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You will find updates on my work and other developments in media and communication across the Caribbean, resources, rants, raves and reviews. Glimpse past and current projects, a portfolio of some of my recent work and more....

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Documentary 'Script': Sheila Curran Bernard on Creative Licence vs. Creative Arrangement

By Sheila Curran Bernard

 ·                    Sheila Curran Bernard is an award-winning filmmaker and consultant and the author of Documentary Storytelling: Creative Non-Fiction on Screen, now in its third edition.

A teacher of screenwriting emailed me recently because he'd been asked to write a documentary. He didn't know where to start, and was trying to locate some completed scripts to study. While these might prove useful, I knew they wouldn't adequately convey the work ahead, or reveal important differences in the scripting process. How does one write a documentary?

To explain: Fiction screenwriters have long borrowed documentary techniques, and documentary filmmakers rely heavily on the tools of dramatic storytelling. As I wrote in an earlier article,
Documentary Storytelling: The Drama of Real Life, both groups need to worry about protagonists and antagonists, rising stakes, and viewer investment in the outcome of a story. They both serve audiences that don't want to be preached at or talked down to, and they both seek to enthrall viewers by transporting them to new worlds and bringing them on emotional journeys. A key area where they differ, however, is that while storytellers working in fiction are free to invent characters and scenarios, those working in nonfiction are not. Nonfiction filmmakers can't take creative license with factual stories, but instead must limit their artistry to what media historian Erik Barnouw described as the creative arrangement of factual material. What's the difference?

Creative License

Creative (or "artistic") license is generally understood to mean the freedom artists may take when handling factual material. From William Shakespeare to Peter Shaffer (Amadeus ) and beyond, history has inspired, but not controlled, artists. Even when a dramatic feature is said to be based on actual events, audiences are generally aware that some liberties have likely been taken. Multiple actual characters may have been merged to simplify the storyline and reduce cast size. Invented characters may have been added, or the timeline of actual events shortened. (Still, as Dr. Linda Seger has noted in her book, The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film, there may be ethical and legal considerations involved, especially when portraying recent events and featuring individuals who are still living.)In general, the term "creative license" doesn't apply to documentary filmmaking, because documentary filmmakers—who are something of a hybrid between artists and journalists—may not take liberties with the facts as they're generally acknowledged to be true. Arguably, the use of actors to recreate history might be seen as creative license. This is a complex subject, but the practice is usually accepted in documentary filmmaking as long as the recreations are done responsibly, the viewer is not misled about the nature of the recreations, and the recreation is used in service of a story that is otherwise factual. (For an interesting example of this, see Peter Watkins's Culloden, in which he adopts a black-and-white television reporting style to "cover" the 1746 Battle of Culloden.)

Creative Arrangement

Creative arrangement broadly describes the use of storytelling tools available to documentary filmmakers, from an initial choice of subject and focus to decisions concerning tone, point of view, style (including recreations), and more. A documentary might open at the middle or end of the event being covered, and then work its way back to the chronological beginning. A film about science might be shaped as a mystery or an adventure. Multiple story threads might be interwoven. In making these choices, however, filmmakers must be careful not to violate the story's overall factual accuracy. Filmmakers may select details for inclusion or exclusion, for example, but they may not "cherry pick" details in order to mislead viewers. They may play with the order in which they present the chronology, but may not misrepresent cause and effect. They must guard against the possibility of cutting factual material together in a way that leads audiences to a false conclusion.It's worth noting that truthfulness in a documentary is based not on an absolute standard, but on the rules established and made clear to the audience by the filmmaker. For example, in his Academy Award-winning documentary, The Fog of War, filmmaker Erroll Morris did not set out to present a history of American military engagement in the 20th century. Instead, he offered a platform to the voice of one man, former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara, as he offers his take on his role in that history. The audience is free to question, admire, or be outraged by McNamara's analysis, but it's clearly McNamara's, as edited into a film by Morris and his team. Documentary memoirs, likewise, reflect the unique perspectives of their authors.

Nonfiction Screen Storytelling

Let's go back to our teacher of dramatic screenwriting, and the tricks of his trade: character, conflict, resolution, stakes, tension, and more. While these can also be found in top documentaries, another important difference between the two forms lies in when and how they're employed. Dramatic screenwriters create the world of the film on paper before it's made real by the cast and crew. Nonfiction screenwriters (usually the producer and/or director, working as or with a writer) identify the world of the film on paper. Both types of storytellers usually conduct at least some research—generally a lot, for the nonfiction storyteller. Both may write outlines, which set out a film's initial premise and potential storyline(s). From there, the fiction screenwriter may augment or replace reality with invention, including characters, plotlines, and dialogue. The dramatic film is then fully scripted, existing on paper as an early version of the film that will appear on screen.In contrast, the nonfiction storyteller can usually be described as moving from the initial premise and outline back to research. Who are the people and what are the stories that best embody the ideas and themes the filmmaker has decided to explore? The creators of Murderball, for example, built a powerful drama from the combined (and related) stories of a handful of quadriplegic athletes. There is Joe Soares, a former star on America's quad rugby team who's now a hard-driving coaching for Canada. There is American player Mark Zupan, tough as nails, who has yet to come to terms with the friend who was driving on the night he was injured. And in addition to a range of other teammates, girlfriends, family members and doctors, there is Keith Cavill, just coming out of rehab—a young athlete at the start of a journey that for the others is already well under way. Experienced documentary filmmakers, including those working in vérité, may also look for a naturally occurring narrative arc that can be anticipated and planned around, as a preliminary film structure. Weddings, school years, political campaigns, competitions, even single days or weeks all offer a beginning, middle, and end that can help to shape the storyline (and production schedule). Sometimes, the arc is created when filmmakers put themselves in the story, on a quest for answers or action.

Writing a Treatment

Based on the research, casting, and story decisions made to date, the nonfiction screenwriter may write up a shooting outline or even a very detailed shooting treatment that serves as a blueprint for what will be filmed. These are quite different from dramatic screenplays. Documentary storytellers don't write dialogue for the people they'll film, but based on their research, they may write up questions to be asked or topics to be explored. They don't usually tell people how to behave or where to go, but they've learned enough about their subjects to anticipate key events and be prepared to film them. And by thinking through not only what's being shot but also why, nonfiction filmmakers can recognize the distractions and opportunities that are an inevitable part of filmmaking. With any luck, the story and structure that were anticipated will give way, during production, to a related but even more powerful version of themselves, which are further shaped in the editing room and eventually presented on screen.

Writing the Script

The nonfiction screenplay (or script), if there is one, isn't usually drafted until editing is under way, as the voices of people who've been filmed are transcribed and the material assembled, on paper and on screen. Narration or on-screen text, if there is any, is crafted around these voices. A final script is essentially a document of these efforts, a transcript of the finished film. I find them helpful to read (transcripts of American Experience, NOVA, and Frontline, for example, are available on their PBS websites) as a way of analyzing the films. But these scripts reveal only some of the process it took to write them.

Monday, April 11, 2016

FLASHBACK: 2010 CARIFTA LIVE, Truman Bodden Sports Complex, George Town, Grand Cayman.

In 2010, the Caribbean Media Corporation pioneered live coverage of the 39th CARIFTA Games to television stations across the region and via the World Wide Web on Easter weekend from the Cayman Islands.

The CMC, which has produced ground-breaking television coverage of the Olympic Games and key IAAF world events, collaborated with the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) with the sponsorship of the telecommunications company, LIME, to bring all three days of coverage from the Truman Bodden Sports Complex.

The three days of live coverage included commentary from broadcast journalists Jason Harper and Hubert Lawrence with analysis by Kareem Streete-Thompson, the Cayman Olympian who now coaches in Florida. Sports journalist Terry Finisterre, who is now a LIME corporate communications official, covered the previous edition of the games in his native St Lucia, and he proved no less instrumental in providing track-side interviews.

In the run-up to the games, CMC also distributed 13 five-minute mini-magazine programmes highlighting some of the top athletes participating in this year's championships and recalling the games’ history with founder Austin Sealy.

Barbadian television production company, Creative Junction, was the TV outside broadcast production company originating the signal through the Florida-based satellite distribution company, Protel. The signal was delivered directly to TV stations around the region, reaching an audience in excess of two million. LIME also reported more than 2 million hits on its live streaming site, which occasionally melt down under the demand! So for three days, CMC at CARIFTA was an international broadcaster and our tent was not only control room but IMC, providing a world feed inclusive of commercials and crawls.

A five-camera production utilised NewTek's 3-Play replay system, affording ‘iso’ (isolated) recording of three camera angles.

Covering the 2010 CARIFTA Games, the annual junior athletic games - whence the Caribbean athletics powerhouse emerged to international prominence - was one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments I've ever undertaken. Those of us who took part in the CMC's first-ever live international television broadcast of the games, fresh from a memorable Caribbean Dreams coverage of the Beijing Olympics games, still talk about a joyously memorable experience. And by all accounts, the viewers feel the same way...
ABOVE: An early production meeting.

The games were a production of CMC Sport with Creative Junction of Barbados, a gung-ho group of young, can-do television programme-makers with quite a few important credits already under their belts.

The brief was simple - deliver an engaging Caribbean broadcast for Easter holiday audiences that highlighted the achievements of junior athletes from across the region in the 39th edition of this Olympic nursery...

RIGHT: Crew pose. From left: Danny McQuilkin (VTR/Barbados), Susan "Kiwi" McIntosh (Graphics and CG/New Zealand), Rohan Amiel (Director/Jamaica) and technician Glen Rocheford.

BELOW LEFT: Commentary booth. From left, colour commentator and play-by-play commentators Hubert Lawrence - a veteran of several Olympic and Jamaican track meets - and Jason Harper, fresh from cutting his teeth in the Beijing Olympics for CMC, at their position by the finish line.

RIGHT: Study in concentration. Susan McIntosh was a whiz with graphics, adapting her Mac for live graphics input. We're in an air-conditioned tent just past the finish line.

BELOW: Across the finish line. A light moment as the director carries graphics! But it was truly a team effort in relaying the games to several national television networks via satellite and streaming video to thousands of teen sport fans and far-flung relatives and well-wishers. LIME, the sponsor and streaming provider, reported two million hits - and a crash!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Camillo Gonsalves Hits a Six...

It is not every day you find a Caribbean philosopher-politician (not every day you find one of those creatures either, I hear you say) who hits the mark - or rather hits it out of the park - on a subject close to six million hearts, West Indies Cricket.

But Camillo Gonsalves, who just happens to be the foreign minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, delivers an incisive commentary of the abundance of racism in cricket commentary and writing, cloaked as it often is in the stereotypes of the tourism: sun, sand, skin.

The victory of the West Indies over the rest of the world in T20 Cricket at the teenage, women's and senior men's levels continues to reverberate through the region. Sadly, though, the road to victory has been strewn with the worst of our cricket critics abroad.

Here, Gonsalves dissects with the precision I'm sure he expects from a good Cabinet Paper, the hearts and masks of racial and ethnic prejudice that have toiled to set expectations of under-achievement on the black and brown skins of Empire; expectations that continue to shunted into the night sky of oblivion like that lost ball of Carlos Brathwaite's third six struck off a hapless Ben Stokes of England.

Stokes now lavishes in the tragic hero pity of thousands of fans, Brathwaite included, it has to be said. Magnanimity in victory or slight discomfort with jettisoning stereotype and prejudice? You be the judge...

Read on... Could you be loved?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Those were the Days, my friend; We thought they'd never end...

George Lamming once opined at a regional media conference in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1986, that civil unrest would most likely erupt should Barbados' national television station remove Days of Our Lives, with its trappings of American upper-middle class conspicuous consumption, duplicitous characters swirling around in a moral vacuum, and storylines that defy pure logic, if not adult reasoning.

The year was 1977. No, make that 1965 - that was the year we were transported to when Days of Our Lives was introduced to Barbados 37 years ago. Yes, the distributor started the daily fix for Barbadian viewers from the very first episode. We had colour television then but everything about the world of the Hortons was black and white. And a nation tried to play catch-up ever since.

No CBC mandarin ever dared test Lamming's theory; many shared it.

Indeed, in the early 1990s, CBC's marketing manager Noel Lynch expanded on the idea with his introduction of The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless, when Barbadians were given a daytime distraction from the cruel, daily realities of an IMF structural adjustment programme and the retrenchment of a quarter of the civil service.

We are about to find out if, beyond Chikungunya and Ebola, we now face a bigger national security crisis and test of our national health.

Four days before its final transmission, CBC announced that the syndicator of the saga of the Hortons of Salem, Middle America, has declared the 1999-2000 season (we're still 14 years behind, despite moving from thrice-weekly to weekday to weekday-and-omnibus-weekend airings) unavailable because of music rights clearance issues. Indeed, these days are clearly not like the old days when the soundtrack of DAYS first became cluttered with Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "The Look of Love" (1967), belted out by star-crossed lovers Doug and Julie in their nightclub scenes.

Critics have agonised over the lost foreign exchange; the missed opportunities for homegrown content; the incongruity of a soap opera with occasional steamy sex scenes, boldface killers and even more bold liars well before the watershed. But on it continued with relentless tenacity.

Now, CBC says, even beyond the rights issues, the cost of airing more recent episodes (Australia's Nine Network and Belgium's vijf were five years behind during their run) has proved to be a bridge too far for this public broadcaster, created by Act of Parliament in 1963 to be the electronic mirror of a would-be independent nation.

We shall see if we will be found loitering on these neocolonial premises after closing time.

Until then, an African soap opera is to replace DAYS. True, Nollywood films have proven to be enormously popular among the sons and daughters of Africa who make up 96 per cent of our population, proving yet again that people want to see their 'reality' - or better yet, their unreality projected to them. But the sudden yanking of the umbilical cord to this North American fare - like grease-laden KFC - could lead to a backlash against the African newcomer.

Soaps have a remarkable addictive quality: DAYS, whose viewership has been in free-fall on NBC in the US for a decade, nonetheless counted US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall - yes, he of Brown versus Board of Education who advocated for desegregation of American public education -among its devotees. All through Roe v Wade, I can imagine him dropping everything at 1 p.m.
Oyez, Oyez: Justice Thurgood Marshall, DAYS addict

Indeed, soap opera development offers this sociological if not political economy insight: the lifestyles portrayed in US soaps are those of glamorous upper middle class and nouveau riche folk (Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful, DAYS); the gritty lives of working class Brits play themselves out on screens across the pond (Coronation Street, Eastenders). Pretenders to the throne in every Anglophone country have been hewn from either of those Atlantic rocks, depending on the media ownership culture; highly commercial-oriented television breeds American consumerist concepts (Westwood Park of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica's Royal Palm Estate), to say nothing of the buffed, waxed and manicured telenovelas of Latin America.

So what do we do now? Barbadians, keener than most to find television the way a thirst speakeasy-goer would find Prohibition-era moonshine, will simply switch to torrents and streams, to get their fix, bit by bit, forgetting, of course, the many thousands of older Barbadians who are not-so-well plugged into cyberspace.

I support the suggestion that CBC say how much it has cost to purchase DAYS - and then commit that sum (possibly between 1.4 and 5 million Barbados dollars since 1977?) to commissioning a Barbadian soap opera. There is nothing new here; CBC Radio, a public broadcaster, created The Brathwaites of Black Rock 50 years ago for what was then known as Radio Barbados. Sure would like to see what became of them since...

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Year 30, Day One: On Giants' Shoulders...

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." I've spent this July 4th marking 30 years in my vocation, thanking the Almighty and the giants on whose shoulders I stand, the people without whose direct action I would not still be standing after 30 years:
*Julian Rogers (who did better than hire by lighting a fire) *Tony Cumming (who actually did hire me first) *Claude Graham (who put me on the announcer's roster and my programmes on the schedule) *Clairmonte Taitt (who first opened the CBC microphone to me in my Bajanised reading of a VS Naipaul short story) *Leslie Seon (who gave me my first Outside Broadcast anchor shot in his own patch of perfection, Remembrance Day, 1985) *Milton Gibbs and *Sharon Marshall who shaped me into a television journalist) *Jim Brown (for almost everything good in Washington DC) *Harold Hoyte and *John Wickham of The Nation *CANA's Trevor Simpson, *Ulric Hetsberger, *Reudon Eversley, and *Wendy Thompson Sargeant - all of who set me on my way.
I remain grateful to those whose friendship, support and guiding hand propelled me even further - especially Olutoye Walrond and Harold Phillips, and my greatest partners in crime, Trevor Hollingsworth and, yes, again, Julian Rogers. There are others, countless others, some here, some abroad, some no longer with us, whom I think of every day and thank, even if I haven't named them. Today was a day to honour those present at the creation, who shaped and moulded me in my first decade especially. I am doubtless that I have not lived up to the highest expectations of some, perhaps many, and certainly not always. Fear not, for I've been tougher on me than you ever could be, but I have tried, and still strive to live up to the principles and standards I have set myself, especially those of Keith F. Gittens, my father, who said that all he wanted of me was to strive for excellence and demand a place in broadcasting in the 21st Century. In the name of my parents, relatives, teachers, friends and role models who planted seeds and values so many more years than three decades ago, and in the name of Him whose gifts have made possible any good that I have done, I give thanks and can offer no worthy words of my own - only Mr Valiant-for-Truth's:
"...though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Listen to this: Pictures To Your Ears

Pictures to your ears - they're the stuff that Radio is made of. From commercials to drama to live outside broadcasts, Radio is a medium of imagination, of endless possibilities, and boundless dimensions. This programme is about using sounds - pictures - to make radio features and breathe life into news reports.
Pictures to Your Ears is a four-part, 30-minute training guide to using sound in radio news features. Produced and presented by Julius Gittens in 1998. Taking part were Mike Gandon of City University, and Johnson Jn Rose, CANARadio.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Media Ownership Revisited

I suspect that we will shortly be returning to this matter of media ownership, assuming we had departed from it in the first place, of course. 

Given the thirst for post-mature forms of media - though millions of Caribbean people bear no resemblance to the wired middle classes of North America in terms of access to ICT - we still need to discuss forms of traditional media that may be more responsive and responsible to the needs of our people, certainly while embracing new technologies and forms of communication that include more voices and audiences rather than further splintering them.

Tangentially speaking, we also need to resist the temptation to cite change in some parts of the world to justify inaction in ours. Already in the Caribbean, a new 'digital elite' spread myth as gospel: so-called social media have made traditional media obsolete, that the smartphone has made terrestrial television and the newspaper and the radio irrelevant anachronisms and that the citizen as personal curator has no further need for curated information provided by the journalist.

But back to ownership question: to generate more light than heat on the matter, I encourage those of you who are seeking to address the issue of ownership structures and business models for media, to go beyond rehashed mantras or the cynicism that spews pseudo-Harvard Business School shibboleth; to consider the media trust option that puts the primacy of journalism back in journalism ownership. Once upon a time, families were preferred to moguls as owners. Perhaps, trusts can be the alternative we seek. 

Where private capital and state ownership have corrupted editorial values and compromised independence, an ownership structure that combines and also tempers those forces while bringing more media workers to the boardroom should be pursued.

There are examples within and outside the region that encourage media trust ownership, both from the perspective of financial sustainability and independent governance, two things that have eluded both public and private media in the Caribbean, though not entirely.

To inform the discussion, follow the work that the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford has done on this. You can download the executive summary from the link and order the book but the introduction captures some of my own thoughts on the subject, principally that we should consider the media trust neither out of philistinic opposition nor unbridled optimism.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Walk Good, Aggrey

Professor Aggrey Brown
 "Rather, in examining and assessing what the media are in the Caribbean, we came upon the question - Talking with Whom? Do we have infrastructures and channels for communication without communications processes in the Caribbean?" - from "Talking with Whom", Brown and Sanatan, 1987.

For hundreds of us in the Caribbean - the name meant, and means, so much. Aggrey.

Aggrey the teacher, Aggrey the torturer, Aggrey the brain, Aggrey the critic, Aggrey the angry, the sage, the visionary, the thinker, the talker.

Dare we see his like again?

I hope so. If any of his searing intellect, his fiery passion, his incisive and insightful criticism - and his caring about and for the West Indian Civilisation are anything to go by, then there are scores of Aggreys in the making, thanks to him, ever since 1974.

For 22 tumultuous years, he was Mr. CARIMAC, synonymous with the training school, research crucible, lab and temple for Caribbean communicators. This was the house that Aggrey built all through the storms of ever-changing technology, processes and people.

All through the era of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) - the era that gave birth to CARIMAC and CANA, all through the rise, decline and fall of the theories of media imperialism and cultural domination, all through the eras of the satellite, from analogue to digital, from the computer to convergence (ah, the good old days) and now into today's heady, bewildering, complex landscape - or wilderness - where social interaction, nanocomputing and telecommunications converge and also divide us - Aggrey was there. For some people, it was Aggrey the pontiff, the words flying from his lips with machine-gun rapidity, a man with so much to say and so little time to say it - for when was eternity ever enough for an Aggrey Brown?

So many of his students missed his boat, so many of them have foundered or yet flounder in the treacherous seas of cannibalistic capitalism, their mouths dripping with the words copied from Harvard Business School, the World Bank/IMF/WTO. So many of Aggrey's children have disappointed him, and us. For these were men and women on the make, children in a hurry to be adults, sticking around CARIMAC and the university that housed it only long enough to get it and get out. They left, so many without understanding not what Aggrey Brown was - I hardly think he gave a hoot what people thought of him - but what he was saying, man, what he was meaning.

Aggrey Brown is the Jamaica I knew and loved ever since my first visit... anywhere... as a teen. A people independent not just in bunting or birthday but in thought; where passion met intellect and set our provincial minds ablaze. This is particularly ironic for me as my contact with Aggrey Brown was more tangential than most media people. I did not study at CARIMAC and while one cannot study Caribbean mass communications seriously without seeing the oracle, I did Aggrey Brown 101. As I moved along in my career, I adopted the Aggrey Brown approach: don't just do it (whatever it is); ask yourself who and what led you to do it that way and why. I read him and I listened to him.

In short, I learned from him that you cannot escape asking the essential question that is contained in the text and title of his landmark 1987 study with Roderick Sanatan - "Talking with Whom?"

That book. The book that once and for all established the truth that stared so many of us in the face and eluded us at the same time; that the Caribbean is the region on Earth most penetrated by foreign television. "Talking with Whom" was the 20th Century's Genesis to the 21st Century's Exodus - so much has changed while so much remains unceasingly and unerringly the same. You simply cannot hope to consider yourself a student of Caribbean media and communication and not read, mark and inwardly digest "Talking with Whom". It isn't the Alpha and Omega, but as Alphas go in research on a subject still crying out for more indigenous research, it is the last word.

Yet, so many saw Aggrey Brown as the fossilized teacher, the fuddy-duddy, the didactic dinosaur, some sort of abstract manufacturer of the abstract. So many Caribbean media bosses slammed him and the institution as being 'inadequate for the needs of the real world'. Having seen what so many have made of that world - with copycat concepts, soaps and sitcoms in unworthy homage to Hollywood and Madison Avenue - I can see why so many of them thought that. Again, they heard Aggrey but they hardly listened to him.

And it was not as if Aggrey was this remote king of the ivory tower as so many portrayed him; here was a doer and a thinker - cameraman, columnist, call-in programme moderator, announcer, analyst. Aggrey Brown walked the walk long before he talked the talk.  And while so many saw him as a solitary figure, he was not alone. In very many, very similar, very different ways, Brown, the late John Maxwell, the late Wycliffe BennettWilmot PerkinsBarbara Gloudon, the late Rex Nettleford and others were these towering giants of media, communication and the arts who struggled with twin tides: Manley's oft-misdirected nation building and Seaga's misanthropic structural adjustment; tides that swept Jamaica and reached us all in the region. Brown and Co. were among Jamaica's first fruits of 1962 - often scattered aside by post-Independence politicians who soon found them unbought and unbossed.

And all the while, Aggrey, far from being stuck in an era, far from being the quixotic despot, was evolving, changing, thinking, moving. Dinosaurs don't do that.

It was because of Aggrey that a new breed of communication researchers carry on the struggle to help Caribbean media workers and managers engage brain before their gears slip into talk. We do a lot of talking in the Caribbean, we imagine scenarios but have a problem with gathering evidence. And Aggrey Brown's great gift is the creation of a cadre of people who think about why we are talking with whom.

So from "Talking with Whom" in 1987 to the excellent 1995 compendium, "Communication, Globalisation and Caribbean Identity", where you can read for yourself how Aggrey's thinking was evolving (Caribbean cultures and mass communication technology: Re-examining the cultural dependency thesis, pp 40-54), Hopeton Dunn and others pick up the essential, seeemingly eternal, question Aggrey and Sanatan posed. Even now, 16 years later, where gurus pontificate that no one knows how it will all turn out, where we are keen to disrupt because of these cool tools, the essential problem that Aggrey urged us to grapple with still gnaws at us - how much of it do we really own and control? Even when the New Media monarchs insist that in the virtual world, we need not own anything ("leave it in the cloud", "leave it to the developer", "just drag and drop"), so many of our people are being left in the dust - new elites have formed to talk with themselves... Aggrey was anything but elitist.

In 2011, within hours of his death, the head of the Press Association of Jamaica, Jenni Campbell showed just how much Aggrey Brown was ahead of us when he described him as someone who "foresaw the explosion of technology long before many, and helped journalists to look ahead and position themselves and the profession for the advent of social media and the digital age".

How many owners, managers and minions in the Caribbean media, so many of whom lobbed their poisonous darts at Aggrey, what he stood for, what he stood up against, what he meant and what meant us to do, will have that as either epitaph or entry point?

Walk good, Aggrey. We who listened to you will keep searching, reasoning and asking about who in our civilisation is "Talking with Whom", why, and why not.

The Essential Aggrey Brown Bibliography:

Barbados: Towards a Media Farm in 2012

 Caribbean Media Centre, Bridgetown (CMC)

A question mark need not follow that headline, as it so often appends itself to ideas on this and many other little rocks in the Atlantic pond.

I return to something I've been advocating and others have been talking about for some time now - a media farm: a single cooperative space where media artists and entrepreneurs can operate; a cottage industry in air-conditioned comfort; a one-stop shop for clients and creators - its eventual shape can be limited only by our imagination... and our resolve.

I know of many Barbadian producers and filmmakers who crave a place to lay their hats, grab face time in a conference room, 'hold a corner' for their creative engine room, get access to a decent printer/copier etc.

Picture a score of office enclosures, one-room suites and a central large space that's farmed out to occupants freely and at cost to outsiders - a soundstage or multicamera studio with audience bleachers, perhaps. Set builders could share backgrounds, cycs, screens, props, furniture - and ideas. Dozens of single proprietors and groups, one reception area, one watercooler, one green room, one peppercorn rent to keep the lights and the water on while the creators focus on ...well, creating.

With fellow creators in one shared space, one can envisage the networking (tech and social), the collaboration, the bartering, the real and tangible sharing that can leverage individual projects.

Sure, they'd all in one place doing their own thing but what if you as filmmaker were two doors down from an animator/illustrator, next door to a musician/composer, across from the guy with the green screen, with a copier (and coffee-maker) down the corridor?

For too long, too many media producers have been 'scotching' here and there, or shouldering rent and utility costs alone hoping that the bills will be paid with the next big... wedding? Commercial?

The Investment and Development Corporation, the government's industrial promotion agency and industrial estate landlord, only has 1.6 million sq. ft. of space with common services and half-decent parking. In the Harbour Industrial Park - one of a dozen in the country - much of the space was created for offshore IT firms, so many of whom have since deserted for Bangalore (it takes many more Indians than Bajans to screw in a light bulb for far less cost).

Imagine that many creators, freed of the distracting burdens of survival, can now leverage training, research and development, even funding for their projects. Rather than wait on the wealthy walk-in client, a creator can devote his time (he now has the space at his disposal) to create the content for which both risk and reward are shared.

So imagine 25 or 30 (I imagine many more) creative and productive Bajans sharing a space (and a nominal rent) that must surely be a lighter 'burden' on the state (for civil servants and politicians tend to see it that way, sadly) than waiting on the next Great White ICT Hope to occupy the space.

In 2003, the Barbados Government took the space recently vacated by one such fleeing hope - ICL Fujitsu - and created the Caribbean Media Centre for the not-for-profit, independent Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). The centre was just an entire floor already cabled for networking with large rooms for editorial and commercial/administrative offices and a soundstage/studio/training room.

So they'd done it before for one organisation; it can do it again for scores of individual artists.

Who needs ever-declining FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) if the brothers and sisters are doing it for themselves? Bajans, contrary to popular self-belief, do cooperativism really well - if we really want to and are not limited by lack of imagination and drive. Just look at our billion-dollar credit union movement that can buy whole insurance companies - no wealthy expats need apply.

If we really want to.

And if all the above doesn't convince you, imagine the film and video association with its own home - provided by the State as evidence that it is really putting its money where its lipservice is in the 'cultural industries'.

And for the love of Jehovah/Allah/God/Man Upstairs, there's an old, old precedent of sorts - all those nice handicraft people beavering away a couple hundred metres from the IT-ready buildings; the Pelican craft centre that's 40 years old.

Competition and collaboration - like the human being and fish(?) - can co-exist peacefully. Sort of. Sometimes. If we really want to.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

OPINION: The Deafening Silence of the Lambs

Full disclosure: this may be viewed as somewhat self-serving. It may well be.

I feel I have some idea of what it must feel like to be Andrew Mason. A lot of people like him for what he does and a helluva lot of people hate him for it. A lot more people don't like what he does and plenty more people hate him for it. I, too, will admit to having inhabited all of the above camps over the years, going back to 1983 when as a gangly youngster I would record his CBC Player of the Day programmes on Saturday afternoons at CBC Radio.

Andrew can be as acerbic as he can be saccharine, witty as well as woefully cliché-ridden, energetic and enervating all at once. I have lived to hear him wish for the day when an elite panel of expert regional cricket commentators would be created, then hear him criticise the very idea of a panel when CANARadio (later CMC) created CricketPlus, which I produced from its inception until 2001. He was on that panel, too. The word 'mercurial' is for thermometers, not for the likes of Andrew Mason; a better word to describe this complex individual is yet to be invented.

Andrew is a rare talent behind the microphone - loved in Kingston and likely loathed in Kensington New Road. Such is the life of any man or woman who dares to practise journalism or offer commentary in these small islands. My own hero, the great Barbadian journalist, Clennell Wickham, once said that one must be wary of a journalist who is popular. A man whom everybody likes can't be much good, Wickham suggested, because he is too keen to please and too averse to challenging the powers that be.

And Wickham would know what he was talking about - reviled as he was by the ruling planter class and its sycophants during the bad old days of the 1920s and 1930s when he was busy helping to shape the Barbados we take for granted today.

Our job in the media is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to speak truth to power, to stand up and declare the emperor to be naked (should the facts warrant it, of course). From time to time, like all good humans, Mason might veer off course from the stern call of duty but I have never once doubted his sincerity.

So to challenge the organisation in the Pine that first gave us our starts in broadcasting and journalism fills me with as much gloom as it does with righteous indignation. Gloom, for it comes just as CBC is about to celebrate its 47th anniversary on December 15th. The indignation is second nature to many for it is easy, oh so easy, to tear the bark off CBC - it so often deserves a peeling. No matter the party in power, no matter the cast of characters in the board and management, no matter the pawn in the newsroom or the studio or the commentary booth, the same zero-sum game is played, the same game for longer than Barbados has been independent. And the loser is always the same, all of us.

The curious thing about the Mason Affair is the inertia that it so often produces in a nation that was founded in 1966 on the premises of equality before the law, and freedom of speech, thought and assembly and the notion of a nation of laws rather than a nation of men. The citizens quench their thirst for these basic human freedoms from a not-terribly-deep well but couldn't give a damn who didn't get a drink today. I felt as much back in 2005 when the same CBC unceremoniously killed The Press Club, a weekly news review I chaired shortly after I had dared to question the actions of the police as they related to - or at the time failed to relate to - the media.

That The Press Club was the third most-watched programme on CBC TV at the time, according to the survey they sanctioned, mattered not a jot. That Best and Mason's popularity extends far beyond these shores to other Caribbean islands means nothing to the mandarins of CBC. For only at CBC are high ratings punishable by death. This alone screams out at the right-thinking person: more in the mortar than in the pestle. Someone, somewhere in the bowels of the Corporation, wakes up in the middle of the night in cold sweats, fearing that some political maguffy in Bay Street and its environs would be none-too-pleased at all this free and unfettered speech on the airwaves the night before and vowing not to close another eyelid unless the offending party is shown the door.

In my own experience and all through the long years of a Corporation that means so much to so many and is so often so mean to so many, the oft-claimed "political interference" is not the result of some minister deciding to take bread from Mr X's mouth. No. From the lists of banned guests and people not to be interviewed in the 1980s to the journalists and presenters who were not so much fired as never hired in the 1990s to the latest atrocities, one thing is clear. You don't need to be an angry politician to interfere at CBC when there are so many within who will do the silencing for you before you even know what to be angry about.

Yet, people go along with the muzzling of media people. I have lived long enough to see them cheer the conceited politician for concealing the truth and jeer the hapless reporter who dares to question the artful dodger. Barbadians, my people, who say "we want investigative journalism in Barbados". Yes, by all means investigate, they say, just don't investigate me.

It is all the more ironic given the proximity of CBC's action to that of the Trinidadian state media, CNMG, which last month pulled the plug on Andrew's fellow commentator, Fazeer Mohammed, for daring to speak truth to power in a political interview. Yet, unlike the Trinidadian case, the sheep-like silence of Barbadians in the face of this latest assault on their speech/press freedoms is, as usual, deafening.

Even so, the warning bells were clanging away weeks before, when a former government minister in the Arthur administration was denied access to the same show on the same station. CBC trotted out some ancient and vague rule and suggested that protocol was breached.

As an ex-CBC journalist, I am aware of the rule, created in the late 1980s by an obeisant general manager, Sam Taitt. It suggested that invitations to interview ministers and candidates in a general election be cleared by senior management. But in a crass abuse of an old rule, CBC now seeks to stretch the barriers to include former cabinet ministers who are nothing more than ordinary citizens talking about cricket, for heaven's sake.

I say, a pox on all your houses. Both political parties have bred an environment in which the state broadcaster, which actually has a greater legal and moral mandate to let all ideas contend than any commercial broadcaster, behaves like the House of Five Years of Fat or Lean. It is now time for the people to demand an end to exclusions and the official lies that follow.

CBC does not belong to the Democratic Labour Party nor the Barbados Labour Party. It belongs to the people of Barbados who pay its bills. It was created not by an act of partisanship but by an Act of Parliament. Its guide is not the latest manifesto but the Constitution of Barbados. It is at section 11 of the supreme law of the land that every citizen - including every journalist and every programme-maker - is granted the right of free speech, thought and assembly. That CBC is an arm of the state should give Andrew Mason sanctuary not become the last place of refuge.

For once, just once, my fellow citizens, especially those who, for whatever reason, can't stand the best bone in Andrew Mason's jawbones, should stand up and say, I disagree with everything you could possibly say but I will fight to the death your right to say it.

Either we are building a democracy or we are tearing it down, brick by brick.

For in protecting the Masons and the other pawns in the free speech game in this country, we save our own sorry skins. To continue to look the other way is to continue to slide down the slippery slope.

It is time for Barbadians, for once, to put up or shut up. And since we seem so keen to do the latter, I pray that we remain silent when one day we realise how so easily hard-won freedoms were frittered away. If we don't think that's possible, then our collective hubris is far greater than Andrew Mason's most outlandish pronouncement, and infinitely more ugly.