LOTS of discussion about Anita Antoinette, the Jamaican appearing on the current edition of the US talent show The Voice. Check out my post on http://www.rjrnewsonline.com on why she’s not getting the love that Tessanne did!
Are we ignoring the Jamaican contestant on the current edition of The Voice because she’s black, with dreadlocks? Anita Antoinette auditioned two years ago on Season 3 but didn’t impress the judges enough to get a chair to turn. This time she’s made it into the Top 12 after a four-chair turn-around in the blind auditions, and some are asking “Where’s the excitement from Jamaica this time?” Read more here.
On Monday on my radio programme, I spent the first 45 minutes discussing the new law allowing personal property to be used as security for loans, which, it is hoped, will help small businesses. We had a 6-minute international segment on Syria, then spent about 12 minutes talking about crime in St. James. That was followed – one hour into the programme – by a 9-minute interview with Michael Cuffe, Tessanne’s husband, who is in L.A. for the finals of the US talent show, The Voice, in which Tessanne Chin is competing. My half hour Hot Topic segment – after 7 o’ clock, was spent talking about the songs for the night’s competition.
One listener said she supported Tessanne but wished I had spent more time on crime in St. James. Another listener texted me a sad story about his niece who had been recently murdered and said that the story about Tessanne is a distraction from Jamaica’s real problems.
Yes, there were only two comments. I got many others congratulating Tessanne. So why mention them at all? In the first place, all views should contend, and I shared both comments on air. Secondly, they raise the question again of “What is News?” As a result, they represent a frequently expressed view, whenever I focus on something that is not “hard news,” that I am wasting time talking about whatever it is when we have serious issues to talk about.
Yes, we do. And we do talk about those serious issues. I have been doing talk radio for 17 years, and we talk, and talk and talk about the troika of news in Jamaica – politics-crime-economy. I have spent countless hours looking at those issues from every angle known to man. I have also discussed many other issues – education, the environment, children’s rights, issues affecting the disabled community, for example.
What is news? All those issues should, and do, make the news. But the story of Tessanne Chin is also news. I spoke in this post about why an item about model/beauty queen/celebrity Yendi was news. Tessanne’s story is MUCH bigger than that story about Yendi.
A story like Tessane Chin’s is rare. A human interest story that has captured the interest
of all of Jamaica and the diaspora. A story of a talented, hardworking, humble Jamaican whose “Jamaicanness” shines through her every word and action. A Jamaican on the international scene who allows us to hold our head high. Someone we are rooting for all the way. It’s a story that gives us a little respite for a few short hours, from the hardships of what it means to live in Jamaica.
And from a journalism point of view, it is a human interest story that also ticks all the other boxes of what makes news – proximity, impact, relevance, timeliness, conflict, unusualness, prominence.
And for bigging up this story, as a journalist, I make no apologies. Would that we had more of them.
The Jamaica Observer recently wrote a story noting that although Jamaicans all over the world are now going crazy over Tessanne Chin, who has reached the top ten on the US talent competition The Voice, her debut album three years ago was ignored. Based on comments already coming in, let me point out that I am not just talking about album sales, since I agree that we don’t buy a lot of albums. If you are honest, you’ll acknowledge that Tessanne was not regarded as one of our top artistes, ie in terms of headlining shows etc.
So how come a singer whose music was being overlooked here at home is suddenly the toast of Jamaica and the diaspora? Here are five suggestions:
We’re spoiled. There are talented singers on every street corner in Jamaica. Talent isn’t enough for us to sit up and take notice.
Tessanne’s music is different from that of our top female artistes, such as Queen Ifrica, Etana, Tanya Stephens – unfortunately, the market doesn’t always immediately get “different.”
The context now is different. She’s representing Jamaica abroad – it’s not really about Tessanne, any Jamaican on that stage would get the same reaction.
We frighten fi foreign ie we tend not to notice many of our people until they are first recognized by foreigners. We need the outside validation to acknowledge how good they are.
We’re waggonists! Tessanne is the latest. most popular wagon around, so we all jumped on.
Will the so-called Anti-Gang Bill before the Jamaican Parliament restrict freedom of expression of our artistes? A lively discussion has started, and I will be looking at its provisions much more closely at another time.
Here are a few preliminary observations however. Societies have often found it necessary to restrict freedom of expression in the interest of the society as a whole and in the interest of vulnerable groups.
In the United Kingdom, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits the display of written material which is “threatening, abusive or insulting” if one intends to stir up racial hatred or if racial hatred is likely to result.
The fact that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression may be necessary is recognized in the
19 (2). Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
(3). The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”
Criminal activity is defined as the “planned ongoing, continuous or repeated participation or involvement in any serious offence.”
A criminal organization is defined as “any gang, group, alliance, network, combination or other arrangement among three or more persons (whether formally or informally affiliated or organized and whether or not operating through one or more bodies (corporate or other associations) that:
(a) has as one of its purposes the commission of one or more serious offences and
(b) in relation to which the persons who are a part thereof or participate therein (individually jointly or collectively)
(i) have engaged in unlawful activity in order to obtain directly or indirectly a financial or other material benefit or to gain power or influence or
(ii) issue threats or engage in conduct to create fear or to intimidate or to exert power or influence in communities or over other persons.”
Our own Charter of Rights contains a provision seen in constitutions of other countries, namely that Parliament may pass no law to infringe the rights set out, including the right of freedom of expression “save only as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
In other words, any attempt to limit the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution must meet the test of being “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” This is a provision that has been tested in court in different jurisdictions (and I’ll try to look at some of the resulting court decisions in another blog post). The relevant provision of the Anti-Gang Bill will therefore have to be examined in that context.
The controversial provision is section 15 (1) which states that
“A person may not use a common name or identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, colour or style of dress or graffiti or produce record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organization.”
While we do need to look more closely at the provisions, and what has happened in other countries, it is clear that songs generally talking about Jamaica’s gun culture, for example, and yes, Bob Marley’s “I shot the Sheriff” will not be caught by the provision. The song would have to be promoting or facilitating the criminal activity of a criminal organization. Do we think it would be unjustified to ban such a song?
Sure, we need to look at the Bill closely, and see if any of the provisions are problematic in their wording or likely effect, but how about we calm down first? Freedom of expression is not absolute. Do you really think it should be?
The Culture Ministry’s determined insistence that there is no problem, that we all should just hold hands and get along, ignores, deliberately, its role in the problem. The latest statement from the Ministry has managed to blame almost everybody but itself, saying that:
“It is unfortunate and regrettable that the promotional agency associated with the producer of the “On a Mission” marketing campaign song and a corporate sponsor of Jamaica 50, as part of the sponsor’s undertaking to promote the song, incorrectly branded a released CD and associated printed materials with the declaration of the “On a Mission” marketing campaign song as the Official Jamaica 50 Song, without the required vetting or approval of the Jamaica 50 Secretariat.”
I think only Shaggy escaped censure there.
There are lessons here for the future, though, if only we would heed them.
1. Allow the annual Festival celebrations to be the vehicle driving such national celebrations. The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) puts on the annual Festival events. They are fun, well-produced, and well-attended. With those already scheduled events themed for Jamaica 50, or Jamaica 60 or whatever, there would be no need for any additional big,costly national events. Each parish also already has its own programme, eg the JCDC Evenings of Excellence, which again are well attended. With perhaps the addition of a western Grand Gala, or something else to ensure that Kingston is not the only focus, we could achieve the goal of a national celebration with not too much more additional cost.
2. The National Secretariat of such a big event should never again be located in a Ministry, with all the political issues that we have seen develop here. If the secretariat had been independently situated and truly national in composition, the disturbing changing of gear and shifting of focus that has caused a lot of the fuss would never have been necessary.
3. Similarly, regional planning committees could develop events that are celebratory but also money-making in scope, for example special community festivals and cultural events that could be put on the national calendar and marketed as tourist attractions.
4. The addition of a series of national discussions about Jamaica at 50, and our path ahead for the next 50 years, would add the contemplative note many people feel we need at this time. Hey, I would love to see Parliament spending a few days debating that issue.
5. Let the Festival Song stand as the official song of the celebrations. Barbara Gloudon made the point on All Angles, my TV show on Television Jamaica (you can view the programme on the All Angles page at http://www.televisionjamaica.com) that people have hated some festival Songs and that many veteran producers would feel they are too big to participate in any kind of a national competition to choose a song. Well, so be it. We need to nurture new talent anyway.
For us to benefit from this experience, however, there first has to be an admission that there was a problem, and so far we haven’t seen that. That is the real pity here.
PS – Oh, Culture Ministry – blaming the media? Really? The latest statement on the issue says:
“It is unfortunate that extended media attention has been devoted to a debate about a song for Jamaica 50 rather than about the real significance the Jamaica 50 milestone in the life the nation.”
I guess the folk up at Culture have been so busy not knowing what was happening with the mission-campaign-song-incorrectly-branded-as-a-Jamaica-50-song, they haven’t realized how much work the media have been doing on exactly that – contemplation of where we are at 50 years. Taking a few minutes to note the concerns people have doesn’t negate that. But hey, you have to blame somebody. Our backs are broad, we’re used to it.
So even our music has fallen victim to that agent of change – the election. Some months ago, I was perplexed to see people calling for Eric Donaldson’s “Land of my Birth” to be made the official Jamaica 50 song. What the hell? I thought. We already HAVE a Jamaica 50 song! Remember? The song, “Find the Flag” was produced by the respected veteran Mikey Bennett and officially presented to the country.
Let me reiterate that. The song was officially and publicly presented to the country last October. If you don’t believe me, or never heard about it, read this story by Mel Cooke in the Jamaica Gleaner.
Shelved? How could it be shelved? It’s the Jamaica 50 song! Not any more, apparently!
The Jamaica 50 secretariat (under, as they say, new management) now says that there was no documentation that the song had been commissioned or was the Jamaica 50 song. Emm….. it was officially presented to the country! No, that didn’t count.
Mikey Bennett says it is customary for him to work based on verbal agreements, and after all, this was an agreement with officials from the Government of Jamaica, not some fly-by-night outfit. He also says there were some disagreements over the cost of the song, until he and the artistes decided that they would donate the song for use in the celebrations for free, and communicated this fact to the Ministry. He told me that his publisher was in the process of putting together the necessary documentation.
He has since realized that the song has been dumped as the Jamaica 50 song, and all the artistes who worked for many passionate, excited hours with him have been calling to ask what the hell is going on. Bennett says one of his primary concerns is whether anyone thinks he was “trying a ting,” pulling a fast one, and misrepresenting the agreement with the Culture Ministry.
Apparently, some kind of compromise has since been cobbled together which should see the song being used somewhere in the Jamaica 50 celebrations. Former Culture Minister Babsy Grange, who has said she is upset at how the situation was handled, met with current Minister Lisa Hanna and says this was one of the matters discussed.
Please note that I’m not commenting on whether I like Find the Flagor the song which has now been introduced to the country as the Jamaica 50 campaign song, Nation on a Mission. My problem is much more fundamental – it’s how we do things.
I’m not getting into any argument with anybody about which song is better.
The fact is, a song was chosen and then rejected by a subsequent government. I have a serious issue with how this has been handled. This smacks of disrespect of the highest order.
The same Reporter’s Guide to Jamaica 50 listed the following singers as participants in the Jamaica 50 song – Bunny Rugs, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, Freddy McGregor,Tarrus Riley, Cocoa T, Konshens, Mr Vegas, Ernie Smith, Agent Sasko, Capleton, Chevelle Franklyn, Stitchie and Admiral Bailey. These are among our best artistes. There were also the musicians and technical crew, many of them also well-known names.
I make no comment on the Culture Minister’s claims that the Jamaica 50 programme had to be streamlined and re-organised. I’ll leave that argument to the current and former holders of that office.
I am, however, saying that the work of the professionals involved in creating the song should have been respected. The clear decision of the previous administration that Find the Flagwas the official Jamaica 50 song should have been let alone.
I think that the shelving of Find the Flagwas totally unnecessary and brings to mind some of the sillier parts of our political history – remember the change from Jamaica Information Service (JIS) to Agency for Public Information (API) back to JIS anyone?
I hold no brief for Mikey Bennet and the musicians and artistes who worked on Find the Flag. I am not a musician. But I am a Jamaican, and I don’t like what happened here.
For the uninitiated, Mission Catwalk is a Caribbean reality show, where aspiring fashion designers create outfits each week based on a specific challenge. Every week, one gets booted out. There has been great talent on display, and it’s a fun show, but could be even more fun. Here’s how.
The contestants need to be more natural. We WANT to see ourselves on screen. Those of us who like (love!) reality shows want to watch contestants chop some creole and drop some Jamaican (or Trini or whatever) attitude. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Project Runway or Fashion Star.
“Dah dress deh shot like M-16!”
Ok, no one actually said that but how much more fun it would be if the contestants would let down their hair a little more and talk the way they really talk! Caribbean people are hilarious. In every gathering, you have loud talk and laughter and a couple of crazy storytellers and jokers who can turn a trip to the patty shop into a rolling on the ground laughfest. I refuse to believe the contestants are really that quiet and emmm, ok, boring. I’m not saying make a jackass of yourself for the camera but, you know, loosen up!
Check out the fan favourites. Gregory and Keshon, the contestants who talked Jamaican, acted Jamaican and generally came across as entirely natural and uninhibited. Our language is fun and colourful, and so were Gregory and Keshon. Big up to them. Gregory also made it to top three, so he’s also talented, I thought Keshon was too, and could see him developing a Biggy-type clientèle eventually.
I watch reality shows for the competition and talent, but you also want some energy and interaction. I don’t care how good the music is, unless it’s Rising Stars! Using music to fill the gaps and try to pump up the energy didn’t work for me.
The show, like many local productions, has great potential. Expanding beyond Jamaica to include designers from other Caribbean countries was a smart marketing idea, plus helped to mix it up a little.
TV is as much about style as content. Great designers yes, but we also want super entertaining TV. Mission Catwalk can get there. And yes, I’ll be watching next season!
I received several very interesting and thoughtful responses to my post “Is the Yendi Story “News?” and wanted to share them with you and continue the conversation about what makes a story newsworthy. It’s a question which members of the public often ask, baffled about the content of a newscast or stories on the main pages of a newspaper.
“The Yendi story satisfies #4. She is, for all intents and purposes a celebrity – prominent individual in our Jamaican community. So it is news. Yet the particular story is only ‘soft’ news. Should we give attention to soft news? I would say depends on where in the paper you put it. Front page – that would be absolutely scandalous; yet those whose aim is to sell newspapers will trump a political story for a soft news story because the ‘business model’ of the media industry and the revenue agenda would be chief determinant in this scenario.”
The problem, of course, is that these criteria are applied subjectively by editors.
Hillary Profita, formerly of CBS (the home of 60 Minutes) pointed this out in a 2006 article on the company’s websitein the context of a discussion about the role that race and class play in leading US news outlets to cover stories like the disappearance of Natalee Holloway (white, middle-class, teenager), while ignoring that of Marion Fye, (36 years old, a single mother of five children, unemployed and African American).
She suggested that an indicator of the public’s rejection of the criteria applied by editors could be
“…the fact that more are veering toward the Internet to get news, where to a greater degree the news judgement is one’s own.”
She also echoes the sentiment I expressed about how editors and newsroom people decide what is newsworthy in noting that:
“…editors claim to know (what is newsworthy) when they see it. Unfortunately, in my view, that decision seems to boil down to what those of us in newsrooms, and not readers, care about.
And there’s the problem. What draws the interest of people in the news business (what they like to read and write about) often bears little relationship to what people who live in communities like Marion Fye’s care about. In that sense, what newspapers deem “newsworthy” is not actually information that is most relevant in terms of its potential effect on readers’ and viewers’ lives, but what is most out of the ordinary.”
It was in that vein that I had disagreed with Hume’s analysis by stating that:
“The story satisfies no. 1 – proximity – she is a celebrity, but she is ours, she is Jamaican, we all watched her become runner-up in Miss Universe and many people have been following her career. People feel close to her.
It also satisfies no. 5 – human interest. It is also unusual, no. 7 – of course, not in the sense of a woman becoming pregnant for a man, but the surrounding circumstances, the announcement on FB, the reactions and huge response, combined to make the way this story unfolded unusual – that fueled the story still more.
Relevance – no. 3 – I don’t know who determines what is relevant – if people are interested in someone or something, news about that person or thing will always be relevant.
…timeliness – again, she broke the news, the reactions started then she fueled it with the interview, and all this was being reported as it happened.”
Keriann took the discussion further by placing the story squarely within the framework of the social media age.
“It most certainly satisfied news value no.6 as well – conflict. The responses illustrated a conflict of values in the society. The country was clearly divided among those who thought the circumstances were no big deal and those who disapproved, and each side was vociferous about its position. That conflict matters, because each society (especially developing ones) must determine the value systems that will inform policies, laws, etc.
Unusual is also being defined too narrowly as a news value. It does not only address the sensational (man bites dog). It describes that which is unexpected. And the reactions have made it clear that Yendi was not expected to make the choices she did. If she was, there would not have been any heavy interest in her announcement or the aforementioned conflict.
Your argument about timeliness and the age of her pregnancy is also flawed. The stories of the intense reaction were carried within hours of the intense reaction. And it’s the reactions which made the story big. Also, if we’re discussing the pregnancy itself as a story (which it was for entertainment segments), then the age of the pregnancy doesn’t matter. It’s when the public discovers it, that it matters. The birth of former US presidential candidate John Edwards’ love child did not become news until well after the child was born.Should American media have ignored the story because they didn’t know about it as soon as his lover was pregnant? In cases when pregnancies are news, they do not become news when the parents become aware. They become news when the public does.
All journalism students will be familiar with your list of news values because it was developed to provide a means of helping media practitioners determine which stories will be of public interest. The closer an editor or journalist followed those principles, the more s/he was guaranteed public interest, which is the ultimate aim. It’s a shortcut to the right decision because naturally, editors cannot pick up the phone and call every potential news consumer everyday or conduct a focus group before choosing stories. So s/he unconsciously applies the news value test to stories everyday, hoping s/he made the right call. o The level of interest in her story will tell her whether s/he applied the principles well. Overtime, if a news source keeps making the wrong decisions, it will be penalised with low ratings in the market.
But here’s the clincher: in the age of social media when a story immediately goes viral, the public interest is already apparent! When there is already public interest, your system for determining public interest doesn’t need to be dissected because the end result (which the system was set up to determine) has already been achieved. It’s like working an equation backwards. You must get the same result or your inputs were wrong.”
Thanks to all who have commented and Hume and Keriann in particular for their thoughtful and considered respones. I’d love your comments as well. Is the migration to social media an indicator that traditional media are ignoring the interests of the public? Do newsrooms need to rethink how they apply the criteria of what constitutes a newsworthy story? And as Keriann suggests, if a story goes viral on social media, does that make the list redundant?