Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Media houses objective? Really?

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaican media landscape is very large in proportion to our population size. We have more than 20 radio stations, three free-to-air television stations which have cable affiliation and rebroadcast, and which rebroadcast some of the programming found on the prime outlets.

We have two major daily newspapers and a number of regional and community newspapers. This proliferation of media has resulted in the industry occupying a prominence that one could correctly label as disproportionate. Currently, this is giving rise to a lot of chatter in society.

The radio stations have a place of prominence along with the two major daily newspapers. However, when one follows the chatter on social media, most of the radio stations do not appear to have gained wide traction. The format of the station also dictates the public reaction to them. Some of the most popular stations are music oriented and are not seen as outlets of record when providing news.

Other radio stations package their news and sell for rebroadcast to other stations. Pretty much the same news items being presented as original broadcasts. In fact, this is not unheard of, as that is a formula utilised by worldwide organisations such as The Associated Press (AP). In mistakes, the credit for the item of news is given to the API. We are unaware of that being practised with news items in Jamaica.

For a long period, The Gleaner Company, which is celebrating 180 years of publication, was identified with the Jamaica Labour Party. It has the record of attracting a major demonstration led by the late Michael Manley, however it does not have the singular honour of being the only news media to be the target of demonstrations. The practice of publicly advocate a political ideology and supporting a party has been long established.

The New York Times is the liberal newspaper of record, and its counterpart in the USA is the Wall Street Journal. The Fox News Network is the rabid right-wing outlet, which is counterbalanced by MSNBC. The same can be found in the newspapers of Britain. What is admirable is that it is well known and proclaimed for the public.

There is no fault in being a proponent of a political party and its platform, but there should be acknowledgement of this by the media outlet. Here in Jamaica, this is not done. There is a station that prides itself on being a premier news organisation. It is widely heard across the nation, but has not made public its position and support for a particular party. That station only broadcasts the proceedings of one party's annual conference.

In contrast, another station, also very widely heard, does a broadcast of both parties' annual conferences. One radio station has its management accept appointments from the party, plays the political card in relation to its ability to secure broadcasting rights and has strong affiliation with parliamentary candidates for a specific political party.

This is not information that I think is widely known and shared across the nation. Could this be indicative of a lack of intent to be forthcoming with the audience? If the answer is in the affirmative, why this form of avoidance? The same type of avoidance is not to be found in a review of the newscast that leads the major news of each day. This is not to be found with the proliferation of guests who accept the invitation to appear on air. One would be hard-pressed to have accurate details of the guests who are invited, but decline the chance to appear on air, but the balance is obvious.

It has been often said that 'to hide something from our people, publish it in a book'. We do not read as much as we should. We hear and pass on information in the time-honoured oral tradition. This makes for radio being quite persuasive. This comes with the responsibility of making the listeners know that there is an inclination and, at times, a strong one to follow, broadcast and discuss that which benefits one particular party.

Recall the incident that resulted in a court award to a former leader of a political party. Note that only one radio station was the subject of the litigation. Others stayed clear of the controversial news item. In a competitive news arena, how come? One must question the intent behind the broadcast, and the rush to be first on air. This proved to be of no competitive advantage, as there was a race to broadcast with only one competitor that ultimately lost. Think on these things.

The news is expected to give the facts of incidents coming from the north, south, east and west. It is always to be distinguished from opinion and a slant to favour some person or group. Attempts to favour are to be labelled for what they are - paid advertisements for Party X or Party Y. The independence of the news, when it is fashioned by stealth, is abhorrent.

n Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.