09 Nov 2019 MD 2019/4 Editorial
This issue of Media Development is not the first in which the journal has turned its attention to the Caribbean. In 1998, with contributions by communication stalwarts such as Aggrey Brown, Lawrence D. Carrington, and Patrick A.B. Anthony, we published “Communication Issues in the Caribbean”. It looked in particular at the resurgence of national and cultural identities expressed through independent media.
That issue asked, “What, in the long run, is the future of such independent efforts in an environment that is resolutely market-driven? What are the prospects for the ‘third sector’ in a climate in which subsidies are in short supply? How can this sector make its peace with market imperatives while continuing to champion the communication rights of the people who are most in need? What are the challenges that are specifically related to advances in new technologies and how can their benefits be socialised?”
Just over 20 years later, with globalization and digitization seizing the high ground of political economies, those questions remain profoundly relevant. And the title of the 4/2019 issue, “Communication Pirates of the Caribbean”, referencing a popular series of films, underlines the fact that justice and ethics are often absent from decision-making about communication policies that have significant impact on ordinary people.
With globalization, it is easy to forget that the Caribbean is a convergence of identities, languages, cultures, histories, and enslavements that are still struggling to surface. As far back as 1996, we find the Caribbean scholar Ralph R. Premdas writing:
“The Caribbean as an unified region that confers a sense of common citizenship and community is a figment of the imagination. To be sure, there is a geographical expression called ‘the Caribbean’ often associated with a site, a sea, and several islands. There are also many people who describe themselves as Caribbean persons, claiming an unique identity which has its own cohering characteristics that distinguish them from others. And there are many tourists and other foreigners who can swear that they went to this Caribbean place and met real Caribbean persons. They will all convincingly attest to a Caribbean reality. The truth, however, is that the Caribbean even as a geographical expression is a very imprecise place that is difficult to define… It is not only an imaginary region but one that is arbitrarily appointed to its designation. It will be difficult to pinpoint precisely where this Caribbean place is, for no country carries the name Caribbean either separately or in hyphenated form.”1
In a sense, the problem of unity is aggravated by the digital era, where communication time and space have been annihilated, and by social media, which offer instant camaraderie and a diluted sharing of identity. At the same time, as articles in this issue of Media Development demonstrate, to the uncritical eye many trans-Caribbean media infrastructures imply a certain level of regional coherence.
In short, the Caribbean (pace Professor Premdas) is a complex region presenting a diversity of challenges that demand a diversity of approaches and solutions. In this scenario, global and regional governmental and corporate interests are likely to be the pirates, seizing what belongs to others, especially in matters of digital data and surveillance.
If there is to be a happy ending, civil society must play the role of Jack Sparrow, parlaying in support of the communication rights of individuals and communities. As the gallant captain once remarked, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
- “Ethnicity and Identity in the Caribbean: Decentering a Myth” by Ralph R. Premdas. Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies. Working Paper #234, December 1996.