The official launch of the Caribbean Sports Journalists’ Association (CASJA) in Nassau, Bahamas, on Sunday 25 May 2014 may well be a sign of hope for a new beginning amongst sport journalism in the Caribbean.
The decision to have the launch of the CASJA at the same time and place of the inaugural IAAF World Relays is instructive since it speaks to the recognition of the importance of using a high profile event to catapult the organization into public consciousness, a feature deemed most critical to its success in the future.
According to a release from the CASJA, the formalisation of CASJA followed many months of discussions on the need for the regional sports media to be united in facing challenges and facilitated by Jamaicans Andre Lowe, Anthony Foster and Kayon Raynor, Kwame Laurence of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada’s Michael Bascombe and Bahamian Brent Stubbs.
Speaking at the launch, Bascombe noted however that the fact that we have put together an interim committee to facilitate a transition into a constituted and structured organisation in the immediate future is an indication of our good intentions.
Many sportspeople across the Caribbean are certainly hoping that the organisation can get its act together sooner rather than later and be duly constituted.
The small size of the St Vincent and the Grenadines does not constitute sufficient reason to believe that the populace at large has ample access to the sporting activities spread across the nation. The hilly terrain and the heavy urban centralization of sporting activities makes it impossible for the vast majority of the population to see good sports played under the best available conditions on a regular basis. It means therefore, that the media have a major role to play in bringing sports to the farthest corners of our society.
The media in general are a long way from being developed. The most apt nomenclature would be, developing. In St Vincent and the Grenadines many media houses have eagerly facilitated attendance by their personnel to communications and journalism programmes at CARIMAC and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. However, while they have all returned with certificates this does not mean competence since as we have always maintained, certification does not necessarily translate into education. The distinction must indeed be made.
It should also be noted that we have not seen it necessary to pay attention to sport journalism in the development of these programmes on communications. Perhaps the belief is that journalism is journalism and we do not need to focus attention on any specific aspect. This is unfortunate since while there are fundamentals of journalism that apply across the broad spectrum of activities to be covered knowledge and understanding of the nuances of the areas from which the activities emanate is essential to good journalism.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines therefore we have failed to encourage our children that there is a career in sport journalism.
Students here have been offered degree programmes in physical education and sport but never on sport journalism. This hankers back to the old, myopic view of sport as mere frivolity.
For a very long time local media houses had no clear policy on their respective approaches to sport. Measure for measure, given the percentage of the population involved in sport on a daily basis, the approach of the media in dealing with sport revealed an unfavourable balance weighted against sport.
One can readily accuse the historical role given to sports as a frivolous pastime for generating the attitudes of the media to sports, but that seems too inadequate an explanation for this phenomenon. The media seemed somewhat incapable of recognizing the important role played by sportsmen and sportswomen in bringing regional and international recognition to the country.
A clearly delineated national sport policy means that the sport media would have a frame of reference from which to pitch their programmation and strategizing, confident that they are operating within the parameters of the broad national developmental objectives. This means further, that the sports media should set their own operational principles and practices consistent with the declared national sport policy. Unfortunately the government of the day does not seem to care much for the national sport policy, seemingly choosing which aspects it deems best suited to its own interests.
General media policy is determined to a very large extent by the ownership of the respective arms of the media. Hence, there is neither coherent nor consistent media policy ascribed to by all forms of the media.
The formation of Media Workers Associations in the wider Caribbean led to the formation of a local equivalent here. Unfortunately the organization was not in existence long enough to make any sort of impact such as would permit astute analysis of their modus operandi generally to say nothing of its impact on the field of sport.
The National Sport Policy of St Vincent and the Grenadines as last modified on 15 November 2005 includes a segment on the media as follows:
4. Media and Promotion
The effective dissemination of information is a very important function in the promotion of sports. To ensure effective dissemination of information and to sustain broad public interest in sport, it is necessary that wider coverage and promotion of sporting activities become a priority.
4.1 Government and private media houses shall be encouraged to increase the publicity and exposure given to sporting activities to highlight the endeavours of sports persons and stimulate public support and participation.
4.2 All media houses shall be encouraged to play an active role in promoting sports as a healthy lifestyle.
4.3 All media houses shall play their role in building positive attitudes to sports administrators, participants and sport in general.
4.4 National sporting bodies and affiliates shall undertake marketing and promotional activities aimed at increasing and sustaining spectator attendance at sporting activities.
4.5 Educational activities shall be developed to instruct the general public in the rules and skills of different sporting events; national sporting bodies and affiliates shall develop structured programmes to facilitate the systematic development of sports in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
4.6 Media houses shall be encouraged to pay due regard to the rights of the sporting bodies for their respective events.
What is written in the Policy is hardly followed in practice. There is hardly anyone in St Vincent and the Grenadines that can claim to work with the established National Sport Policy in respect of sport.
The Vincentian newspaper had for many years carried a limited coverage of sport in the country. The lone radio station, NBC Radio 705, did have a sport package attendant to its news package on mornings and afternoons. This addressed local, regional and international sport. The same could be said of SVGTV once it came into existence.
The News newspaper came along in mid 1989 and positively impacted the way the print media dealt with sport. In many respects it could be said that this country’s media started taking coverage of sporting events to another level following the bold undertakings of The News newspaper.
The News newspaper wanted to have as many as four of its pages dealing with sport. This meant relatively extensive coverage of what was happening in the world of sport.
NBC Radio 705 started a Sunday afternoon programme with Michael Findlay that saw him zeroing in on specific aspects of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He often had different sport personalities called and their discussions carried live.
SVGTV also developed a weekly package that covered a series of local sporting events.
When NICE Radio started in the late 1990s, its approach totally revolutionised the coverage of sport in the country. The NICE Radio Sports Team traversed the country bringing live coverage of sporting events in areas that had never received such attention by the local media.
Whereas NBC Radio 705 had a one-hour Saturday evening call-in programme on sport, Nice Radio started a two-hour Sunday evening call-in programme and then shifted to a second such activity on Wednesday evenings, giving the nation an unbelievable four hours of call-in sports programming each week. NBC Radio 705 then added another hour to its Saturday evening package.
NICE Radio can therefore be credited with positively impacting the local coverage of sport and this has been followed by change sin the way other local media houses have seen sport.
It remains an unfortunate reality, though, that many involved in the sport aspect of the media in St Vincent and the Grenadines have yet to appreciate the need to venture into journalism in a professional manner. While some seem to have an interest in journalistic integrity others simply do not. This is evident in the nature of some of the articles and commentaries in the different forms of the media. Indeed some of what is presented falls well short of sport journalism.
In several cases there is no interest in accessing truth. It is enough to stir up mischief in a society that so readily grasps rumour as truth.
Investigative journalism is lacking in much of the local media and this is particularly so in the field of sport.
Sports commentators within the Windward Islands often constitute a very special breed, a category all their own. For some, the regular commentary is their personal opportunity, and most gratifying at that, to strike blows at those sporting organizations, administrative and other personnel, whom they have long wanted to take down a peg or two. There is a strong tendency to be destructive, and viciously so. Constructive criticisms are rare. One is more likely to hear apologia for favourite clubs and organizations than one hears constructive criticism.
Few are the commentators who take the time to research and hence distinguish fact from fantasy before making their commentaries. It has often been said, ‘in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king’. Many media commentators can safely be accused, without fear of contradiction, of operating as though this statement is a truism. Access to the media is used to the advantage of the commentator, being well aware of the limited access of the personnel from sports. In any event, the media commentator will always be the one to have the last word.
The lack of professionalism has been evident in many cases. Media sport personnel often appear incapable of being objective in their analyses of sporting activities.
Insularity and myopia have crept into the sport commentators’ booth where it has continually wrought havoc.
The rural-urban conflict on the field of play has been more than appreciably fuelled by media personnel, many of whom have themselves been victims of the urban bias. Media personnel often fall well short of the idea of attempting to see the media as giving coverage of the realities on the field of play, rather than the blinkered perspective of a particular journalist.