Telecommunications and Information Technology:
Building a Competitive Caribbean
III- The Telecommunications Revolution and Press Coverage of the Caribbean
By John Collins (1)
Global Policy Briefing U.S.-Caribbean Executives Club Center for Strategic &
International Studies (CSIS)
Washington, D.C. October 1-2, 2002
wish to thank CSIS, the U.S.-Caribbean Executives Club and co-chairmen President
Leonel Fernandez and Amb. Charles Manatt for scheduling this important panel on
press coverage of the Caribbean in the context of the telecommunications
I welcome the
opportunity to participate since I have lived in the Caribbean for more than
three decades and am acquainted with most of the states in the region. Like
others, including two distinguished examples here – President Fernandez and the
Honorable Ken Gordon from Trinidad & Tobago, I too have also alternated between
government and the media.
subject is of particular interest to me as an American living in the Caribbean
and especially at this time when Washington is being visited by the incumbent
president of the Dominican Republic and his predecessor, President Fernandez, as
First I think
it is important to look at Caribbean media in general and in terms of the print
media in particular. Because of time constraints, I’ll refer to the D.R. and
Puerto Rico, on the one hand, and the English-speaking Caribbean, on the other.
with a population approaching nine million and well over a million abroad, has
ten or more dailies – I’m sure there are those in the business there who would
say there are too many – and Puerto Rico (population four million) has four
dailies. I’ve been told the top circulation in the D.R. hovers at less than
100,000 and in Puerto Rico the largest circulation is more than two-and-a-half
in the English-speaking Caribbean, which stretches from the Bahamas and Bermuda
in the north and Belize in the west down to Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and
Suriname in the southeast, has a total population approaching 15 million
(counting Haiti) in 15 territories constituting CARICOM. Only Barbados, Guyana,
Jamaica and Trinidad have dailies. The remaining CARICOM states have only
biweekly or weekly newspapers.
television are the principal source of information for citizenry who follow
events in varying degrees of closeness and keep relatively well-informed given
their limited sources.
CANA in financial difficulties
source wire service is the Caribbean Area News Agency (CANA) but media houses
also subscribe to the Associated Press followed by Reuters. Coverage of the
English-speaking Caribbean has also increased in recent years with EFE, AFP and
afternoon throughout CARICOM many citizens at all levels of society regularly
listen to the BBC’s Caribbean service from London and CANA’s daily Caribbean
Report from Barbados. The VOA also provides daily service but I have found that
it is not as widely listened to as the BBC and CANA. The BBC service also has
wider reach in North America, Latin America and elsewhere in the world.
CANA has had
financial difficulties in recent years with not enough subscribers in the region
and even fewer abroad. Earlier this year it was forced to cutback its services
and radically reduce staff by 90% after funding ($5 million) it had received
from the EU and Reuters was terminated and then Reuters became another
In spite of
the relatively large numbers of Caribbean people living in the U.S. and Canada,
CANA has never been able to sufficiently expand its roster of subscribers in
North America to cover its costs. I’ve been told the present number of
subscribers totals three dozen.
advent of the Internet has had a profound impact on information flows in the
Caribbean, as elsewhere, accompanied with the same debate as in other parts of
the world. As demand increases, some media houses, faced with mounting costs are
looking for ways to make web sites pay their way including advertising and
There is no
question that the Internet is performing invaluable service to Caribbean peoples
in the diaspora by providing them with instantaneous news from home and in most
cases free of charge. In the D.R. Impressive are DR1, RevistaInterForum and
Pymesdominicanas in the D.R., PuertoRicoWOW and CANA’s CaribbeanNewspapers which
provides links to more than three dozen newspapers in the region including Hoy
and Listin. El Caribe also has an excellent web site.
America in general get its news about the Caribbean? Naturally, to many
Americans it is a region of the three S’s (sun, sand and sea) because of the
reputation it has earned as a vacation destination and the millions of dollars
spent promoting travel there by its governments and private sectors.
Unfortunately, the amount of money spent by the countries of the region on
investment promotion and serious, in depth information, pales in comparison. In
that regard the countries of the Caribbean are competing with the other 190
nations in the world, all of which maintain embassies in Washington and many of
which have public relations firms promoting them with varying levels of
effectiveness and results.
How can the Caribbean get attention?
was brought home to me graphically last week during President Mejia’s visit to
Washington in the context of the Dominican Week in the U.S. The day after the
president spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce readers of the three leading
dailies in the D.R. read the details of the visit on their front pages
accompanied by wire photos.
his visit went unreported and ignored by the Washington press corps except for
the trade press which is following the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
process and the Mejia administration’s push for a bilateral trade agreement with
Of course the
Bush administration knew he was in town and Deputy Secretary Reich was present
at the luncheon and he did meet with several members of Congress led by
Representatives Charles Rangel and Ben Gilman, two longtime friends of the D.R.
wasn’t a word about his visit in the Washington dailies or even the Miami Herald
which has covered the Caribbean more consistently than all other U.S. dailies
As I looked
around the U.S. Chamber dining room I noticed there were about 200 present and
if 40 of them were Americans, the D.R. was lucky. The president’s speech was
welcomed by many, including some of his critics, as one of his best ever. But
the question to be asked is how many people outside the D.R. even knew about his
visit, who he met with or what he did and what did he say? Of course the
president’s web site posted periodic reports of the visit but we will have to
wait and see if an English version of the speech ever appears.
Of course I
was guarded in expressing my own observations so when I went to a meeting of the
Group of Dominican Professionals in Washington two days later I was impressed
when several Dominicans resident in Washington articulated some of my own
concerns as well but in much blunter terms. Several speakers criticized both the
D.R. government and private sector for not institutionalizing the country’s
presence in Washington and its image projection in the U.S. Tough questions were
asked about why more adequate financial and professional resources are not being
provided to the embassy and the consulates. I thought to myself that it was
unfortunate that more of the converted at the luncheon were not present for the
postmortem at Georgetown.
Washington last week was the new president of Colombia and articles about him
with photos appeared in the Washington dailies and elsewhere and he was
interviewed on several television programs.
Dominican friend of mine recalled that Trujillo knew how to manipulate the U.S.
media and even had a high paid publicist promoting the D.R. as well as himself
of course. “You get what you pay for – that was true in the Era of Trujillo and
its more true today because the D.R. is competing with a lot more countries in
the world now,” he said.
Frustration over lack of awareness
speaking mostly about the D.R. today, I can assure you the same high level of
frustration over the lack of awareness in the U.S. exists in all of the other
countries in the Caribbean as well.
I write for
more than a dozen newspapers in the region and in the U.S… and I assure you that
the most difficult task for me is to get articles about the Caribbean into a
U.S. daily, unless its negative or about a crisis.
surprised but not disappointed last year to hear a Washington editor, with broad
foreign experience who has used by articles tell me “for the American reader the
Caribbean is a secondary theater – you have to convince me that it has relevance
for them.” A few months later, when he was on vacation, his assistant editor
went further and dismissed the Caribbean as “a tertiary theater.”
What was the
article about? The growing relationship between leftist politicians in the
eastern Caribbean and Libyan leader Qaddafi and growing concern about it by the
U.S. Government. The articles appeared in seven countries in the Caribbean and
was widely discussed. The week before last Deputy Secretary of State Armitage,
testifying in the U.S. Senate spoke about an intelligence report “from a
Caribbean government and the activities of a Muslim group in that country” but
he declined to identify either. My article ten months earlier cited the report
and named the group and the country. The same group is now the center of a
controversy in the forthcoming elections Oct. 7 in Trinidad & Tobago.
There are so
many other aspects of this unbalanced Caribbean media picture but I would like
to pause here because I’m very interested in hearing what others have to say
about this situation and what can be done to improve it?
Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read
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October 07, 2002