Jamaica’s Twitter-shy Media: When will the would-be watchdogs of Jamaican democracy wake up

CARTOON of the YEAR

Clovis, The Observer, December 31, 2009

One thing’s for sure, the Golding government could definitely use a shot of VITAGOV, the miraculous tonic recommended for ailing democracies everywhere. In Jamaica the Farcical News Network (Left, Right and Centre, Nationwide Radio) is sponsored by this super syrup whose ad goes like this:


VITAGOV!…Vitalize your Government!


Is slow representation getting you down? does the bad road leading to your house get on your nerves to the point of nausea? Then reach for VITAGOV! VITAGOV’s new and improved, time-honoured potent formula is crammed full of the major indices of development, including civil rights and liberties, the rule of law, effective representation and economic growth.


Combined with every hyper-caffeinated drink on the planet, VITAGOV is guaranteed to get your member of parliament and prime minister working in unrealistically fast time. Use our aerosol pump and spray your MP when he finally turns up in your constituency. Pour the VITAGOV syrup into your Minister’s drink at a party function or sprinkle it on a chair that he’s about to sit on. Whatever the method you’ll be sure to get him working. For governance on the go, it’s VITAGOV!


Meanwhile Messrs. Brooks and Co. need to develop a similar product for our ailing media, the print media in particular. I wonder if 2010 will prove to be the year when Jamaican journalists finally discover Twitter. Their silence on/in this increasingly crucial new medium is deafening. Where are @Boyne, @MartinHenry, @Wignall, @Hughes and @emilycrooks? Don’t you know that Twitter is how news is telegraphed nowadays and audiences created?


Photo by Colin Hamilton


Ah well, i continue to scratch my head in perplexity at the lagging behind of those who claim to be our watchdogs. Their caginess and timidity would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. While the formal, English-speaking posse bury their heads in the sand the Patwa-speakers are off and running with the new technologies. I was able to get a blow-by-blow account of the rather uneventful Sting finale this year because the dancehall massive and crew were tweeting comments and photos, alternately transmitting their disgust at the lack of clashing and fear when shots were fired amongst a range of reactions which i wouldn’t have missed for the world.


Here’s a selection of tweets from that morning:

Kartel dress like a wedding cake ornament.. LOL RT @tplayfair: #sting http://tweetphoto.com/7374217

Vybz Kartel at Sting09 by Tara Playfair-Scott
Shot of crowd at Sting 09 tweeted from location.
And after all the boasting and pre-Sting publicity (see trailer below) LA Lewis didn’t turn up giving rise to many jokes about the Queen, the new taxes, the coffin he had prepared to bury Goofy and much else.

tplayfair RT @SuppaKid: @tplayfair at least he made the
coffin b4 they pass the taxes. so him save some $$$

tplayfair Twit Classified> One white coffin red velvet
interior comes w/4 cans of spray paint & 7 pairs of white sox.
Vampires get 17.5% off purchase

KandeeAppl Everybody’s FB status is about how lame sting
was, glad I opted to watch it on TV, big up ER an Anthony
Miller, pon top a tings-as always!

anniepaul But of course! RT @RoryLeif: La lewis said he was
unable to attend sting becuz he was meeting with the queen

LivUp_Records Reach home. Laing biggest joka. Bout kartel
& vado pon stage 1 time di prezi alone can do that!!

LivUp_RecordsTeacha de ya.

A funny misunderstanding happened when Kartel’s fans thought that their fanpower and enthusiastic tweets had made #Gaza a trending topic on Twitter (Gaza is the name Kartel also known as the Teacher adopted for his community after its original name ‘Borderline’ was besmirched by association in a popular play) only to find that it was no such thing. It was just that their beloved Teacha’s performance in the wee hours of December 27th coincided with a Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the ORIGINAL Gaza that unfolded at 3 pm middle eastern time but early morning for us:

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Israel’s attacks on Gaza in December 2008, a number of activists have planned a targeted “tweet for Gaza” campaign on Twitter. The campaign, widely promoted by Twitter usernmoawad, is meant to draw attention to the current siege on Gaza, and will be implemented on Sunday, December 27, between 3pm and 7pm GMT, in an effort to make#Gaza a Twitter trending topic . . . a great number of people are using Twitter to share their own personal thoughts about Gaza, one year after the attacks which left 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Rime Allaf, a Syrian Twitterer, explains what it means to her:
Rime Allaf shares her thoughts on Gaza
New Twitter user Joelle Hatem joins the campaign
May i recommend that our celebrated journalists follow Joelle Hatem’s example and take a crash course in Twitter? The lagging behind in use of new technologies from the most literate segments of Jamaican society contradicts the ‘English is better than Patwa’ message that the English-speaking elites are constantly advancing, claiming that English is necessary to ‘move ahead’, converse with the rest of the world, keep up with new knowledge and so on. It would seem from the example that they’re setting that English is actually holding back the learned, speaky-spoky elites.

Even the latest Shebada play Serious Business, pivots on the plot-bending detail of ‘Facebook and Twidder’ for he plays a Revival preacher from New York, with 5000 Facebook friends and 3000 Twitter followers. Those are his qualifications for being hired to replace the crufty, corrupt old Preacher who is busy ripping off the Church at every opportunity he gets.

It’s an amazing development when the less literate massive and crew get the new technologies before those who benefited from the highest education this country can offer. What can it portend for the future?

Eyeless in Gaza (and Gully): ‘Mi deh pon di borderline’

Clovis Brown, Wednesday, October 7 2009, Jamaica Observer

Gaza. Gully. The two words, inscribed in locations all over Kingston and Jamaica, signify internecine zones of conflict competing for supremacy in the dancehall universe here. For those who don’t know: Gaza=Kartel and Gully=Mavado. Mavado, popularly known as ‘Gully Gad (God)’, comes from Gullyside in Cassava Piece, an impoverished community in the foothills of Kingston. Kartel comes from a neighbourhood in Portmore that was once known as BORDERLINE.

And thereby hangs a tale. A story you wouldn’t find in the normal media yasso which specializes in skimming the surface and shallow moralizing. The Jamaican media generously accommodates both sinners and sermonizers, protecting the former by voluntarily gagging themselves and the latter by giving them as many column inches as their sermons demand. In the US it is citizens who usually “plead the fifth” and have “the right to remain silent”, both stemming from the Fifth Amendment of their constitution. In Jamaica the media seem to have arrogated such rights to themselves; they provide a minimum of in-depth coverage of events apparently on the grounds that the information given could be used as evidence against them!

So like me, you may not have known the etymology of the term ‘Gaza’ in the Jamaican context (Talk bout the media being eyeless in Gaza!) or why Borderline came to be so renamed. It’s a fascinating story which is intimately connected (as a batty is to a bench you might say) with this culture’s notorious attitude towards male homosexuals or ‘batty’ men as they are called here.

http://www.facebook.com/profile/pic.php?uid=AAAAAQAQVI9_PpNzEuTOnAdJ4J37_AAAAAoXoDCB-q_XlO3LZXDM3JMF
Shebada Ramsay, the ‘Gender Bender’

It all has to do with an actor called Shebada, the star of a super successful series of plays put on by Stages Productions. This company produces what is known in local parlance as ‘roots plays’, a kind of farcical, over the top production with picaresque characters performing or acting out the issues of the day. Sex is a big part of it, and subtlety is not, but Stages Productions whose slogan is “Comedy is serious business” always plays to full houses.

Stages Productions has also pioneered the explicit exploration of alternative sexualities and Shebada himself, whose stage persona is camp as they come and twice as provocative, sports a bleached face and gay-ish attributes that complicate the argument that Jamaica is unremittingly hostile to Gays. In fact international Gay rights groups who have targeted the island’s musicians repeatedly would do well to analyze such productions and feed the resulting insights into their jackhammer strategies at outing and combating what is touted worldwide as Jamaican homophobia.

The induction of the name ‘Gaza’ into the Jamaican firmament came about because in the very first insanely popular Stages Production, Bashment Granny, there is a scene where a policeman confronts the sinuous Shebada asking “Yu a man or yu a woman?” “Mi deh pon di borderline” declares Shebada unabashedly, emphasizing his retort with an exaggerated wag of his hips. The phrase became so popular in the context of discussions about sexuality that Vybz Kartel decided that the name of his community ‘Borderline’ had been irrevocably contaminated by association. He therefore adopted the name of the most violent place he could think of at the time—Gaza in Palestine.

Again Fernando Guereta, or Mr. Previous, as I have nicknamed him, the man responsible for the film, Why Do Jamaicans Run so Fast? has been quick off the mark. He is already in the middle of his next film, which documents the Gully Gaza phenomenon (please note he was NOT the source of information for this post). The interview with him I promised is still pending. I will unveil it over the course of the coming week. In the meantime check out these two video clips of Shebada in Bashment Granny (the relevant declaration is four and a half minutes into the first one). The second one has some priceless footage of Shebada teaching Bashment Granny how to walk and dance with credibility. Enjoy!

The Blogging Caste


I’m really glad the Jamaican government decided to spend $12 million (Jamaican of course; J$80=US$1) on fireworks at the waterfront on New Year’s Eve. It was a mere series of blips compared to the displays in Hong Kong and Australia but they were our blips and we enjoyed them. I hear the mutterings and rumblings about how the money could have been put to better use etc but it’s not as if Jamaica is Zimbabwe or Iraq. We haven’t been ravaged by disease or war in quite the same way and there’s a limit to the difference a hundred and fifty thousand American dollars could make to the general well-being of the population.

In fact a firework display for all to enjoy was one of the few ways the money could have been used to benefit many. All things considered the fireworks did briefly manage to prop up a generally sagging public morale I think. As bad as things seemed by the end of the year at least we weren’t too poor to afford fireworks. Thousands turned out to reclaim the normally abandoned downtown and waterfront areas of Kingston and I hear Tivoli was popping with a more rollicking session of Passa Passa than usual. I’m sure vendors and hustlers did a roaring business that night. And it wasn’t just downtown. Cars and people lined the Palisadoes road all the way to the airport to watch the fireworks and set off their own.

I surveyed the numerous firework displays from the lofty heights of Stony Hill where we enjoyed a commanding view of the city. A private home in Jack’s Hill threatened to rival the fireworks at the waterfront. We viewed it as a struggle between the private sector and the public to outdo each other. The latter won, just about.

So 2008 was a rough year and 09 doesn’t promise to be any better. The Israeli pounding of Gaza underscores the grim future that awaits many of us. Meanwhile that ingenious merchant of hope, Barack Obama, gets ready to occupy the most powerful throne on earth. Will he actually make a difference? What will we be thinking and saying of him a year from now? And when is someone going to invent fast forward and rewind buttons for life so that we don’t have to leave such matters to speculation?

My new year’s resolution in 2007 was to start a blog in 2008. Determined to join the blogging caste I managed to kick start Active Voice last January and it picked up momentum during the course of the year. What an odyssey into the unknown it’s proven to be, this excursion into the blogosphere; this deepening acquaintance with the internet and cyberspace. The world wide web is a sticky place and blogs are like mini-webs spun by human arachnids who aim to trap you with silky tripwires. Not to eat those who wander into their webs but to entice them to return, again and again, leaving trails of page views and visits and occasional comments— blogfood—that rich humus that feeds the growth of blogs.

How bloggers who never receive comments or a minimum of visits continue to maintain their output is beyond me. But then again its all relative. I think i’ve done well to have received close to ten thousand hits over the last year but when you compare that to Indian bloggers whose page views number in the hundreds of thousands you may as well retire coz it’ll probably be the year 3000 by the time you get there. I mean Domain Maximus will soon reach the million viewer mark and the Compulsive Confessor is already a million plus .

So although advertisers would have us rate the success of blogs by the number of hits they attract on a per diem basis—apparently anything less than 2000 hits per day is not considered worth spending advertising dollars on —there are other indicators of blog health and success that may not be as easily quantifiable.

The other highlight for me has been allowing myself to get into Facebook in a serious way. At first I couldn’t understand why I should join such a network. It seemed to me like entertainment for the feeble-minded or ultra young with its good karma requests and its past life, monster birth and mob wars invitations (all of which can be safely ignored). Then I read a New York Times article about ‘Digital Intimacy’ or something like that which explained the whole concept of the thing and suddenly I got why it’s as innovative as it is.

From the album: Hitman Wally

Haven’t looked back since. Life without Facebook is pretty damn unimaginable today. The poverty of the print media in Jamaica was brought home to me when I read Eve Mann’s review of Sting 08 (Jamaica’s top dancehall event, held every December 26) that she posted as a note in Facebook. Her excellent account underscored the anodyne, barely competent writing we tolerate from print journalists here. It remains a mystery to me why Jamaican newspapers offer their readers a third-rate product when first-rate writing is so readily (if not as cheaply) available. Surely they realize that like anything else you get what you pay for?

This preference for second and third-best isn’t confined to Jamaica. In Trinidad and Tobago (and elsewhere) stunned readers of his column are expressing dismay that the Trinidad Express has terminated B.C. Pires’s provocative and acutely critical weekly column. Ever one to lay bare the truth with wit and originality Pires probably wasn’t as biddable as the Express would have liked. Without more information one can only speculate. In one of his last columns for the Express he interviewed himself. He was nothing if not hard-hitting and original.

Closer to home the Gleaner seems to have terminated the column of the punderous Dr. Orville Taylor (it never fails to amuse me the childish glee with which people brandish their titles here. Even ‘Mrs.’ is an honorific in Jamaica and she who has earned the right to be called ‘Mrs.’ is likely to rub it into your face with all the zeal of a Pond’s Cold Cream salesperson). Dr. Taylor liked to announce his witticisms with an advance marching band of quote marks and both bold and italic type just in case there was a reader who didn’t get it. In many ways Taylor was the opposite of B.C. Pires, lacking his finesse and acrobatic way with words and ideas, so his departure is likely to be met more with sighs of relief than regret, although he did have his fans (Stero?). Of course no one could be more grief-stricken than Dr. Taylor himself. Contrast his parting column, Swansongs and Auld Lang Syne with that of Pires, Write time, wrong place.

But guess what guys! The twenty-first century piece of all-purpose advice is no longer “Get a life!”; its “Get a blog!” Come join the blogging caste–the only caste you don’t have to be born into. So what if your papers have cut you loose? Its their loss…light a candle, sing a sankey and find your way to blogger.com! Your readers will follow suit.

Raising the Bar

The world’s fastest men and women were feted this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica for their breathtaking exploits in Beijing this summer. The Government produced floats, big trucks pumping music, throngs of joyous people, and keys to new cars and the city of Kingston for many of them. We’re not exactly sure what the latter will unlock; surely a little like giving someone the keys to Pandora’s Box.

I feel like a dog with ten tails, said a woman in the street, beaming with delight the day Usain Bolt returned from the Olympics. And all of them wagging full speed no doubt– what could be more evocative than that? As Brazil is to football, the most stylishly competitive track and field in the world will always be to Jamaica and young Usain will likely occupy a similar place in the firmament as the legendary Pele.


I was going through the newspapers that had piled up on me during those glorious Beijing days and found some really great visual material in them. If the print media routinely lets us down in terms of sloppy writing and poorly conceived and executed texts (no world beaters here, alas!) our cartoonists and advertising agencies rose to the occasion effortlessly demonstrating their world class skills in a series of brilliant cartoons and ads celebrating and commenting on the feats of the Jamaican athletic team.


In this post I’ve reproduced what i thought were the most creative print ads in local newspapers and one of my favourite cartoons by Las May of the Gleaner (apologies for the quality of reproduction, its entirely due to the technology i employed). What price that image of the public awarding a big zero to the antics of the two PNP contenders? (above). Adwise I thought IRIE FM won hands down (see immediately below) with its image of the receding heels of an athlete wearing the Jamaican flag like a cape. No prize for guessing what it says in Chinese–“Usain Bolt run things”–I’m sure.


Congratulations too to Maurice Smith (who has various friends of mine drooling over him); the captain of the team, he is an outstanding decathlete and his role as leader should not be overlooked.

Sorry now to have to drag you from the sublime heights of Olympic stardom to the dismal depths of print journalism in Jamaica but i need to revisit my post of a few weeks ago, Pronounced Dead, (September 5 to be precise) in which i lamented the kind of shoddy writing that passes for reportage and commentary in this country. I return to it now to quote from some of the incisive responses that post received which really bear being quoted and highlighted.

According to V.

the most worrisome part is that, other than illustrating the sloppiness of local editorial practices, the “pronounced dead” narratives also reveal an appalling intellectual dishonesty. Our newspapers know perfectly well that those routine police reports conceal more complex and sordid stories and they should make more effort (correction: MUCH more effort) to uncover and report them.

As Bitter Bean pointed out:

The truth is that those who run the papers care more about the advertising than the editorial content. Articles are just included so that all the ads don’t look overcrowded.

On September 22nd the inimitable Long Bench left this:

I noticed today that the NYT actually created an online page to address the errors that editors and readers find —

http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/when-spell-check-cant-help-a-quiz/

Well, well, well. So my post was a timely one. It’s not only in Jamdown that the print media is being critiqued by its readers for the numerous errors purveyed in their pages. The difference is that being Jamaica (read third world? provincial?) newspapers here have completely ignored all criticism, undeterred in their determination to pepper their prose with the most careless and egregious errors.

The Gleaner shows marginal improvement. In last Sunday’s paper ( all the examples cited here are from September 27) the only thing i could find at first glance was this line from Ian Boyne’s column: speaking of Portia he said “…the odds have been stocked against her…” A good proofreader should have picked that up, odds are stacked against someone not stocked.

From the Herald there were several bloopers: in Garnett Roper’s column I read “What Jamaica faces is an economy which has almost grounded completely to a halt.” Later in the same column “People are wondering around lost because of mounting bills.” Today’s editorial in the Herald is titled “Why Journalists must be troublemakers” and makes the case for aggressive newsgathering and storytelling. i completely agree; the Herald is virtually singular in taking such an uncompromising stand in the quality of the stories it carries. It must also display utmost integrity and intolerance of errors in the language it employs to tell its stories.

Finally the Observer had some priceless ones in its editorial titled “Will somebody please answer Ms Verna Gordon-Binns?” The editors seem quite incensed that Ms. Binns’ proposal that ganja or marijuana be used to make ethanol instead of food staples was unceremoniously laughed out of parliament. Quoting from an unnamed document they refer to ‘mitigating the environmental fallout from anthropological activity’. Now mind you this is a quote but the Observer retails it without commenting on its putative meaning. what on earth is being implied here? That anthropological fieldwork has somehow been destructive enough to cause environmental fallout? where, when and how? is the quote correct? Anthropology is “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.” I’m at a loss as to what link there might be to the health of the environment here.

Why don’t all three papers take a leaf out of the book of The New York Times? Mind you the level of incorrect language used in the NYT pales in comparison to the local newspapers yet in contrast the NYT had the grace and humility to acknowledge its shortcomings. Here’s how their article on editorial errors started:

Even in the rush to publish, writers and editors at The Times strive for polish and precision in our prose. Sometimes we succeed.

But sometimes, after the dust settles, we are dismayed to see painful grammatical errors, shopworn phrasing or embarrassing faults in usage. A quick fix might be possible online; otherwise, the lapses become lessons for next time.

Will the local print media do the right thing and start paying more attention to copy editing what it puts out in the way of editorial matter? Jamaica’s Olympic team has raised the bar very high but will the Press Association of Jamaica take even a baby step towards demanding (and attaining) internationally benchmarked professional standards in journalism from its members?

Introducing…The Diatribalist

His is the most arresting, momentuous, invaluable blog i think i’ve ever come across. Dwight Dunkley describes himself as “a highly opinionated alien, a Jamaican living in New York” with “a stated mission to improve Jamaican media”. Calling his blog “My View of Jamdown from Up So” Dunkley also goes by the name ‘Diatribalist’. He’s only been blogcasting since May this year but trust me he’s spot on–a sharp, analytical critique of the Jamaican media is just what we need–and Dunkley provides this in his penetrating, often devastating commentary reviewing the major news media here. So what if he lives in the diaspora and not here? The detailed scrutiny he offers is all the more remarkable for that. Dunkley’s questions are hard and probing and clamour for answers. Finally someone else has noticed how shambolic the Press in this country is and has figured out a way to intervene. Kali, Jesus and Allah be praised! Please read, this is how his latest blog begins:

This is an open letter to tell all editors, journalists, columnists and stenographers calling yourselves journalists:

This blog is not your enemy.

This blog is a fan, a friend. This blog wishes you well.

This blog follows your work closely, reads your lines and then between your lines. Can this blog not be forgiven for thereafter scribbling in the margins?

For standing up for those mostly marginalized by the pigmentocratic power you wield and challenging the kleptomaniac clique your silence shields.

This blog is not your enemy.

For more click here.

As a postscript i also want to note the passing of Tim Russert of NBC News. Described as adept at conducting “the prosecutorial interview without a sharp edge” he was definitely one of the better, more congenial American TV journalists/talking heads around and will be missed by many all over the world.