Can the media not do any better?
I am sick and tired of stories of crime and violence, and stories of doom and gloom every day, every night, every hour, and every minute on television and radio and the front pages of the newspapers! The Jamaican people are rather fatigued. I've personally lost count of the number of persons I know who prefer to watch Catfish, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or some other ridiculous reality show on cable than tune in to local news. Does this not concern the Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association Jamaica Ltd? Or is it that they and all local journalists are oblivious to how jaded we are?
Is it that there is nothing else ever happening in the country that can give us some hope and engender a sense of pride in being Jamaican - except when people like Alia Atkinson, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or Javon Francis cause us to celebrate as a result of their athletic prowess? Is it that the role of the Jamaican media is characterised and limited by nothing but negativity - of men and women and children hacking or shooting people to death or poor people ruining their lives as usual (as the gatekeepers would have us believe)? Is there nothing else happening? Can the media not do any better?
What is happening? What really is the cause for this awful fête of cynical, gloom-ridden practice of journalism? Is it that our journalists have become so despondent themselves like the rest of us that they find it so difficult to report on anything but people dying, a minister of government playing Fruit Pop or a rebounded entertainer missing his dental appointment? Is it that the media do not recognise in all of its gatekeeping that the Jamaican public require much more than a healthy treat of stories about murders, robberies and negativity?
It would be an absolute pleasure if, for one week, no such stories are the main feature of our electronic and print news. This has nothing to do with covering up what's happening in the country. Yes, we should be apprised of the occurrence of such, but it doesn't always have to be the top news items. Deciding to put a story about violence on the bottom left corner on page seven and as the fifth news item one night is in no way putting a veil over our eyes and misleading the public.
When I worked with the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) Jamaica at the University of the West Indies, we convened a one-day forum in January 2008 with several senior journalists and editors to sensitise them about the effects of how stories of violence appear in the news. I recall one male journalist sharing that he is aware of someone who has committed multiple murders who is ever so delighted to see stories about crimes s/he has committed on the front page of the dailies.
I also remember having a conversation with a friend who I thought, like me, came from a less privileged background and would understand my concerns about how people from poor communities are portrayed in the media and how there is seemingly very little respect for the privacy of these people even when they are grieving. My attempt to encourage him to be more sensitive and challenge his colleagues was futile.
CHALLENGE TO MEDIA
I challenge the editors and managers of all the major media entities to do the following:
1. Do more with your gatekeeping privilege where stories of crime and violence are concerned.
2. Do more investigative pieces and follow up on stories. We would love to be apprised of what the Government has been doing, has done, and has not done and what are some of the accomplishments as well.
3. Be mindful of the way in which it treat people from particular communities. We can do with less microphones being forced on grieving men, women and children. We can do without being entertained about their plight.
4. Report more on constructive discussions in Parliament and less of the heckling. I'm always so amazed to see what actually ensued when I watch PBCJ.
5. Desist from calling entertainers who are women 'female entertainers' or 'female DJ' unless you will start saying 'male DJ'.
Finally, may I remind the media that while it plays a crucial role in helping us to understand the issues we grapple with as a society, its purpose goes beyond the traditional roles of informing, educating and entertaining because the media are much more than producers of information.