysis, PAHO

Wesley Gibbings is a Journalist/Communication Consultant based in Trinidad and Tobago. He has written extensively on Caribbean media issues and currently serves as General Secretary of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers – –

December 7, 2006

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