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Know your neighbour

by Baba Elombe Mottley

caribbeanbeatcoverIn recent months there has been a growing spate of negativism across the region emanating in a large part from our lack of knowledge about the others that we share this Caribbean space with. Most of the time hear-say dominates public opinion and the rapidity with which it takes place makes it impossible to have reasonable conversations

We are therefore asking heads of Governments to commit to the involvement of Caribbean people in the conversation by making it mandatory for all cable networks to carry all CARICOM television stations as part of the basic package that is offered to Caribbean households.

It will cost governments nothing to implement this policy. It is purely an administrative decision for the broadcast commissions to implement this policy as a priority. If stations do not wish to participate it is up to them but the networks must make room for them as a matter of our policy of regional development.

Stations in each territory must have the same rights as citizens to travel where ever they desire within the region. Journalists are free to work in any of the CARICOM member states, yet their abilities and strengths are hidden and is only available to the local market.

More importantly, our intellectual and mental space is dominated by US, Canadian, British, German, French, Chinese, Indian, Latin American, and Mid-Eastern perspectives.

For example, when a number of university educated and professional young people visited Jamaica and was taken around various neighbourhoods in Kingston, they expressed surprise at the quality of the housing they saw. When asked why they were surprised, they pointed out that their knowledge of Jamaica was based on music videos.

Access to 5 million people

All television stations will have access to the 5,000,000 people that make up the English speaking Caribbean. Sponsors will be able to get more mileage for their products. It would improve the marketing of all Caribbean cultural products. Caribbean people will be able to see national festivals and this knowledge may be persuasive enough to encourage them to visit in future years. This increase traffic may very well help to bring down the cost of air fares and increase the demand for more flights.

There are many festivals and sporting events that are held in each country but whose existence is totally unknown to people in other countries. Most local stations cover these activities. This would allow people to see them in the same way they can see events from the developed countries.

Those stations that still depend on carrying foreign programmes will now be able to develop their expertise in producing local programmes. There is no limit in subject matter and we can learn from each other.

Are we admitting that after 50 years we are not entitled to see our own self image? How do we build a new Caribbean union where its foundation is being built on ignorance? Without technology we would be even more isolated. We must learn from and trust each other. We must begin to share everything about ourselves. We must feel the oneness everyday like that created by our athletes at the Olympics and the World Games.

To trade with my neighbour, I have to find out what she likes, wants and needs. In the past, governments controlled the media and in some cases still do. Deregulation across the Caribbean has seen an increase of TV stations and an increase in media workers. All are producers of local material, mostly music videos but a wide array of subjects that help to define our culture is still untapped.

One producer I met had a contract to produce 26 half-hour shows on Jamaican Great Houses for the European market. When you visit YouTube or BajanTube or some other websites, you will see what Caribbean producers are doing. Yet some governments continue to limit who has access to this media, failing to recognise it as a major industry that can alter our perception of ourselves and the world’s perception of us.

The ultimate goal of this proposal is to prepare us for entry into the lucrative world markets with our distinctive culture. We have a reciprocity agreement with the EPA that allows us to enter that EU Market with television programming and as yet we have not taken advantage of it.

Europe has had a history of dealing with diverse peoples and diverse languages and I believe that the platform of culture in all its manifestations, but particularly the performing arts, will get a better reception there than what we get in North America.

We need these markets for our artists. Television is a tool for marketing our music and our arts. The returns will come from live performances by our artistes. Give them incentives to bring their income home by offering them 10 years tax free status. Remember we did it for foreign investors 50 years ago. Why not for those who can sell our services and products overseas?

Our print media demonstrate where we can go. Caribbean publishers are making major inroads in overseas markets with their projection of Caribbean lifestyles. Look at MACO, Destinations, MACO People, Island Life, SHE, HHG, Skyways, Caribbean Beat, Jamaica Eats, Caribbean Gourmet, The Bridge, Basia, Scorch, Abstract, Caribbean Belle, Ocean Style, Upstream, Dougla, Livewire, Cary’sma, ARC, POLO, and Caribbean Parenting Now – all dealing with Caribbean lifestyles.

Some of these magazines can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Examine Rosemary Parkinson’s tomes on Caribbean Food – CARIBBEAN CULINARIA and on Jamaican food – JAMAICA NYAM and note how poor people food has been elevated to the level of international cuisine.

One visual artist is selling prints of his work in Turkey. There is no doubt in my mind that the greatest asset that we have in the Caribbean is our people. The interplay of Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and European peoples have given us a product that is unusual and different. In spite of religious conflicts elsewhere, the Caribbean remains a zone of peace.

Buster Rhymes and P-Diddy produced a video that featured Courvoisier Brandy. ( Julie Fishman-Lapin writing for The Stamford Advocate Business News wrote: “When hip-hop mogul Busta Rhymes recorded Pass the Courvoisier with fellow hip-hop star Sean P. Diddy Combs, the hit song single-handedly changed the audience for fine cognac.

“Courvoisier, the French cognac that was a favourite of the French Emperor Napoleon, became an immediate hit among hip-hop fans in the United States. Immediately after the song hit the charts two years ago, sales of Courvoisier swelled close to 30 percent, said Dave Karraker, vice president of corporate communications for Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine North America.”

Why can’t we imbed our products in our music videos in the same way and target markets worldwide? Consumers who buy our music will buy the lifestyle associated with it, be it fashion or food. The more people are involved in video production, the greater we will be able to guarantee variety and creativity. If we can’t conquer our own ignorance and lack of information how can we do it for the rest of the world?

When it comes to sports, it is nonsensical to limit the revenues to the audience that attends the live event and refuse the opportunity of those at home from seeing it on pay-per-view.

Why not? Will there be blackouts because the cricket stadium was sold out to 15,000 people. What about the rest of the populations? It was only a few years ago that we could only see excerpts from local sports – football or cricket or basketball, etc. Now we are seeing full games.

Enhance knowledge

Opening up the region to each other’s programming can only enhance our knowledge of each other and make the decisions required to move the integration process forward much easier than in the past or in the present. SportsMax, the Jamaican sports station signed a contract to carry English soccer games in the Caribbean. We know what West Indies cricketers have done in the past and I believe that we will rule Twenty-Twenty cricket in about two or three years.

Caribbean footballers are playing in Europe and the Middle East. We have to prepare a breeding ground to export them everywhere. Our athletes who performed so marvelously at the Olympics, implies that our domestic training programmes are achieving results to the envy of the world.

There are other sports like netball, surfing, bodybuilding, golf, polo, which offer myriad opportunities to develop further. We must make a living off the rest of the world instead of them making a living off of us. When we went to South Africa for the first time, we should have carried Caribbean products, musicians and cultural goods to sell there. Instead business people went to see how they could buy oranges.

If CARICOM/CSME is to have meaning, Caribbean people must be a part of the process. They cannot remain marginalised for another 50 days or 50 hours. There is a paradigm shift that has to be made. Twenty-five years ago, no one in the Caribbean celebrated Emancipation Day. Overnight, every territory was celebrating it. Who made that decision? This issue demands that type of silent and positive action.

We must put a greater value on ourselves in order to finally liberate us from our past. The absentee landlords are once again at our doors! We do not have control of our banks, our telecommunications, our extractive industries, the intrusive floating hotels, less and less of our beach front and hotels, our rum, our electricity companies, etc.

We are seeing the consolidation of larger and larger public corporations into fewer and fewer hands making them extremely vulnerable to the external takeover.

Bring our people into the conversation and let us move forward and outward!

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