Mass Media and the Caribbean

Stuart H. Surlin

Walter C. Soderlund

This work is the sixth volume of a series on Caribbean studies. Previous efforts have focused on Caribbean history, economics, and development, as well as specific studies of urban Jamaica, democracy in Dutch-speaking areas and early Guyanese colonial society. For this volume Surlin & Soderlund have melded pan-Caribbean and country specific articles. They have drawn together the work of 26 scholars (from established to less-known) focusing equally on media development and media effects.

The first 14 chapters discuss media in English-, Spanish-, French-, and Dutch-speaking areas. Although not every political entity is covered, the reader is provided with substantial detail of media in Jamaica, Trinidad/ Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, the Leeward Islands, Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Netherlands Antilles, and Guadeloupe. The chapters offer commentary on history, contemporary mass media operation, government-press relations, new technologies, research needs, and journalism education. This socio-political approach provides an excellent orientation to both mass media and cultural development. Contributors' styles differ widely--ranging from almost press release boosterism to critical analysis. There emerges from these country portraits a concern about television's power to threaten national cultural identity, especially given satellite technology. Each country's method of dealing with this issue points up both the staunchly individualistic nature of Caribbean mass media and the common problems of economies of scale in production, foreign programming influence, and internal political-economic debates concerning allocation of precious resources and degree of free-market development.

The second part of the book offers the reader a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative studies which flesh out the media framework established in part one. Two contributions are particularly insightful in their identification of Caribbean media issues--Aggrey Brown's "Effects of the New World Information Order on Caribbean Media" and Stuart Surlin's "Caribbean Cultural Identification. Cultural Consciousness and Mass Media Imperialism." Other chapters deal with the technologies of cable television and video tape recorders, the establishment of the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), and content studies on the Grenada invasion, the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Haitian elections, and Radio Marti. Three of the final studies explore Jamaican talk radio and the influence of calypso and reggae music as political instruments.

A noticeable weakness of the book is the datedness of some contributions. While publication requirements prohibit the most current information, several chapters would benefit greatly by either revising previously written material or judiciously using contemporizing footnotes, as was done by several authors.

The editors call for continued research into Caribbean mass media issues. Recent events in the region illustrate just a few possible areas of study. Jamaica and Trinidad/ Tobago have loosened restrictions on broadcasting. Will other islands follow? Does the recent succesful live broadcast of the Regional Constituent Assembly by the Eastern Caribbean Television Network portend fragmentation of region-wide television coverage? Does Prime Minister John Compton's attack on a St. Lucian newspaper by withholding government advertising signal a renewed attempt at press control? In addition to reggae and calypso, are other forms of non-electronic folk communication like telediol in Haiti assuming a larger role in Caribbean life? A new generation of scholars is beginning their exploration of the Caribbean, and Mass Media and the Caribbean serves as an excellent foundation from which to begin their future reseach.