Sunday, April 20, 2008

Good news sells!

If the Bible were written today, there would probably be a verse that says, “If the programme offends thee, tune it out”. Happily, we have lots of options and that’s what we are choosing to do after reading the transcript of the offensive remarks from a young lecturer-talk show host whose achievements we have lauded in the past.

Isn’t it interesting that US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been apologizing all over the place for using the innocuous word “bitter” while here in Jamaica, we find nothing wrong with someone describing a lady colleague, at the Caribbean’s leading university, as “dutty”? If I were she, I probably would be very, very bitter!

The back and forth over what is such a clear-cut case for disciplinary action has left well-thinking Jamaicans baffled. We are muttering to ourselves like “Bev Smith” in that old family planning ad, “Look what we have come to!” We had better wake up and realise that in this globalised environment, the most positive international language is good manners – no amount of education can take its place. Lloyd B Smith is so right to have expressed his distress at our increasing bumptiousness, when he quoted the astute Professor Rex Nettleford, on the overwhelming numbers of “butus in Benzes”.

This has nothing to do with being snobbish or old fashioned. Two weeks ago, we had a thanksgiving service for our pensioner Miss Icilda Riley, from Torrington Park. The humble folk from her yard conducted themselves with grace and dignity at the service. Miss Icy was childless, but a young lady who regarded her as a mother diligently stayed in touch with us to ensure that she got a proper send-off. We had schoolboys still in uniform, bowing their heads as the pastor prayed, and after the service, these goodly people spoke in quiet and gentle tones.

Perhaps the latest media survey can give us a hint as to what Jamaican people really want. TVJ now has a significant lead over CVM, and I believe that this is due to the fact that they have developed positive local programming and have been an enthusiastic partner in the Rising Stars phenomenon. Recently we mentioned the euphoria in Spanish Town when St. Jago took the School’s Challenge crown. TVJ’s ‘All Together Sing’ has put a little known school like Aabuthnott Gallimore on the map.

A good listen to IRIE-FM, the leading radio station will yield ever improving news and sports content, uplifting commentary in Franklin McKnight’s “Frankly Speaking” and balanced news reports from the African continent. Mutabaruka may be cutting but not crass. People are not just listening to IRIE for the music, they are listening to the station because it makes them feel as if we are finally getting it together, and feeling all right about our heritage and ourselves.

The good news therefore, is that good news sells! People will embrace good news once it is creatively, professionally packaged. It would be a shame to jettison someone with obvious talent – the UWI has an excellent institution in CARIMAC and should take this as a challenge to listen to what the surveys are saying, and make that station the gold standard for broadcasting. Let’s hope it’s not a case of “training, training everywhere but not a soul to think”.

The increased use of the internet has ensured that even the smallest lapse will be echoed around the world, and can make its mark on impressionable young minds. This is not the time to trumpet ‘press freedom’ as an excuse for vulgarity, but for us to see the power of the media to positively influence, even as it informs and entertains its audience.

Of course, the blame lies not only with the media but also with those of us whose revenue keep media houses viable. Recently we have become more conscious of the entertainment events that we sponsor. Savvy marketing people know that they would not want their products trumpeted alongside “dutty” comments – one skews the other, and will skewer your product!

In our business, there are enthusiastic sponsors of programmes like Schools Challenge and Owen James’ ‘Business Day’, but media marketing folks have to do a hard-sell of sub-standard programmes. The humble LOVE FM radio station continues to have high ratings because listeners yearn to be inspired. Now gospel concerts are attracting record crowds with Tommy and Carlene Cowan’s “Fun in the Son”, a Caribbean phenomenon.

As budgets tighten this year, ad agencies are being put on notice by their clients to ensure that they get the best cost-per-thousand listeners/readers (CPT) for their media messages. Newstalk only has 2% listenership (Marketing Strategy 2008 Survey), though a very influential following for their ‘Breakfast Club’. In this land of “Out of Many One People”, I am not sure which of my clients would want to be associated with a programme that trivializes an attack against one ethnic group, and is flat-footed in ensuring ethical standards.

There is also a tidal wave that no savvy media person can ignore, and that is the overarching internet. At the click of a button, my husband watches CNN live anytime on his laptop. Most of the top US media sites and of course the venerable BBC all have video news clips. Media houses should now be present and accounted for on the worldwide web. Our dailies and most of our radio stations have been retooling for the internet and already the Gleaner and the Observer offer online subscriptions. Those of us in the advertising business find the Observer’s e-Paper invaluable as we can clip ads and stories as they actually appear in print, from that website. Power 106 may have modest ratings in Jamaica, but is a giant among the diaspora, and friends overseas report to me regularly on programmes hosted by Ronnie Thwaites, Motty Perkins and Dervan Malcolm.

We should also acknowledge that media is big business with Jamaica’s leading entrepreneurs giving substantial backing, resulting in new employment opportunities in the field. It makes us all the more admiring of the more modest owners of the Sunday Herald and such popular community papers as the Western Mirror, the Northcoast Times and The News.

With over 20 radio stations and an audience of millions, our media bosses should be acknowledging the responsibility they have in promoting enlightenment and harmony. We are a free people, and just as we yearn for the freedom to move safely about our country, we should not be worried about switching on our radio, fearful of verbal assault.

Published Mon 21 April


  1. I enjoyed your column Mrs. Chin. Thanks for the email. The entire IRIE Family appreciates views and comments.


  2. I really enjoyed your column. I think God has given this individual two changes to be a positive role model for the young, down-trodden(from whence he came) and others, but he is blowing it. I do hope he will be thrice 'lucky'.