Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Wednesday, June 04, 2003  

Stop the press

The lead (and only) story on the front page of today's Express is about the T&T contestant (sorry, "delegate") in the Miss Universe beauty contest (sorry, "pageant") making it to the final ten in last evening's show.

Funny paper, the Express. It's generally regarded as the most "serious" of the local papers, but it's got a tabloid format and quite often a quite luridly sensational layout.

Of course the reason why the Express is a tabloid, and why the Guardian has gone from broadsheet to whatever it is now (they call it "G-size"; I just call it weird) is because, apparently, our citizens much prefer tabloid, and are quite turned off by the broadsheet format.

A former editor at the Guardian told me that an in-depth survery was done to this effect years ago, but that the Guardian, despite its flagging circulation, couldn't switch over because it had just invested in a new set of presses. Of course, there's more to the story of that paper's near-terminal levels of circulation. The Guardian is part of the ANSA McAL group, the country's largest locally-owned conglomerate, and the interests of ANSA McAL are the interests of the Guardian. More than that, there's a perception still that the paper is the paper of the business interests and this, among other reasons, surely accounts for its still low (but apparently growing) circulation.

Not that the Express is free from outside interference. That paper is part of the Caribbean Communications Network, the current local Miss Universe franchise holder. Which is why a bikini clad woman is on the front page of today's paper, and the poor prime minister and his historic announcement yesterday in the Senate of the date for local government elections get relegated to page seven.

No doubt it's a popular decision as well: I'm sure the average Trini would much prefer see a beauty queen than the Honourable PM on the front page of their favourite daily.

All this raises a number of interesting questions. Of all the news that's fit to print, should newspapers privilege what the people want, or what they think is important? In a country this small, where all the dailies compete for the same mass audience (with no real distinctions among them), the bottom line usually determines that decision. (Even the Guardian has a prominent photo of our Miss Universe rep. on its front page today.)

And what of conglomerates owning newspapers, and the resulting problem of conflict of interest? Fair enough, as we're often told, running a newspaper isn't cheap; but isn't this a case where it would be in the government's (i.e. the people's) interests for regulation? The trend abroad is for just the opposite (in the US, the last FCC regulations concerning restrictions on ownership of media companies are set to be done away with), but T&T is not the US or Britain. In any case, you do have media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch (would Anthony Sabga and Craig Reynald be our local equivalents?), and not everyone likes Murdoch, his practices, or the type of journalism that comes from his various periodicals.

Whatever the issues, the ultimate aim of all of this should be the betterment of the quality of journalism in T&T. We've come a long way from the days when, as Naipaul said, all one needed was to have failed English at school to be a reporter (some might argue the old days are coming back, though, or never really went away). But we've still got a long way to go, and as good as the standard of journalism might be, it will mean practically nothing if there aren't corresponding changes to the general attitude towards what is considered newsworthy and how the news is presented. Unfortunately that would also mean a general change in the mindset of the society, and who knows how long such a change will be in coming.

posted by Jonathan | 12:04 PM 0 comments


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