Regular Journalism.co.uk contributor John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University and the inventor of the Coventry Conversations, now on iTunes U. He was born in Guyana and returns there regularly to observe and advise the local media. His nom de plume in Guyana is Bill Cotton/Reform.
I am at one of the frontiers of modern journalism: Guyana in South America, but of the Caribbean. Most things go here. Four daily papers and 20+ local television stations feeding the news appetite of the 750,000 population. Journalists rank just above dog catchers as a trade in Guyana. At least the latter get some training.
Over here there is a university course in ‘Public Communication’ but little else to fine-tune wannabe hacks. The best and brightest go north drawn by the bright lights of the USA and Canada, like many others in their country. Newspapers are still sold on the streets by vendors on commission. The four on sale range from the supermarket tabloid Kaieteur News to the urbane Guyana Times. Kaieteur is the baby of local shoe shop entrepreneur Glenn Lall. Brash, vulgar, full of crime stories with some challenging columnists (including me behind a nom de plume).
It hits the popular mark as nearly does The Stabroek News, a paper instrumental in bringing democracy back to Guyana in 1992 after a period of dictatorship. Its guiding light, the Caribbean media giant David Decaires, died last year. The paper has lost some direction since. It is worth looking at though – for the letters column alone. A national Conversation tree but one which is prolix. Working out which letters are genuine makes for a fascinating read. Both major political parties (the PP and the PNC) and racial groups (Indo and African Guyanese) employ specialist correspondents to support their positions under a variety of noms de plumes (I am not alone in my anonymity. It is a Guyanese tradition).
Third in the press race is the Government-controlled Daily Chronicle. Cynics dub it The Chronic or The Daily Jagdeo in honour of the now second term President Bharrat Jagdeo. If a government minister speaks, they report it. If the President does, it hits the front page. The masses have not gone for it in thousands, nor for the new kid on the block for the last year, The Guyana Times. Intelligent, erudite, semi-broadsheet and the brainchild of a pharmaceutical baron Bobby Ramroop. It is well-written if stodgy, but at a level way beyond the literary level of the mass of the population. The Guyanese middle classes are now not here but in Toronto, New York and Miami. They read their papers on the internet.
The big action is on screen-in TV journalism. That is madness. Tout court. 20+ stations all stealing product from international satellites and re-transmitting it. The Guyanese journalism content ranges from the vulgar-local poujadist and station owner CN Sharma, the soi-disant ‘voice of the people’ with oppositional news shows like ‘Capitol News’ and ‘Prime News’, to the ‘Chronic’ of the airwaves NCN and its ‘Sixo’Clock News’ – which I invented a decade ago. The latter is news on the station owned by the Minister of Agriculture (and President manque) Robert Persaud and makes few pretences to impartiality.
Few of the TV journalists have any training. Few stay in the job for long. Few ever work out what the medium means. They think relaying a press conference with a few links is a ‘story’. More than one over several days if they can spin it out as they get paid per piece. Wallpaper is too kind a word to describe their use of pictures to tell tales.
So there you have it. Poor journalism by under-trained hacks. But all will change later this week when the heads of the Caribbean Governments come to town for their Annual Caricom Csummit. They bring with them the cream of the Caribbean Press Corps. That should be an intriguing piece of media anthropology in action. I will be there.