John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV.
Summits bring out the worst in hacks. Lazy journalism by design. You arrive, get spoon-fed information, report it and then leave. You get fed and watered too. No need for digging, no need for investigation.
The Caricom (Caribbean Community – think EU in the sunshine) Summit, which opened last week here in Georgetown, Guyana, is no exception. Fifteen regional leaders and distinguished others from all round the world propelled at speed by police outriders all over the Capital City to a brand new Conference Centre. They ‘meet’ for three days to discuss the pressing issues of crime, security, economy and more in the region. But, like all summits it is a sham. The team have long been at work preparing the final communiqué. One person told me minutes after the end of the Opening Ceremony last night that the final communiqué was done and dusted – just crossing the ‘T’s’ and dotting the ‘I’s’ left to do. Where is the journalism in reporting that charade?
But the 60 or so journos from all over the Caribbean who are here go through the motions. The Guyana Government has set up a press centre in an anteroom of the summit to feed regular morsels to the hungry hacks. They run on the spot, faithfully file and come back for more. The herd instinct in action.
There is one real story at this talkfest. The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, is it. He is a pariah in the Community as it heads towards integration. He wants to clear his Little England island of illegal Guyanese immigrants. His police round them up early morning, interrogate then and so far 53 have been dispatched South in two months. Caricom is supposed to be about the free movement of labour. Thompson held a bizarre press conference on arrival in Georgetown. Local journos failed to ask the right questions. But the ‘Bajan bans Guyanese’ story will run and run.
The local media hunt firmly in packs – whatever their race or the politics of their paper/TV station. At the ceremonial opening last night, the usual suspects were present. All corralled in the lobby or in one small room. All using the feed from the State broadcaster as their only source. Some of them will not file for a day or so. ‘Soon come’ journalism is common here. But how many of the Guyana Press Corps will have the courage to announce the opening as a non-story? Nothing really happened. Fifteen men in suits sat on a stage and listened to six of their number drone on for two hours. Sound bites aplenty there were not.
More to follow on the conference, which ran July 2-5. Over the weekend, the Premiers and the Pack headed off to the Chinese built Conference Centre to go through the elegant quadrille that’s called ‘reporting’ major summits. Me – I got hold of a copy of the final communiqué and sat beside a hotel pool reading it and reporting it. If you are going to be lazy, do it right.