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Pan-Caribbean broadcasting and disaster coverage

Published: 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It was particularly irksome to witness ill-informed statements concerning a perceived paucity/absence of indigenous reportage on the events leading to, and during, the onslaught of Hurricane Irma, particularly since I know the opposite to be true.

Those who were chiming in on the issue appeared unaware of where reliable sources of information could have been found, did not care to look and were coming to the open conclusion that “nothing” was being reported.

But, there they were, busily declaring a Caribbean media disaster; oblivious to the work being executed by devoted professional journalists in the affected countries and territories.

The work of these journalists was supplemented by citizens who employed basic digital technology to provide updates on the situations in their towns, villages and islands.

To be fair, my vantage point is a bit different from many others. I am a confirmed news junkie, a journalist who has travelled the region extensively and my social media feeds are fixed on regional and global developments.

I therefore happen to know that what people usually mean when they say there is “no coverage” is that the media they turn to as a default are silent on news and information they seek at a particular point in time.

From a country recorded as making the highest per capita contribution to pornographic web searches, and which projects a high level of proficiency regarding the use of the internet, people were actually posting that “nothing” was available online about the impact of the hurricane in the Caribbean. SMH!

Meanwhile, coverage from broadcasters in Antigua, Anguilla, St Maarten and Tortola, remained available online and as recordings, Tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram images ... if only the unschooled could search and find them.

And even when some found these sources, they were expressing disappointment at the shortage of disaster porn. So much so, that a few were even re-posting videos from long-passed tragedies in other parts of the world. There they found the crushed buildings and people they were looking for.

Caribbean “mainstream media” are, however, not off the hook. The passing of CANA Radio and, subsequently, BBC Caribbean, robbed the region of some of its finest public affairs broadcasting resources.

CANA is now merged with the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) to operate the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC)—a shell of its past incarnation as CANA owing mostly to a withdrawal of support from erstwhile industry stakeholders. Some broadcasters have cited their own financial and operational challenges while others set out on ill-conceived pan-Caribbean experiments of their own, even while they were pledging allegiance to the collective brand.

We should be reminded that it was all of 41 years ago that CANA was born as a bold, co-operative venture to cover the region. The plan was essentially to pool journalistic and related resources to cover the region using Caribbean eyes, ears and voices.

This made perfect sense in the context of a small geographical space with uneven media industry conditions. It still does. Perhaps even more so in 2017.

Repeated attempts to undermine and contribute to the collapse of CMC have led to the current situation in which, among other things, the CMC news subscription service—which, incidentally, provided comprehensive print media coverage of Irma and its impact, is only sparingly employed by regional newspapers.

In the meantime, media outlets have been trying the cheap, free or t’ief business model to harvest Caribbean news, when a model for the orderly sharing of news has been in place for decades.

Perhaps this era of financial stringency will take us back to the point where we recognise the positive impact of joint enterprise in the media sector.

Meanwhile, little can be done about those who believe that coverage of Antigua is best executed out of Atlanta or New York and whose eyes are trained on the footwear of the presidential entourage in Houston and not on the boots on the ground in Barbuda.