If we can put ourselves back in time on the small island of Grenada, perhaps in the 1800s, we would see printing presses issuing broadsides or leaves of newspaper pages.
But what of news from the outside world?
The ships that docked brought tales from far-off shores. It was not until West Indies and Panama Telegraphy System arrived with telegraphs by cable, first in 1866, that the impact of a mechanical communication device could be felt on the printers of information of the time.
Islanders wanted to know about cricket matches in Britain. It was a notorious fact.
Most Grenadian newspapers were run by one or two people, and most of them reflected the point of view of their owner/editors.
Grenadian T.A. Marryshow edited the "West Indian" from 1915 until 1935 (the paper continued to be published until 1976). Marryshow's active political agenda was reflected in the pages of the paper during his 20-year editorship - independence, self-government and federation.
From the time of the "West Indian," Grenadians saw the "Torchlight" and the "Grenadian Voice" and the "Free West Indian" in the historical timeline of major newspapers, plus party newspaper such as the Grenada National party (GNP) paper "Vanguard" and the New Jewel Movement (NJM) paper "Jewel." In the background to these was always the mimeographed "Grenada Newsletter." Small and short-print newspapers and newsletters would appear from time to time.
Grenadian radio broadcasting was singular, under different management, until after 1984. Before 1984 Grenadians could pick up radio frequencies from off-island stations.
There must have been a few on the island of Grenada with shortwave receivers who could receive broadcasts from afar, but it was not until 1955 that the radio station Windward Islands Broadcasting (WIBS) was established with its headquarters in Grenada. From that time on WIBS was replaced by Radio Grenada, and then replaced by Radio Free Grenada.
Transistors in 1970s made radio affordable for you could carry it around and refill it with batteries. Car radios with jazzed up speakers put the surround around sound in your car. Radio broadcasting was expensive, and continues to be to this day.
People wanted to hear cricket matches and horse races, but to see them on television - now that was and is the preferred media. Although Grenada Television was operating during the early sixties, and Television Free Grenada came into being during the PRG by July 1980, television was only accessible by about one-quarter of the population; surely much more today.
'Outside' Periodicals and Broadcasting
Lent reports that "the number of contemporary Caribbean papers that pre-date the twentieth century" are "the Nassau Guardian (1844), Barbados Advocate-News (1895), Daily Gleaner (1834), Royal Gazette of Bermuda (1828), and Voice of St. Lucia (1885)."
Marcus Garvey, who was working at the Jamaica government printing office in 1910, published "Garvey's Watchman"; later, from Jamaica, he issued a political journal called "Our Own."
'Outside' newspapers were always sold in Grenada; primarily at the shops in St. George's.
Singham comments on the popularity of newspapers in the early 1960s:
"The newspaper with the highest circulation in Grenada is "The Evening Mirror," a Trinidad paper, followed by "The Trinidad Guardian" and "The Barbados Advocate."
According to Singham:
During the 1950s, perhaps someone sent the "West Indian World" or the "West Indian Gazette" from the UK to Grenada.
"During the 1962 election campaign the newspapers drew repeated attention to the fact that every Grenadian had some relative or close friend living in Trinidad.
More people in Grenada listen to Radio Guardian in Trinidad than they do to their own Station WIBS (Windward Islands Broadcasting Service), though this may also be due to the fact that WIBS tends to cater to the elite culture (as the BBC Third Programme does), while Radio Trinidad has more popular music and programs, and broadcasts more hours in the day."
There was a peak time of fine radio broadcasting during the 1950's, starting first with the BBC's Colonial Service broadcasting in 1951 of George Lamming. Recall the BBC Caribbean [World] Service [1942-1959] and Caribbean Voices, ending 1956, with radio writers and personalities - Lewis Marriot, Edward Scobie, VS Naipaul, Andrew Salkey, Alva Clarke, Roy Lawrence, Michael Manley, Asquith Gibbs. Later, in 1969, people followed Trevor McDonald from Trinidad Television to the BBC World Service, and then to his continued career with ITV in the UK.
During the early 1970s there were newsletters, newspapers and journals: Frontline from BBC Brixton; Black Voice from Black United Freedom Party [BUFP], Freedom News from the British Black Panthers [BP], Uhuru from Black People's Freedom Movement [BPFM]; the BPFM Weekly and BWAC Weekly [Black Workers Action Committee] and the journal Black Liberator.
Grenadians did listen to off-island radio. From Trinidad and Tobago, incorporated in 1973, 610 Radio FM, according to many accounts, had a greater listening audience in Grenada than WIBS/Radio Grenada, primarily because the station played more music.
Leo DeLeon was program director from 610 Radio. Frank Pardo from Barbados worked Radio Trinidad. Recall Sam Ghany, Raoul Pantin, Jerome Rampersad, Tony Williams, Jimmy Maynard, Jones Pelagia Madeira, Dave Elcock? Alister Hughes was a broadcaster at 610 Radio and covered the demonstrations in Grenada January 1974 [Bloody Monday] for this station.
One would hope that when the Big Drum Dance and artists from Carriacou made their tour of North American and Britain during 1975 that some of that musical heritage would have been redirected towards the tri-island soil through BBC relays.
The PRG permitted the importation of newspapers and magazines for sale in retail shops, primarily in St. Georges. These included the Trinidad Express and the Trinidad Guardian, and the Jamaica Gleaner and Barbados Advocate. A White Rastafarian Jamaican newspaper called 'The Coptic Times' sold in Grenada. Magazines from the United States like Time Magazine, Newsweek Magazine and US News and World Report were available.
On the other hand, according to Thorndike,
"By 1980, the sale of West Indian newspapers, such as The Nation (Barbados) and the Trinidad Guardian was forbidden. Ironically, British newspapers could be purchased as well as Newsweek and Time."
Obscenities or profanities rarely appear in Grenada media or advertising. Playboy and Penthouse surely made their way into Grenada for retail sale.
Talking about other people - making commess - has a relative safety net if I verbally tell my neighbor something about another neighbor. I could always deny I said what I said when confronted. Just don't ask me to put anything in print.
Libel, slander and sedition lawsuits dog the history of media in the Caribbean, especially newspapers.
People, whether in government or out, had developed an instinct not to say anything to the press, not to fall prey to the authoritarianism by way of retribution from political leaders in power, not to want to see their 'business' printed in newspapers or to be 'read up' in newspaper, not to be a victim or perpetrator of character assassination or even light ridicule, not even to have their name printed in an article. For a journalist trying to interview someone for a story, it is disconcerting, to say the least, to receive the response: "Ah find you dam fass."
A long tradition developed of using pseudonyms, which continues to this day. People didn't and don't want to talk to reporters under their own name. In fact, even newspaper columns were written under pseudonyms; i.e. Soothsayer from the Grenada "Torchlight," being one particularly brilliant example.
Lent's interview with Leo de Leon, program director of 610 Radio Trinidad speaks to this issue:
"One of the biggest problems in broadcasting is a populace which in general is not eager to speak its individual mind in public. Too many people are afraid to voice convictions openly and stand by them. Opinions are hard to come by that are honest and too often they are not for publication if they are honest."
It has been written, but not researched at this point with Grenada law of that time or presently, that libel laws in Grenada in relation to public officials do not give newspapers the same protection as the mass media receives in the United States (see New York Times vs Sullivan).
In the NYT v. Sullivan decision in 1964, the US Supreme Court made judgment that protection of an individual's reputation had to yield to the promotion of "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" debate in a democracy. Its decision established that free speech was protected even if it included "vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks." A defamation plaintiff is required to establish that a false statement has been published with either knowledge of its falsity, or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity; the so-called "actual malice" standard to win the case.
In 1980 Bishop filed a writ in the High Court in Port of Spain against the Trinidad Publishing Company, claiming that a 9 January 1980 article in the "Trinidad Guardian" headlined 'Grenada Training Guerrillas' constituted libel.
Referring to another case, in the full text of Justice Sylvester's written decision January-February 2002, Civil_Suit No. 704 of 1998, the High Court Justice made this observation comparing Grenadian law and the U.S. Supreme Court decision of NYT v. Sullivan:
" Traditionally, English law has not drawn any distinction between politics and other forms of speech. Politicians, like ordinary people, are entitled to look to the courts to protect their reputations and the fact that the public might be legitimately interested in their behaviour or conduct has not of itself been treated as sufficient to give rise to the defence of qualified privilege. No special rules exist in English law for 'political' speech."
Regional News Agencies and Surveys
In 1967 the Commonwealth Caribbean Heads of Government Conference proposed a regional news agency. Reuters Caribbean Desk began service to region from Barbados in 1968. An international newspaper wire service, such as the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), was formed 7 January 1976 in Barbados.
At different times, API and UPI and APP had correspondents in Grenada; the primary personality being Grenadian Alister Hughes who reported regularly to CANA and was UPI correspondent covering the demonstrations in Grenada in 1974 in addition to 610 Radio.
A UNESCO team in 1968 surveyed various aspects of Caribbean media. Some conclusions: the way people got information about governmental affairs was primarily through the radio with newspaper trailing behind. Almost half of the Grenadian population owned radios with news from Radio Guardian of Trinidad, later 610 Radio, and WIBS.
(CARICOM), offspring of Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA), was established in the middle of 1973, a new Caribbean Common Market.
In March 1982 the General Manager of Radio Free Grenada and Television Free Grenada authorised a community survey on communications. The survey was underway 8-12 April 1983. There were roadblocks and challenges, including the events of October of that year, which thwarted the success of the survey and restrictions which limited its interpretation.
For more about this survey consult Polly McLean's dissertation on "The Role of Communication During the Process of Social Change in Grenada, 1979-1983," December 1984, University of Texas at Austin.
Butler House, the Grenada Government complex, provided an office for TASS - the Soviet news agency - on 14 March 1983.
Investment, Relays, Equipment, Production and Distribution
Start-up problems were staggering. Where was one to obtain investment capital in an island where there was no core of wealthy people? If a businessperson were to research on investment in mass media, they would have found little return except possibly in the long-term.
For the print media, the printing equipment was a major capital investment, as was the warehouse for the printing process. Newsprint had to be imported to the island and the price of newsprint increased rather than remaining stable and predictable. From the United States and Britain, newspapers in Grenada obtained the comics and crossword puzzles, selected editorial columns and other features for reprint. These services were purchased. There were the typewriters, the telex machine, the phones needed to process articles in the editorial office and the vehicles needed for distribution.
For broadcasting media, a transmitter was the major capital investment; also a generator to backup the transmitter's power. You could not be a source for emergency information if the electricity went off and you had no additional power source. Don't forget the receiver. Where were the funds to be found for the location of the transmitter, for the location of the studio building and he receiver? Who was to pay for installing sound-proof studios, for microphones and turntables, maintaining music libraries, making tapes and 'cote-ci cote-la', as broadcaster Leslie Seon used to say as another way of saying 'and much more'.
Advertising as a source of income was limited because there were too few advertising dollars to be gleaned from the readership or listening base.
Although there were government mailing cost subsidies, transportation problems were difficult - for reporters, for getting copy to printing machines, for selling the newspaper in town outlets, for getting the newspaper out to rural areas.
Who could afford to buy a newspaper? Cheaper to borrow and pass your newspaper around.
As newspaper production techniques increased in sophistication and efficiency, the price for such shot up. The Gleaner Company, 1973-1975, first computerized its photo and composition methods, using the full two years for the changeover.
And staffing? Getting people trained, even if on the job - primarily by learning from mistakes. How would you keep them on staff was a challenge in all media. Low pay was a problem - a bank clerk, in a Grenada example, got paid twice that of an editorial worker. The editorial and reporting positions on Grenadians newspapers were hard come by. Often, because the newspapers were so strapped for news and out of money to pay for it, letters to the editor were printed on the front page, headlines were in giant type and white space fully filled the borders of a newsprint size page that could not, in the old days, be reduced.
A case with the Grenada "West Indian" newspaper gives an inkling of the gap left when the technical person leaves their position. Lent says:
"An unusual case in the Grenada West Indian, which owns a modern process camera and has engraving equipment available, but it cannot print photographs because the halftone technician left the newspaper to set up his own business."
Standards, Training and Ethics
The Media Workers Association of Free Grenada (MWAFG) was formed with membership including workers from the Government Information Service, Television Free Grenada, Radio Free Grenada and the Free West Indian, according to McLean. At the inauguration meeting of the MWAFG in July 1981, Don Rojas, the First Vice-President explained the relationship between the society, the mass media and the media professional thusly:
- To espouse the values, the ideas and aspirations of the majority of our population-the working masses.
- To reflect the interests, the activities, the struggles, the problems, the achievements, of the masses.
- To create a bridge between the people and the vanguard.
- To educate with true and honest information.
- To interpret the news through the filter of a working class outlook.
- To mobilize the masses to carry out national plans.
- To engage fully in the process of nation-building.
- To educate by example.
- To contribute to the working people's awareness of themselves as a class in itself and for itself.
- To entertain meaningfully and to promote indigenous progressive culture.
And if you were real good, you got an invitation to the Caribbean Broadcasters Union General Assemblies.