Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, Now Dan Rather. What ails Jamaican media?

After Dan Rather’s in-depth coverage of the Lotto Scam in Jamaica might it be a good time to ask why local media doesn’t produce similarly aggressive, investigative reporting?


News outlets in Jamaica this week were inundated with coverage of  and responses to the US media’s unprecedented focus on the Lotto Scam, a locally generated con game, whose victims are elderly Americans. Former 60 Minutes stalwart Dan Rather visited Jamaica some weeks ago so his in-depth exposé of the scam, Just Hang Up, which aired on March 12, complete with heart-rending interviews with some of the victims didn’t come as a surprise. The documentary was timed to air in tandem with evidence presented to the US Senate’s Committee on Ageing yesterday. At least two  other major US channels also aired stories on the scam.

The US Embassy in Jamaica obligingly posted links on Facebook with the following note:

As you are aware, there has been a great deal of U.S. media attention focused on advanced-fee fraud (also known as “lotto scams”) recently. Below are the links to the Dan Rather, CBS and NBC stories.

I haven’t yet seen the entire documentary featuring Rather (its available free on iTunes though only in the US not in Jamaica) but the excerpts shown on TV here have been riveting. The American TV team even lured a scammer, tracked down by his IP address, to a meeting in Montego Bay, showing him live and direct for all to see. Naturally the impact has been sensational especially because this well-crafted documentary was shown on prime time TV in the United States. It suddenly came home to Jamaicans that ‘Brand Jamaica’, as local technocrats and the media in general have taken to calling it, was going to take a battering.

Relying on tourism and American visitors as much as Jamaica does this could be potentially devastating.

What does it mean that serious crimes like the Lotto Scam and the Tivoli genocide (the 2010 killing of 73 plus citizens by the State in its pursuit of fugitive don, Christopher Coke) are exposed by foreign not local media I asked on Twitter yesterday. For although the media here has carried any number of stories on the Lotto Scam, many of them bizarrely claiming that most of the scammers are gay, we’ve never been given a true idea of the scale of the problem, affecting enough Americans for their political representatives to start raising the alarm about it.

Several media folk I follow on Twitter reacted negatively to my question, interpreting it as a slight or a claim that there had been no local media attention to the scam. It s true that there have been many stories about the Lotto scam here. To my mind however there’s a qualitative difference in the way the story was investigated and reported on American TV and the way it’s been carried in the local media which mainly focused on the scam when police action brought it to the forefront. Piqued by public criticism Simon Crosskill played some of CVM’s previously aired coverage of the Lotto Scam last night. It did cover much of the same ground as Rather’s documentary but the audio was poor and too many of the people interviewed had their faces obscured and voices disguised, thus robbing it of the impact it could have had.

Are there some stories local media consider too dangerous to touch? or don’t have the resources to I wondered puzzling over this variance in the quality of media coverage. In the case of the 2010 Tivoli carnage also there had been nothing in local media to approach the in-depth investigative article by American journalist Mattathias Schwartz whose exposé provided evidence that the US had given Jamaica military assistance in the May 2010 incursion into Tivoli despite the Jamaican government’s claims to the contrary. In both cases it was the American media that brought these stories to international attention, and sustained interest in them, not local media.

Let it be noted that Jamaican media are perfectly capable of executing well-researched, hard-hitting, in-depth stories when they’re ready to. In 2004 Cliff Hughes’s TV programme Impact won an Emmy in the United States for its documentary on sniper Lee Boyd Malvo called ‘The Potter and the Clay’. It was so good it not only attracted the attention of the US media, it won one of the most coveted journalism awards there. Other journalists such as Earl Moxam, Simon Crosskill, Dionne Jackson-Miller and Emily Crooks are as good as or better than their American peers.

Is it that there’s a lack of political will from the big media houses to provide the best journalists with the required resources and time to follow up the really important stories? Or are there more sinister reasons why Jamaica doesn’t have aggressive, exposé-driven investigative news outlets such as 60 Minutes and ABC’s 20/20?

The closest thing Jamaica has had in recent times to similar hard-hitting TV newsmagazines, was Doubletake, produced by Anthony Miller and CARIMAC lecturer Yvette Rowe for TVJ in 2000-2001. Despite winning awards the programme was phased out after only 8 or 9 episodes because it was considered too hard hitting and perhaps too close to the truth for comfort. It was felt that the broadcasters’ relentless focus on corruption and calling out politicans and others without fear or fanfare was ‘mashing too many corns’. This was the perception of the hosts of the programme; the station apparently discontinued it for lack of sponsorship although it was extremely popular and well-received by the public. Why a popular, well-made documentary programme would have difficulty finding sponsors is anybody’s guess. But it reinforces the point I’m making about the lack of will on the part of those with the means to enable and sustain high quality, hard-hitting journalism.

Among other subjects Doubletake covered, were the death and funeral of Grants Pen area leader Andrew Phang in Death of a Don, colour and race issues in The Browning Syndrome, the politics of the 100 Lane Massacre and other such matters. Whatever was the issue of the day was grist for their mill and with a miller like Anthony, no holds were barred. We desperately need a show like Doubletake again.

Patty Bandits in Paradise…#ironymuch

Robbery at Juici Patties in Kingston, Jamaica, hostage situation defused, how it was discussed on Twitter

Juici sent patties to Haiti after the earthquake

What an irony that the very day after Playboy magazine asked me to expand on my statement “In Jamaica farce, intrigue and tragedy remain inextricably intertwined” (Don’t worry–re Playboy–ALL will be revealed in due course) another farcical scenario played itself out in downtown Kingston when armed men took over the Juici Patty outlet on West Street.

@pd_rickards was tickled. lol who would rob a patty shop? <Pattybandits he tweeted. When I was a kid they used to call me Patty Bandit..and seet deh now it come to pass. 8:48 PM Sep 4th. they would bring box of patty home and bam..3 gone..ppl seh..’Is peter dean dweet uno..him is the patty bandit. 9:03 PM Sep 4th.

Meanwhile @JustSherman joined in the commentary: Hostage situation at A Patty Shop, Sounds like something written by @PD_Rickards but sadly true, Lord deliver us.

Details are still sketchy; it was only last night that what rapidly became known as “the hostage situation” developed like a hurriedly-formed hurricane which huffed and puffed but ultimately kept from blowing the house down. I was up in Stony Hill listening to Kate Bush sing Wuthering Heights over and over when i saw the first tweet about hostages being released in downtown Kingston.

I blinked. Had i fallen asleep and woken up in a Bollywood film? Or was this a nightmare in which life was trying to invade the reality show we’ve become? In response to my query as to whether this might be a b-grade Bollywood flick @ drewonline said: that would involve a dance routine on king street ma’am so no it’s not a Bollywood movie it’s a Jamaican farce–:-(

Turn on the TV, turn on the TV, everyone yelled when i announced that my Twitter feed was indicating that people were being held hostage at Juici Patty on West Street. Of course once again real life was quick to intrude. We were in Kingston, Jamaica, not some place with real television stations that report what’s occurring AS it’s occurring around us. Both major local stations were replaying American TV series and there was no live coverage of the potentially deadly drama. As @ArnoldKer said in disbelief: #nowwatching Gossip Girl on TVJ while hostages are being held downtown. How awesome is this!

The inevitable reference to the erstwhile reign of Dudus was made: Likkle bwoy cyan manage bigman work. Now dem know how Presi work did hard and Dem waan do Don work and cyan manage it. They should have tried to co-op the System into regular governance and then use an diffuse it. The latter makes eminent sense for as the same tweeter pointed out: Tivoli was the only “ghetto” with Moneygram, Claro, Digicel, Lime and numerous small and large businesses that were profitable and safe.

Hopefully the international media won’t get hold of this, someone said. I thought events in Barbados where six people were killed in the process of a robbery in Bridgetown were likely to distract attention away from Kingston, where nobody has been killed after all. The farce continued to unfurl; after a tense standoff police orchestrated an invasion of the building only to find the armed men long gone by the time they broke in. Said @DLee876: Welcome to #Jamaica, where police surround a building and yet ALL the criminals inside escape. hahahahah #sadbutfunny.

So the gunmen freed themselves under the guise of being hostages? asked @cucumberjuice.

That was when @drewonline memorably declared: Sometimes i believe we are all hostages inna patty shop (that has a beach, a soundtrack and people who run really fast) #ironymuch

Interestingly it was only a few days ago that there was a situation at another patty shop, Sugar & Spice, in Liguanea. I don’t think it even made the local news because i never did hear the details of it tho’ my twitter feed showed photos of police cars blocking one of the Liguanea plazas and there were rumours of bullets being fired. It is said that a woman who had gone to the bank next door before deciding on a patty for lunch was robbed of J$800,000. But honestly who knows for sure? In the information age crucial information is frequently withheld in Jamaica; its like wading through a perpetual smog.

The hashtag in front of words means that the tweet in question will be filed under those terms in the global twitter feed. For example #nowwatching is usually appended to tweets announcing what movie, TV show or video the person is watching at the time. #sadbutfunny had one quite poignant tweet: hard enough being the slow kid but needing a reminder for drivers not to run you over is just #sadbutfunny http://twitpic.com/2lf035. Another example, this one from Sept 1 @rpugh Discovery Channel gunman James Jay Lee called 4 TV shows promoting war be removed. Holding hostages at gunpoint. #ironymuch

Alas it’s true, we’re all hostages in a patty shop. There’s no escaping it. Jamaica 2010. #ironymuch

The Police Gang

Jamaican police beat and kill Ian Lloyd, a citizen records this on video, providing evidence that Lloyd was unarmed and not dangerous when killed. This also contradicted the police force’s own statement that the shooting was an act of self-defence on the part of the police.

The police in Jamaica are once again at the centre of a maelstrom of criticism after a video surfaced showing some of them beating up and shooting a man in cold blood. TVJ (Television Jamaica), having learnt its lesson in May after deciding not to air its exclusive footage of masked men in Tivoli Gardens getting ready to defend Dudus (later beamed to the world by the BBC which had no such qualms) sent shock waves through the nation by airing the graphic video of the police killing, shot by an onlooker who sent it to them. The Constabulary Communication Network (CCN) had earlier reported that the man, Ian Lloyd, was shot dead after he attacked members of a police party. The video footage, captured by cellphone, however contradicted this story, clearly showing an unarmed and subdued man lying on the ground.

Lloyd was reportedly a drug addict who had just killed his female partner and was generally considered a nuisance to the community, members of which were seen on video cheering the police on as they circled the man beating him and then shooting him. Still, at the end of the day the question remains: is this what the police are paid to do?

This is not the first time i’ve had occasion to write about the excesses and corruption in the police force. The very first blogpost i ever wrote, in January 2008 when i started this blog, was about Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue who confessed in the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate’s Court that he had fabricated witness testimony in the trial of 22-year old Jason James, allegedly a member of the Killer Bee gang.

Lyn-Sue openly admitted that it was frustration that had driven him to invent a crown witness complete with incriminating testimony when fear prevented any actual witnesses from testifying. He was aware of various crimes committed by the accused, he said, and thought that getting James off the streets even for a day would be doing society a favour.

In September that year I had occasion to publish a piece called “Pronounced Dead” in which i was discussing the distortions of the English language one frequently hears and reads in local media reports starting with the much abused phrase “pronounced dead”. This term often appears in radio newscasts recounting police shoot outs where “shots were fired”, “the fire was returned” and then “the injured men” (rarely members of the police force) are taken to hospital, where “upon arrival” they are invariably “pronounced dead”.

In December last year I wrote about the police killing of  Robert ‘Kentucky Kid’ Hill, a musician who had predicted his death and actually named the cops who would be responsible. According  to the Sunday Herald, Hill, virtually in tears, said he was convinced that cops were stalking him and he felt intimidated. Within a few weeks Hill was killed during a shootout with a police party on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 causing leading journalist Cliff Hughes to declare on Nationwide radio that this wasn’t the Jamaica Constabulary Force, it was the Jamaica Criminal Force. Virtually nine months later nothing has come of the investigation into Kentucky Kid’s killing by the Police.

My focus on police excesses has not been restricted to the Jamaican police. In January i published a piece called Police states, anthropology and human rights by an Indian anthropologist named Nandini Sundar who had suffered abuse and harrassment at the hands of police in India. At the time I wrote:

Just in case we thought that the Jamaican police were unique in their brand of brutality we are reminded that police forces anywhere can be equal opportunity purveyors of brutality and state terror. This is a depressing way to start the new decade for true. Are police forces merely gangs licensed to torture, bully and kill by the state? Packs of wolves hired to keep rebellious sheep in line?

In the United States many counties do not permit citizens to videotape police in public. I sincerely hope this will not be the recommendation of the committee investigating the killing of Ian Lloyd. If it is i hope they will also recommend that the Jamaican police follow the example of certain police departments in the US which are equipping their members with video cameras so that in case of accusations being made of abuse and excessive force they can provide their own footage to corroborate their stories of killing in self-defence.

More details on this can be found in this pithily titled story: Police turning to self-mounted video cameras to protect themselves from us.

To the World from Jamaica! Patwa Power Bolts the Stables


Yes, we can…be worldbeaters! That’s the message from Jamaica’s relentlessly resilient and resourceful underclass who have proven yet again their ability to dominate global competition in the arenas where their lack of English doesn’t hold them back. This is Patwa power (patois or creole, the much reviled and disdained oral language spoken by the majority of Jamaicans) at its most potent: a lithe and flexible force–honed by adversity–flaunting its mastery of the universe of athletics.

To underscore its point Patwa hurled its most powerful lightning bolt at distant Beijing. Named Usain, this young and irrepressible son of Jamaican soil then re-inscribed forever the significance of the word Bolt. Both English-speaking and Patwa-speaking Jamaicans united in celebrating Usain Bolt’s extraordinary exploits (Gold and world records in Men’s 100m, 200m and the 4×100) and those of the nimble, determined young Jamaican team accompanying him. Over the two weeks of the 29th Olympiad they enthralled global audiences over and over again with their worldbeating skills.

Portia Simpson-Miller, considered by many patwa-speakers to be their spokesperson, nailed it when she said on radio that the achievements of Jamaican athletes at Beijing made her proud because “what people call ‘ordinary people’ have produced such extraordinary results”. Prime Minister of Jamaica briefly from 2006 to 2007 Simpson-Miller has faced enormous hostility from the English-speaking elites here who would like to continue their hegemonic rule over this small island state in the Caribbean. President of the Opposition People’s National Party she is currently being challenged for leadership by Dr. Peter Phillips, seen by many as representing the highly educated but numerically small middle class and a state of mind known as Drumblair, the equivalent in Jamaica of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) culture or status in the United States.

Watching the athletic meet at the Olympics unfold from the vantage point of Kingston, Jamaica was an incredible experience. Raw, naked nationalism at its very best: First we rallied around Samantha Albert, Jamaica’s only entrant in the equestrienne events. Samantha is a white Englishwoman with a Jamaican mother who was born and lived here in her early years. She didn’t stand a chance of medaling, merely hoping to make it to the top 25, yet Jamaicans cheered her on, proud to see their flag in this never before contested event.

Then there was the first big race, the men’s 100 metres, in which both Bolt and Asafa Powell were gold medal contenders. Alas Powell disintegrated under the pressure; he still came in fifth but his fans were inconsolable. Bolt’s sensational streak to victory helped but by and large Jamaicans were grieving for Powell. He holds a special place in their hearts. It is as if they identify with him. Whereas in the past they used to cuss off Merlene Ottey when she only managed a bronze medal this time the public concern shown for Powell’s morale and well-being in the aftermath of his disastrous run was quite remarkable. When he finally anchored the 4×100 team to victory in fine form, thundering down the closing stretch like Nemesis herself, he had completely redeemed the favoured son spot he had never really lost.

If Jamaican success at the men’s 100m was tempered with disappointment at not pulling off a trifecta (or even a bifecta) the female athletes delivered perfection by winning gold, silver and silver at the women’s 100 metres. This was an unexpected bonanza. Till now no one had really focused on the female runners or races other than the women’s 200m where Veronica Campbell-Brown was expected to deliver gold. Now the women had successfully grabbed the spotlight and kept it on themselves winning gold or silver in most of their events. In the end, of Jamaica’s 11 medals (six of which were gold) 8 were from women as TVJ’s commentator Bruce James usefully pointed out. One of the sweetest was Melaine Walker’s virtually effortless 400m hurdles gold medal.

Shelley Ann Fraser (women’s 100m winner), the pocket rocket who shot out of the starting blocks and into our hearts wasn’t even considered a medal contender to begin with. Earlier in the year when Veronica, the defending Olympic 200m winner didn’t qualify for the Jamaican 100m team because she came fourth in the qualifying trials (this shows you how competitive athletics is in Jamaica) there were many who thought one of the unknowns who had beaten her should have stepped down in favour of Campbell-Brown out of deference to her seniority and past distinctions. Fraser was the one many thought should have been eliminated from the Jamaican team to make way for Veronica.

Maybe that’s what made her run like a cheetah and spring like a moko jumbie but from now on everytime anyone in the world wants to illustrate the concept of delight they should simply replay Fraser’s girlish leaps and bounds when she realized she had won Olympic gold. If the whole world fell in love with that ecstatic brace-filled smile and the spontaneous, unadulterated joy Shelley-Ann Fraser expressed on the track you can imagine how we in Jamdown felt.

What was hard to imagine even down so (admittedly from uptown down so) was how the parents of these individuals must have felt. Especially when the TV cameras took you to the homes of Shelley-Ann and Sherieka Williams and Sherone Simpson and Melaine Walker and you realized with shock how very poor these people who had produced such champions were. Most of them had watched their sons and daughters winning Olympic silver and gold on very small TV screens, in very humble living quarters, in this ghetto or that one.

Waterhouse. Slaughterhouse. Powerhouse. That’s what young Shelley-Ann from Waterhouse has reiterated for us in case we didn’t know this already from the abnormal number of successful musicians her community has produced. Virtually 80% of Jamaica’s biggest names in music have come from Waterhouse, one of the poorest ghettoes in Kingston, including the young singer I mentioned in my last blog, Terry Lynn. The area should be declared some sort of national patrimony or Talent Park with free education up to any level for all.

When asked if she herself had ever displayed any running talent Shelley Ann’s mother said that indeed she had quite a bit of experience sprinting from the police, with the goods she tried to sell as an unlicensed street vendor. She was an experienced runner she said so her daughter’s performance was not that surprising.

The Ministry of Transport hastened to announce that it was going to upgrade the roadways in all the communities whose athletes had produced Olympic gold. Why? Not so much to elevate these depressed communities as to give them an instant facelift so that when the international media arrived their impoverishment would be less apparent and less of a blight on the brand name of Jamaica! The politics of sports in Jamaica! Or just the politics of politics…

On a more amusing note page two of the Observer, the social page, suddenly underwent a population transfusion, the beige and white socialites who normally monopolize it abruptly displaced by the almost uniformly dark-skinned athletes. Sigh! If only Jamaica’s business and social elite were one hundredth as nimble and competitive as the country’s athletes! If only they too were worldbeaters!

Personally I think that the phenomenal performance of Jamaican athletes is also due to the cultural self-confidence they feel; a confidence expressed by Usain Bolt in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium when he spontaneously broke into the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the latest dance moves innovative Jamaican dancehall music has produced (actually Usain’s trademark gesture of pulling back an imaginary bow and arrow like Orion is now the latest dancehall move here).

This is not a confidence manufactured by the abjectly self-conscious, respectability-seeking, hymn-singing English-speaking middle classes but one bred out of the flamboyant, boisterous, in-your-face Patwa-speaking population. In the forty years since Jamaica’s independence it is the latter who have proved both through their athletic and musical prowess that they are ready to take on the world. The Beijing Olympics have shown that the world is more than ready for them (minus the prissy IOC head Jacques Rogge who sounds for all the world as if he had been formed in the bowels of Upper St. Andrew). To the World Ja!

Photo credits, captions
(L-R) Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Usain Bolt and Michael Frater of Jamaica celebrate the gold medal after the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final at the National Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images AsiaPac)

(L-R) Joint silver medalist Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica and Joint silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica stand on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100m Final at the National Stadium on Day 10 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 18, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images AsiaPac)