Thursday, 15 December 2016

Evil and the Faces of Death in Trinidad & Tobago

There in the Deaths and Memorials section of the newspaper was the face of someone I had known. At 25, a newspaper reader tends to spend less time on that page than Grandma and Grandpa who would spread the Guardian out wide on the dining room table and read each line: “Son of so and so … Brother of so and so.”

The picture was the kind you took for your passport at the time. Pretentiously officious specifications – no glasses, eyes fixed on the camera lens, face occupying between 25 and 35 mm within a frame of 51 by 51mm. Do not show your teeth, please.

I remembered him. He was a short guy, very churchy. He liked cricket and bowled impressive right-handed off-breaks. We met at church camp and, thereafter, occasionally along the parade of life as young men. We hugged and routinely related the same anecdotes – he had clipped the bail between the off and middle stumps, zooming at 90 degrees around my bat. Hahahahaha …

But there he was; in the Deaths and Memorials section, looking past the camera straight at us. I still don’t know how he found himself there. Since then, I rarely skip that page and I look more carefully at the pictures that tell stories.

Last week, I had occasion to piece together the stories behind a few faces I had not seen before. Never met these folks, but there was something in those faces.

Page One and there was picture number one. Mark Lyndersay and Andrea De Silva would have noted the heavy re-touching on her beaming face, hands wrapped around her neck as on a cup of hot Chinese tea. Facebook perfect. Or was it for a mantle piece at home? An interested suitor? A smile held a second away from being lost as the photographer maddeningly fiddled for control. Klatak! Klatak! Steups.

That day, she would have fretted with her hair – a friend, mom, an old aunt, the lady at the beauty salon drawing gratuitously from the numerous gels and other hair products. She had bagged the job and this was her moment away from the facelessness of the congregation.

On Page Five, a more mature woman in black and white. The smile of the proud. Someone had taken that shot perhaps at a family gathering, a party, some get-together valued as highly as her carefully plotted curls and big, looped earrings and measured smile. The kind of smile that blots the sad curve of your eyes. Look at the picture long enough, though, and you cannot quite capture the precise emotion.

Back to Page One and inset, two guys. One younger than the next. Keep your eyes on the camera. Don’t move. A drivers licence, no doubt. The next one the kind of shot that goes behind a laminated workers ID. The one you display proudly to family having bagged the job. Klatak! Klatak!

The day before, Page Three and grief. Sleepless eyes, bloodshot from tears. Hair pulled back hurriedly, grey strands like sun-flares around her head. Is that a tear on her cheek? A mole? An imperfection captured by the camera in her house some unwelcome hour of the day?

Same page. Three faces near the crumpled car. Two wore chains. The cock-eyed one had a silver chain his mother probably did not like and the other young fellow wore beads, his eyes brimming with the confidence of youth. A struggling goatie for effect and what looked like a cigarette-stained lower lip. Below him a defiant face. I bet he played football and was good at it.

Pages One and Five tell stories that have invoked, in the public domain, use of the word “evil” – a moral rather than a legal construct, thereby requiring, for some, a response beyond the realm of human responsibility and accountable society. Yet, there is seamless resort to such a description in the context of pervasive violence and death and grief and a dichotomy that contrasts “evil” with “good”.

The late (great) author/poet, Wayne Brown, once wrote many years ago in a newspaper column headlined ‘The Child of the Sea’ that he had known people “so evil that, when they hated, a literal stench would come from them.”

Then, Page Three and the crumbled shell of metal, glass, rubber and speed – lots of it. The end probably came loud and quick. About 15 years ago, there was the slow, crunching sound of car on asphalt and my grip on the steering as if turning wheels in the air brought direction and control and … life.

In this case, those faces were the faces of death. There is a deep sadness in all of this that yields as much paralytic anger as it does tears. The kind of emotion that spins the steering wheel even in mid-flight.


In my country, there are faces of death and we witness the passing parade even in the noise and the haze of revelry and mindless strife. Turning the pages has thus become an even more arduous task.

First published in the T&T Guardian on December 15, 2016

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Public Broadcasting: Agenda for the Future

Kingston, Jamaica
October 19, 2016

During consultations almost a year ago on the future of state owned and operated media in Trinidad & Tobago, we had to engage the difficult question of determining the pace and direction of reform in a sector that had, since our independence in 1962, been relied upon to provide a service we often referred to as public service broadcasting but were never quite able to put our fingers on what exactly we meant by the term.

All we knew back then was that the BBC in the UK and CBC in Canada offered some kind of operational and fiscal model to be emulated and that a social compact of sorts was required to ensure both financial viability and an inalienable public stake in the enterprise established to meet what was thought to be a public service mandate.

Instead, what we have had has basically been a co-opting of state-financed broadcasting systems, albeit to varying degrees, by partisan political elements over the years and a perennially contentious drain on state financing, even as there has been a recurring and parallel insistence on financial sustainability. 

There are sufficient tales of bans on content, politically-inspired staff recruitment and costly administrative adventures in order to secure political favour to paint a quite grim picture of the condition we were left to address last year when the country was forced to confront an economic reality check.

Let me remind you that the reality check I am talking about is an economy whose primary income generator declined in price by 70% in just about two years.

In my view, the debate we engaged last year in Trinidad & Tobago compelled us to pay as much attention to institutional models as to the content to drive the aspirations of a public service broadcaster. This might not have been such a bad thing after all.

In the process, we confronted the main requirements of public service broadcasting from the vantage point of a longstanding state broadcaster purporting to embark on a process of reform and transformation inspired not only by acknowledging its programmatic shortcomings but also by assessing the prospects for financial viability.

The pillars that kept emerging time and again included a capacity to satisfactorily engage the hopes, fears and aspirations of the entire society, to display a high level of editorial independence, to promote and facilitate social dialogue and democratic participation and to meet the financial requirements of engaging these tasks on a sustainable financial basis in the midst even of economic turmoil.

As we have been mandated to do here on this occasion, we need to pay attention to the challenges of 2016 and beyond and to seek out the possibilities. For one, the advent of new mass media has presented us with a media environment that is on the one hand becoming increasingly fragmented and siloed while on the other presenting to media eyes and ears much greater potential for moving beyond longstanding boundaries.

James Deane of BBC Media Action argues in a recent essay on the subject that we also need to insert into the discussion a notion of social fragility – the fact, as he puts it, that “in many fragile and divided societies, media landscapes (are) becoming increasingly co-opted and polarised, often along factional lines.”

This point is expressed another way by media development expert, Susan Abbot, who suggests that current resistance to promoting public service broadcasting as part of media development globally owes much to two phenomena. I would suggest these phenomena are intimately familiar to us in the Caribbean.

As Abbot puts it: “First is a traditional distrust - and plenty of examples to feed that distrust - of governments that refuse to allow the independence of PSB operations and content. Second is the history in developing countries of weak institutions that are incapable of protecting the independence of publicly funded media, even when the government is ostensibly committed to do so.”

Of course, we would need to make the distinction between publicly funded media and state-owned media and everything in-between that relies on direct state or public financing, subscriptions and license fees and revenue generated through the sale of advertising – and any combination of all of the above.

The Caribbean does not present us with the best examples of where reformed and transformed state media have been able to meet the standard of public service broadcasting best practice, bearing in mind the multi-pronged menu of aspirations I outlined earlier.

Let’s take them one by one: It has not been the case in the media systems I have had the opportunity to look at in the Caribbean that sufficient efforts have been made, as I put it earlier to “satisfactorily engage the hopes, fears and aspirations of the entire society” – everyone.

This is reflected in programming cycles that pointedly ignore many minority voices and interests and what I consider to be a complex relationship between governmental objectives and the absolute requirements of the development process. Development, as I have said many times before, is not a politically neutral concept. This conundrum is highlighted in many instances whenever there is a change in administration.

Then, what about editorial independence? The proof of the pudding is very often in the eating. In almost every instance, we find that the ratings for news and current affairs programming by state media lag behind the popularity of private and independent media if only because of the substantially supported perception that the news and current affairs programming of the state media does not routinely represent the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Now, because of the many new avenues through which people now get their information there is a growing marginalising of official information, news and views. Enlightened state media also now need to understand that governments no longer need their own media to get their messages out and that the loss of control over the means of dissemination means that these messages are now even more in competition in a growing marketplace.

In essence, the democratising role expected to be played by public media is also being supplanted by far more open conditions that permit all ideas to contend albeit in wildly uncoordinated, unmediated ways. Attempts by regional governments to wrest control of the means of and platforms for communicating from the grasp of citizens have consequently become the norm.

There is also something to be said about the mandate to portray more images and to tell more stories about our national and regional realities. In some instances, this is reflected through commitments, either through regulation or moral suasion, to increase the share of local programming.

I know in Jamaica there is a lobby to have as much as 80% programming time devoted to local content – a goal expressed by CBC in Barbados about 12 years ago for television, with 60% local content for radio. In my own country, Trinidad and Tobago, there are repeated calls for at least a 50% share and one administration went as far as threatening to legislate a 65% requirement for radio and television.

Of course, the passage of time has proven that such a strategy, particularly with respect to private media will not only not succeed but makes absolutely no sense. You cannot legislate taste or expect intrusions into private business space not to go unchallenged. 

Additionally, choice has so broadened the contest for eyes and ears that regulated intrusions will only serve to push people further and further away from media they would typically trust the most. Let’s see where the surveys put state media enterprises in most Caribbean countries.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Board of state-owned Caribbean New Media Group is actively pursuing a 75% local content quota on television broadcasts and is developing an innovative path to achieving such an objective in the face of declining transfers from the state, low and falling advertising revenues and recovery from a period of neglect during which the popularity of the television operations of the company fell to a distant last place in the ratings. It’s much more uneven throughout its three radio frequencies.

I had argued some time ago that we indeed, as media professionals, have an obligation to reflect a Caribbean aesthetic in much more effective ways. Except that the difficulties we have had in bringing indigenous media outputs to the broadcasting mainstream owes as much to questions of production values as to an underdeveloped sense of self.

To cite one challenge, there appears to have been a willingness to dismiss notions of a Caribbean paradigm. For example, during recent discussions with government officials in Trinidad and Tobago recently I raised the question that the attempt to regulate taste in favour of local production had the effect of placing the music of Bob Marley in the category of foreign content. 

There was even an interpretation of this mandate that positioned outside the cultural wall the work of externally-located musicians that would include people such as Sean Paul and Heather Headley and filmmakers such as Horace Ove, Menelik Shabazz and Isaac Julien.

There are other mandates we can also spend some time look at including the challenge of promoting higher levels of media literacy and the impact of media self-regulation as a function of the public service broadcasting mandate. 


Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Privacy Question in Trinidad & Tobago

One of the more striking things about the public discourse that accompanied the amendment to the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Act was the absence of enlightened, independent civil society advocacy on some key, associated human rights issues.

With few exceptions - in specific areas such as press freedom, the rights of women and children, the disabled and advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community - this country has not had a tradition of credible, sustained endeavour in the area of civil and political rights and even less so when it comes to economic, social and cultural rights.

It has thus been easy to oppose the death penalty one day and call for the popping of necks the following week – usually after a general election when statuses change. Immigration regulations are discussed in the absence of a human rights perspective.

Our Equal Opportunity Act has also long entrenched systemic discrimination against people based on “sexual orientation”, yet there has been no groundswell of political or public opinion opposed to the clear anomaly.

Walking the advocacy road to press freedom and freedom of expression has not earned some of us any new friends and I have heard the snarls and the howls on both sides of the street along the way.

Enter now an amended SSA Act and the usual partisan posturing that belies the fact that there has been no philosophical distinction between the chief combatants on the dispensability of rights in the face of what are expressed by the political elite as public interest/security concerns.

It was therefore easy for attorney general Faris Al-Rawi to suggest that there exists legislative room for manoeuvre on the question of the right to privacy in May 2016 when, in November 2010 as an Opposition senator, he asserted that “unlike other jurisdictions, and in particular I speak to England where there is an unwritten Constitution—there are conventions which they observe—we have a clear, defined, enshrined right which can definitely be put to mean a right to privacy.”

The debate at the time was over the Interception of Communications Act – in many respects the law that ought to have invoked much more critical scrutiny than it did but instead remained relatively unchallenged in the public domain as a result of eventual bipartisan support. That the SSA amendment extends areas of coverage definitely needed to be vigorously flagged, but the challenge could have actually been engaged at a much more fundamental level both inside and outside of parliament in 2010 and even before.

The implicit terms of engagement between the state and private individuals that facilitated the well-known pre-2010 abuses predated the startling post-election revelations but without serious consideration by anyone. Whose phone is tapped, in the midst of intimate exchanges of one kind or the other, is an old, old joke we have all cracked.

Instead, and yet again, we left the debate up to the least qualified to address the spirit, as opposed to the letter, of the law – politicians and lawyers.

The intersection of the right to privacy and other rights and obligations appears not to have forcefully entered the debate either in 2010 or 2016. There is also a strong connection between freedom of expression and the right to privacy and a debate to be engaged on the extent to which a requirement of transparency and privacy rights may collide.

The ‘Panama Papers’ revelations have forcefully raised the latter question and invoked the absolutely relevant concern of whether laws and conventions on such matters are not in fact skewed to comply with prevailing social status and power arrangements – in which event the issue of privacy, as opposed to the requirements of transparency, is a supremely political debate to be openly engaged.

No, people will not and should not trust you on this. The administration of 2010-2015 derived much of its standing on the issue both from the fact that some key operatives had been victimised in the past and that it was somehow more trustworthy to legislate on the subject – though some essential elements of the ensuing law now form the basis of its concerns in 2016 because someone else is now made to administrate them.

To what extent, some might ask, does the threat that one’s privacy might be breached not impose a chilling effect on one’s freedom to express oneself? In the face of intense scrutiny, George Orwell’s Winston Smith, in the book 1984, is forced to keep an illicit diary even as the Party and Big Brother maintain a high level of official opacity.

In one memorable passage, Winston concedes that “if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.”

The Orwellian scenario paints a rather complete picture of the privacy problématique which mature nations have found it fit to comprehensively explore. Some otherwise exemplary countries have certainly not got it right but this is a question for all of us. Not only for the Bar Association here but for civil society organisations, civic-minded citizens in all spheres and political parties from whose ranks emerge people who will at some stage be empowered to consider actions related to the interplay of important rights.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Black Lives Matter in the Caribbean Too

Do black lives matter? Of course they do. But don’t all lives also matter? Yes, but that is not what we are talking about at this time. There is a sometimes lethal crisis that has existed for too long now and a focused intervention is now necessary to address it in the United States and everywhere else some of its less evident features appear, including right here. It is not that other causes are to be side-lined or denied by this.

The BLM standoff at the Pride rally in Toronto recently stressed the point that none of the current struggles against prejudice, discrimination and lethal official posturing is mutually exclusive and that in too many instances there is a siloed approach to the question of human rights, the universality of which is not often grasped.

The debate is nothing new in our neck of the woods, even though we had our own “Obama” moment back in 1959 and the question of a statistical minority is irrelevant. I only have space to focus on a narrow set of anecdotes and circumstances that have led me to believe that the BLM movement has everything to do with us in the Caribbean, albeit under conditions that are somewhat different from what obtains in the United States and other countries of the Americas where the millions of Afro-descendants have been the subject of systemic discrimination and violence in all its forms.

I employ the term “Afro-descendants” with a pretty good level of awareness of its linguistic implications. It became my preferred language over time when I considered how degrading it might be for someone to constantly be referred to by the colour of his/her skin. Just a personal quirk, I suppose, because many enlightened people continue to speak about “white” and “black” people – almost as if two geometric poles are required to define everything and everyone along a spectrum within which I am required to locate myself and my family.

As a person of mixed heritage, my curiosity about this was first aroused during my early QRC days - having moved on from my primary school in Caroni - on the heels of the 1970 Black Power protests. It was further awoken by a former teacher who openly declared that as part East Indian I was obliged to describe myself as “Indian” and to not associate with people of the “N” persuasion. Thankfully, such encounters have been very few and far between and we have moved forward somewhat.

I was even more challenged by the fact that around 1986/87, as a newspaper columnist producing two pages of commentary every Saturday, I was asked by my then editor-in-chief (who once wrote a column that used the term “old nigger”) to write about the controversy generated by tourism minister Ken Gordon’s pronouncement overseas that T&T was a “black country.” The column rather simplistically found debaters prepared to argue the “two sides” of the argument both of which I found great difficulty associating with.

By then I had long discovered CLR James and his classist arguments which, while ceding some ground to the Pan-Africanists, contended that the struggle was actually much deeper and wider than many had thought in his day.

But there always was this suspicion that with Afro-descendants - “black people”- we were facing something clearly distinguishable from almost everything else.

For one, there exists a political narrative in our country which asserts that ethno-linguistic coding by early politicians, accompanied by a gratuitous programme of targeted social services support in the early years of independence had rendered one group of people hopelessly and terminally injured – damaged cultural goods requiring political subservience, economic tutoring, the intervention of others purportedly better equipped to run the show and the strongest arms of the law.

You won’t know how pervasive this narrative has become until you apply such a lens to political messaging and action over the years. The diagnosis of terminal damage has been there through all of the political administrations I have observed, from the notion of urgent affirmative action to targeted abuse of state security resources, including what I continue to assert to be the unlawful State of Emergency of 2011.

It’s not us alone. In 2005 at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina, Article 32 of the Mar del Plata Declaration, for the first time in the summits process, introduced the challenges of this group of people in the hemisphere, following mellow hints that had journeyed from the First Summit in Miami which addressed the problem of discrimination.

But, in Argentina, the leaders were prepared to declare a commitment “to respect the rights of Afro-descendants and to ensuring their full access to educational opportunities at all levels, and to decent work that will help them overcome poverty and social exclusion and contribute to their increased participation in all sectors of our societies.”


By the time the Summit approached its Fifth edition right here in T&T in 2009, Article 32 had been dropped as was any mention of the commitment made only a few years before. All lives clearly mattered, but the imperatives of a focused, magnanimous effort to end this undeniable travesty was for that moment set aside, of all places, in Port of Spain. Today, it is going to be much more difficult to get away with doing so, however packed the change agenda.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Some CSME Myths in T&T

(Originally published in the T&T Guardian on April 28, 2016)

The recent spat between Jamaica and T&T, triggered by the turning away of a group of Jamaican visitors at Piarco International in March, helped bring to the fore, yet again, some grossly misunderstood processes intended to help this region negotiate increasingly difficult economic times.

In this space two weeks ago, I stressed the apparent ignorance of the net benefits to T&T of a single market in the Caribbean by suggesting that it was now our turn at the Caricom ATM in the key areas of trade and tourism. I did not mention agriculture, because we are yet to display a level of interest in food production to make any sense of the need to achieve what is now fashionably termed “food sovereignty”.

In this one area alone – food production - the scientists and development economists have recognised the value of creating additional space to achieve the benefits of scale and specialisation, realise the potential of value added production and operate under market conditions that address the needs of millions and not hundreds of thousands as they now stand in a majority of Caricom countries.

Many manufacturers and professional service providers would tell you that if the Caricom Single Market had not existed, even as aspiration, we would have had to invent something like it, even as we keep an eye on wider opportunities under conditions of open regionalism to maximise national earnings.

Instead, politicians and their devoted partisans here have promoted a picture of migrant Caribbean hordes seeking illicit refuge in a land of glorious opportunity while skewing tribal balance. When such a cue is provided to the people at the immigration desk – already professionally disposed to protectionist instincts – what you get is what we have been witnessing for years now – a virtual defaulting on the spirit of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, if not de jure infractions as demonstrated in the Shanique Myrie case against Barbados.

All the while, loose reference is made to the CSME, which actually prescribes an impressively orderly process to pursue development of a single economic space. The level of ignorance is appalling, especially coming from politicians, attorneys and people our countries rely on so heavily for leadership in such matters. This goes for almost all the regional partners, Jamaica and T&T included.

The free movement of Caricom skills is also one of the most misunderstood, fundamental elements of the CSME process. The revised Treaty, Article 46 in particular, speaks to a phased approach with specified areas initially identified to kick off the process. They initially included university graduates, media workers, sportspersons, artistes and musicians. Domestic workers and artisans were subsequently added.

Each country also has specific legislation to guide this process. Ours, the Caricom Skilled Nationals Act has been in place since 1996! The free movement of Caricom skills is thus not only an obligation under international law through the Treaty, but is now domestic law.

It is also a law that is being incorrectly applied. I do not, for example, see the sense in requiring the existing holder of a “skills certificate” from one country to apply for another in his/her destination country. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Foreign Minister, Dennis Moses, take note please. A few countries have already corrected the error.

What is not in the Caricom law, of course, are deviations from substantive immigration regulations. The loosely-used phrase “free movement of Caricom nationals” does not have any particular basis per se in the law our immigration officers employ as the ultimate authority on their practice and behaviour. In fact, Section 8 of the Immigration Act overrides not only the best intentions of the CSME process but the efforts of “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons” and “homosexuals or persons living on the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals” to enter our country.

Hopefully, the overdue CCJ judgment related to the barring of homosexuals - the Maurice Tomlinson Case against T&T and Belize - will serve to overturn these idiotic prohibitions and, in the process, provide this country with an opportunity to bring our immigration laws in line with the objectives of the Caricom process and the civilised world.

Additionally, as Jamaican colleagues pointed out to me while I was there recently, it is not as much a matter of the “what” – since people understand the strictures of immigration law – but the “how”.

For example, Jamaican businesses have offered to help upgrade immigration holding facilities to ensure unwelcome visitors are not treated like cattle. Why can’t the TTMA and Chamber here make a similar offer?

Cold concrete, limited toilet facilities, water and biscuits are unacceptable – especially when your country has signed on to a treaty that recognises a sense of regional fraternity.

Many of us also do not recognise that apart from the pre-colonial era, the free movement of people actually existed for a brief period under sunshine legislation in place for the Cricket World Cup in 2007. I remember subsequently enquiring at a press conference hosted by former Barbados Attorney General, Mia Mottley, whether the legislation had been as grossly abused as initially feared. Nowhere, it appears, did the roaming migrant hordes appear.

At the opening of last week’s Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development meeting in Guyana, Deputy Secretary-General Manorma Soeknandan called for a rapid response mechanism to resolve “situations” when they arise at national borders. “It is clear,” she said, “that more sensitisation has to be done among our border officials in relation to the rules that are already in place and the procedures that should be followed.”

I would contend the “sensitisation” needs to take place much higher up the ladder. Some people have been hearing but apparently not listening.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Exploring the Caribbean Media Landscape

Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), UWI – Public Lecture, Montego Bay, Jamaica, April 12, 2016


Exploring the Caribbean Media Landscape: Mergers, Models and the Practice of Journalism

I warn you that the issue I have been asked to address is very complex and goes beyond the mere institutional, commercial and regulatory challenges of the current condition of mass media in the Caribbean. Had I been minded to approach the topic purely from the perspective of regulations, together with the administrative and commercial imperatives, this discussion would have come to a rather speedy end, because much is already known about how we need to proceed from here.

But, as the late Trinidadian public intellectual, Lloyd Best, might have quipped: This is a matter of algebra and not simple arithmetic.

Let’s begin with a quick introduction to some of what I consider to be the main issues. The first would address the question of what are Caribbean media for. This considers matters in excess of the fact that mass media are acknowledged to be potentially lucrative commercial undertakings – if not as stand-alone enterprises, certainly as facilitative components of bigger conglomerate concerns.

For the most part, though, in our region, media enterprises subsist as single-entity investments. Apart from the receding role of monopolistic state broadcast media, there are few instances – however spectacular – in which concentration of ownership can be remotely considered to be an actual threat to the independence of media operations in the sense of skewing public awareness. Even here in Jamaica with the RJR/Gleaner merger, there is no supportable evidence to suggest that the country will suddenly find itself entirely at the mercy of an entity committed to a narrow interest or agenda that is overwhelmingly foisted on an unsuspecting public.

In fact, I would argue that the true hegemony over ideas in the Caribbean can be found in some traditional customs and beliefs, the machinations of validating social elites and the forceful influence of organised religion. They all find legitimacy in a homogeneity of values and practices, as opposed to diversity and pluralism. All seek monopoly status. They thrive on a lack of diversity. The real challenge involves our liberation from these strangleholds. But that’s another discussion for another time.

It is important that commercial and economic relations ought not to be distorted by inequitable arrangements regarding the allocation of broadcasting spectrum or, particularly in small markets, too many diamonds in a single basket. Our region needs to get more serious about anti-trust legislation which defies traditional uncompetitive commercial relations in our small countries while not stifling enterprise and meaningful alliances that may emerge.

However much we talk about it in Trinidad and Tobago, there are two major media conglomerates but no real dominance to create conditions for real concern about an absence of diversity or plurality. The open market, facilitated by the advent of more and more online media alternatives, has contributed toward a much more rigorous marketplace of news, information and opinion than ever existed before and my own view is that freedom of expression should prevail on all these fronts.

To me, the essential challenges have to do with a capacity to speak truth not only to those in power, but those who provide the circumstances for the accumulation of power through media capable of capturing it within the framework of a unique Caribbean aesthetic. This does not amount to culturally-specific value systems in the delivery of journalistic services – for such a formulation frequently suggests a level of self-censorship and relativism on questions of human rights and freedoms.

There is also compelling consideration of whether the elusive notion of the public interest is adequately served by what we have. I am inclined to support the general principle that the public interest is not served when the otherwise underrepresented do not acquire a stronger voice or a more attentive audience. It is a shared responsibility involving all axes of public communication.

In declaring a specific freedom relative to the work of the press, we nevertheless need to acknowledge a relationship between the rights and freedoms we insist upon and our responsibilities to the people on the basis of whose interests we have asserted such rights.

There is also a broader, universal context to be explored. The current state of media and their future direction, including what becomes of journalism in the Caribbean, is a subject that goes to the heart of an unfolding global human and technological revolution that has created new frontiers and new contexts in which people the world over are defining and interpreting their existence. What we are witnessing, in my view, is a reformulation not only of the business of communication but a transformation of the process of human communication itself.

At one time we in media marveled at the transition from mass broadcasting to selective narrowcasting, through the introduction of digital technology. Today, what we are witnessing seems to be the emergence of a capacity to occupy a multiplicity of dimensions simultaneously through communication processes that are dramatically challenging prevailing notions of how information flows, relatively unmediated, from person to person and from place to place.

In his path-breaking book Understanding Media – The extensions of man, Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, wrote more than 20 years ago that: “After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

McLuhan essentially diagnosed a condition in which human beings are moving from being mere witnesses to the explosion of technological development and its subsequent implosion, to what I would describe as being resident at the epicenter of its detonation – both the subjects and objects of a process that challenges almost everything we previously held to be true.

The Caribbean experience ought to have equipped us well for all of this. Born out of conquest, settlement, migration and bondage, our raison d'être has long embraced the notion of organic global integration. We have long not only been in the world, but have had the world in us - reared for the production of goods for markets far away but ourselves the subject of a marketplace for people – a process that never really ended as we witness the production not only of good and services for export, but people and the perspectives we bring.

I believe it is important for us to understand some of these things. It is vital to the process of resolving the many different challenges we face as people who have traveled the highway of colonialism and independence and, are now approaching the opportunity to achieve true liberation and a meaningful place in the world.

An enlightened approach to the subject at hand ought also to realistically make an assessment of the pace and direction of the technological developments. There is a view, for example, that the Big Bang of recent years is set for a virtual technological plateau – a period of time during which we will be permitted to catch our collective breaths and, perhaps, to even take a few steps backward.

I was privileged to interview renowned astrophysicist and former NASA director, Dr Charles Pellerin, only a week ago and was advised by him to keep away from the more fanciful projections that portend overly dramatic arrangements for the role of man in his own affairs. Dr Pellerin proposed that it would be wrong to engage in what he termed a “linear extrapolation” of what might occur in the future, based only on where we are today and how we arrived at this point.

In his view, much of the more recent technologies are reaching their respective plateaus and he locates this within the context of the rise and fall of civilisations. I take the liberty of hanging the specter of my own country, Trinidad & Tobago, as an example in the background of Pellerin’s suggested approach to these big questions.

He points to the rise and fall of relatively complex human civilisations over periods of time. In fact, we do not have to go far to find evidence of collapsed civilisations – the pre-Columbian Taino cultures of the Caribbean are one example occasioned by invasion and conquest not unlike the fall of ancient civilisations in Europe, Asia and right next door with the collapse of Aztec and Mayan civilisations.

According to Pellerin, in the modern era, a state of pre-collapse is more readily observed through the deflation that occurs through the expending of excess energy. For example, one can cite the current oil crisis which features not only a precipitous decline in world prices, but easily identifiable excessive consumption leading to the view that with more than a half of non-renewables already gone, a collapse of sorts can be considered to more predictable as something that can occur sooner rather than later.

In that event, the existence of complex societies turns out to be more of an obstacle to coping with the fallout than a benefit. To what extent, we might ask, are the energy-scarce better prepared for disappearing energy resources than the energy-rich countries of the world? For certain, there are more lights to be turned off and more power outlets to be de-activated.

So, let’s not jump too quickly onto the McLuhan wagon while the Pellerin train is in the station. The warning is however heeded that the expectations of the media marketplace need to be tempered by a proper understanding of what is taking place in fields of engagement outside of mass media development and change. And it is not simply a matter of the technology.

There is a developing orthodoxy that dictates the paramountcy of technology when at the true centre of it all are human beings and how they respond to a Maslovian hierarchy not only of needs but of assets and means. In time, this view suggests, the architecture deemed necessary to move from the satisfaction of biological needs to self-actualisation acquires a life and a dynamic of its own, contributing to a situation in which means become more important than the ends.

Good. Now we have covered the philosophical backdrop – to some extent, because the academics are going to ensure they complicate the issue even more when I’m through.

How do we apply these areas of understanding to media industry decisions and our responses to change? I would contend that the discussion on the relationship between man and technology ought to recognise the real possibility that in the media industry, human intervention, while capable of being whittled down to a minimum, is highly unlikely to disappear.

It is true that media industry people are concerned that the ascendancy of platforms created by Google, for instance, has the potential to marginalise the work of journalists by applying algorithms to generate news out of data. It’s being called automated journalism and several reputable news outfits have already begun employing it as substantial parts of their news-mining operations.

This process is cheaper, faster and less prone to some of the elementary errors you see cropping up in news stories in the media we know. But what happens to things such as journalistic values, cultural relevance, nuance and creative story-telling that relates to audiences?

Or is it that the quality of journalism being practised does not at the moment satisfy these requirements of the practice of journalism? Would this not also mean that events for which no structured data are generated will no longer face the possibility of becoming news and in the process marginalise some people and their issues?

Technology can also not be held to be paramount if media content does not meet the requirements of fourth estate status – meaning that media and the journalists that populate them have conscientiously engaged a pact with their audiences that in exchange for this special recognition or status, we undertake to remain committed to an agreed framework we define as the public interest – whether or not it pleases everyone in the end.

Not far from here, not too long ago, I presented the argument that the impetus behind much of media development in the early years relied heavily on technical innovations that had very little or nothing to do with the media industry per se. The advent of steam engines, for example, enabled publishers to produce newspapers more quickly and efficiently. But the development of steam to power engines was not something that initially had anything to do with the work of printing presses, yet it revolutionised the newspaper business.

Likewise, improvements in wireless telephony did not necessarily envisage the advent of instant messaging, tweeting and social media as ways of communicating news, opinions and information to mass audiences. The explosion that occurred in the region with the liberalising of the telecommunications industry also did not initially hint at the vast potential now being displayed.

Nowadays, adjustments are being made because of developments that are uniquely related to new media technologies. Here is some support for this argument.

In Jamaica, with a population of just over two million, fewer than 300,000 subscribers had telephone landlines in 1992. Today, there are over three million handsets in use on the island. At the end of 2013, there were close to 1.6 million internet users and by November 2015, more than a million of them were on Facebook, according to the Internet World Stats website.

If these figures hint at anything it is that the growth in internet access and the use to which it is put has had the effect of liberalising the multi-directional flow of news, information, commentary, analysis and even a great measure of trash.

On the production side, this contrasts sharply with a past in which media practice relied essentially on professional disciplines in three main areas – print, radio and television. Each occupied its own institutional space, for the most part, with little overlapping except perhaps for some content-sharing among broadcasters, particularly in state media.

The current situation has however moved captains of the media industry, particularly in the West, to be concerned that while traditionally, mainstream media have essentially been landlords of the public space they occupy, they are now reduced to tenants’ status as the online media giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google are essentially setting the media agenda by occupying prime online real estate.

Such displacement has however not been universal. A few weeks ago at the World Media Summit in Doha, publisher of The Hindu newspaper of India, Narasimhan Ram, suggested that like the sun, while the newspaper business appeared to be setting in the west, it was very much on the rise in the east. In India, growth in the newspaper business, especially in the regions where regional languages are spoken, is expected to be in the vicinity of 12 and 14% annually in the coming years.

In our part of the world, newspaper circulation is either stagnating or in decline and many broadcasters have not been able to maintain viable revenue bases. Much of this results from broader economic factors that have served to dry up advertising inflows. Online alternatives are increasingly proving to be an important contributor to this phenomenon.

The Gleaner/RJR merger itself does not appear to have been a function of generally poor states of affairs. Media analyst, Dr Marcia Forbes, points to 2014 statistics which show that the RJR-held Television Jamaica commands 72.5% of all free-to-air television viewers, the group’s three cable stations accounting for 28% of the market viewers with the three radio services holding on to a combined listenership of 19.1%.

The statistics for the Jamaica Gleaner are even more impressive with 77.3% of the Sunday readership and clear dominance on all other days of publication.

The two companies have explained that the move had become necessary on account of what they describe as “challenging transitions which in time will see revenues increasingly dominated by digital revenue streams as media platforms converge.”

The assumption therefore is that by combining resources, products and services the companies will be able to achieve a number of important objectives including digital transitioning, establishment of a larger resource base, the combining of unique expertise from each other’s core businesses, joint access to a vast storehouse of content and archives from two companies that include a 180-year-old newspaper and a radio network that was launched over 65 years ago.

Now, going back to the very top of this presentation we need to ask whether this merger – the largest in the history of the Commonwealth Caribbean – is likely to achieve some important objectives, the primary being vigilance over the public interest.

This arises as a concern in the face of the contention that a business agreement which merges the commercial activities of five radio frequencies, one free-to-air television station, three cable television channels, two newspapers and the very popular Go Jamaica online portal can be perceived as representing a case of media concentration with all the accompanying threats to the desired goal of pluralistic media. As I have suggested before, I do not think this will be the case. But there is a debate that can be engaged on this issue.

I would argue that in the current context, there is not likely to be such a threat, given what I have described as the unfolding media landscape region-wide in which traditional, mainstream media are yielding space to new forms of mass communication by a generation of media consumers with no particular allegiance to how things were done in the past.

I however believe that the validating role of traditional media will remain for the time being and that people will continue to respond to the official stamp of the morning newspaper or the evening newscast. It is also my view that the threat of so-called robo-journalism involving technologically ubiquitous methods of acquiring and disseminating news and information, secure from the rigours of professional newsgathering, will not be a pervasive reality in the foreseeable future for reasons outlined earlier.

The current state of economic flux throughout the region can also be expected to affect the financial bottom lines of media enterprises. In Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s main source of foreign income dropped by 70% within the space of a year; despite recent gains in Jamaica there remain areas of concern such as national debt, unemployment and the challenge of economic diversification; some Eastern Caribbean economies can essentially be described as moribund and stress fractures are appearing in Barbados – considered for a long time to be among the more stable well-structured economies of the region.

This does not pronounce favourably on the future prospects for the media industry. In some instances, the survival game is well underway. Newsroom operations are shrinking, budgets are being cut, investments in new technology are being put on hold and the Big Bang of liberalisation in the 1980s and 90s is imploding.

New business alliances, mergers and takeovers are clearly going to be the new norm as the industry considers its several options in the face of threatened collapse in some instances. It might not entirely be that the sun is setting in the West Indies even as it rises in the East but that the orbit is being shaken and the rules of engagement are changing everywhere.

The specter that looms, in my view, promises as much as it challenges us to review the way we interpret our world.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Fete Over, Back to Work

The following was first published on February 11, 2016 in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper.

Few occasions call for reprising of the late George Chambers’ famous admonition to return to work after the fete than this post-Carnival season, sadly destined for assured relapse at the onset of Easter.

Whether we like it or not (and there is evidence that we collectively don’t), the business of achieving and maintaining an even keel calls for an urgent downing of Carnival arms – whatever its perceived and in my view, mythical, value in easing the pains and tensions of the real world.

It might be that someone would finally do the honest mathematics to disaggregate temporal emotional gain from the real value of the creative products generated by the event. But that is work yet to be done.

But where do we begin? Let me have a shot at that.

It is my view, that one of the defining features of countries focused on development is a commitment to understanding the true nature of the challenges that confront them. This calls for a preference for statistics over superstition and for facts over fairytales.

Among the people who understand this best are those who occupy space in the worlds of business and applied science. The wise businessman or woman delivers goods and services to markets in which there is measurable and affirmed demand at prices that are competitive, while the civil engineer calculates the thickness of the steel required to bear the weight of the largest trucks along the bridges he designs.

Miscalculations related to market size and demand or the true strength of the bridge can yield disastrous results.

In real-world journalism training, to cite one other area in which the employing of science is being encouraged – as opposed to guessing, obeah and mere intuition – there is now an insistence on adopting standards related to what is now known as data journalism, but what has always been described as the “journalism of verification”.

It does not mean that journalists suddenly become scientists or researchers in the classical sense, but that they become more aware of the distinction between provable fact and speculation and accord them due recognition and treatment in their stories.

In countries such as ours that rely heavily on intuition, guesswork and tribal favouritism in the framing of public policy and action there is always the tendency to eschew science in favour of popular wisdom. For example, international research on the contribution of all forms of corporal punishment to the use of violence as a means of addressing conflict is ignored in favour of the pronouncement that “I get beat and I didn’t come out that bad.”

On the base of such an assertion, I would assume that (among other things) a survey of prison inmates at Port of Spain, Golden Grove and Carrera would find, as a corollary to this argument, that the vast majority of violent criminal offenders had once been “spoilt children” who had been spared the rod. But, I am only guessing. Perhaps the work of a clever UWI post-graduate student is sealed away somewhere with the information we need to deliver a judgment.  
  
The fete is over
There is also research elsewhere which suggests that the death penalty does not produce a deterrent effect on the incidence of homicide. Yet, with each perceived “crime wave” comes the “hang dem high” posse, led by politicians in power intent on riding the wave of public opinion based on questionable assumptions. If the rationale is revenge, then there can probably be another discussion.

Enter now the National Statistical Institute (NSI), out of the ashes of the Central Statistical Office (CSO). If there is one institution that is an absolute pre-requisite to the shaping of public policy it would be the CSO under any new name given to it - an agency that has, over the years, housed some of the country’s finest public servants.

Hopefully, the NSI will be assigned responsibility for data-driven research on a much wider scale than currently applies. There is nothing more compelling than the disintegration of the CSO over the years to prove the point that public policy is very frequently developed in the absence of hard information.

Having moderated just two of the current series of public consultations on local government reform, it seems clear to me that the design of a new framework in this important area of governance must be deeply rooted in a much better understanding of the stock of human and other assets available in the several districts and regions. Such knowledge would help address fears linked to social and economic anomalies in the assigning of fiscal responsibilities. The question has arisen time and again at the consultations.

The Centre for Language Learning (CLL) also recently launched preliminary work on the mapping of foreign language usage in T&T and its director, Dr Beverly-Anne Carter, has urged that an audit of language competencies be included as part of the next national census exercise. The CLL’s finding that as many as 40 languages are used in households throughout the country is an astounding revelation with implications for the manner in which we engage the rest of the world in the spheres of business, commerce and foreign policy.

As I have said before, though, the politicians need to allow the professionals to do their work. The seminal achievement of the CSO in developing the Human Development Atlas of 2012, including vital data on citizen security provided by the Crime and Problem Analysis Unit (CAPA) of the Police Service, proved that the agency, once provided with the resources and with politicians out of the way, is capable of producing high-quality, reliable work.

During the course of one journalistic assignment that spanned close to two years, I had to rely heavily on social and economic data provided by the CSO and by the Central Bank. Regular dispatches from the Central Bank, via its Repo Rate announcements in particular, provided very decent, basic information while the CSO staff were always willing to offer clarification and verification to the extent bureaucratically possible.

I am yet to receive an explanation as to why my name eventually slipped off the Bank’s mailing list, but thankfully the assignment had by then ended and the requirement of very specific data was no longer as urgent as it was before. Sourly, I noted then the bottoming out of a descent occasioned by politically-inspired mayhem.

It should have taken much less than a Moody’s downgrade in 2015 to signal to policymakers the importance of national statistics as the bedrock of official decision-making. The shameful “recession” debate was rooted in routine negligence related to official use of facts and data and an absence of public, and in some regards journalistic, vigilance.

Now that the fete is over and we are back to work (for the time being), what happens to the CSO/NSI remains a much more urgent headline in my book than the points earned by the Band of the Year.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Time for Panorama Review?

Panorama is the annual steelpan competition hosted in the birth-place of the instrument, Trinidad and Tobago. It features the world's leading steelbands. This commentary was written for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian and published on February 11, 2016. It is re-published here to correct the omission of statistics for Phase II Pan Groove - one of the competition's more successful bands.

Desperadoes’ undisputed Panorama win on February 6 marked the 11th time the band has won the contest which essentially declares for it the title of leading steelband in the world. This maintains “Despers” record as the most successful band in the history of organised pan competition.

The closest any bands have come to that are nine wins each for Renegades and Trinidad All Stars. Phase II Pan Groove with seven while Exodus and Harmonites follow with four wins apiece and Starlift with three.

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra in full flight
This means that in a total of 40 non-consecutive encounters, just six bands have dominated the competition. Other winners have been Silver Stars, North Stars and Cavaliers winning twice and Hatters and NuTones with one win apiece. North Stars were the very first winners in 1963 and Renegades were the only hat-trick winners spanning the period 1995-1997.

The much-ignored small and medium band categories have offered up their own share of outstanding bands. Pan Elders, for example, won on a hat-trick in 2016 and second-placed Buccooneers are now two-time winners, having taken the prize in 2013. Third placed Katzenjammers won in the two preceding years.

Arima Golden Symphony won in the Small Bands category this year, reaching a record of seven wins including five consecutive wins between 2009 and 2013. In second place was 57 year old Laventille Serenaders with their highest placement since they entered this category in 2008. In third place was Tornadoes, which emerged out of dominant Point Fortin band See-burg in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The record of the last 20 years would therefore suggest the virtual hegemonic domination of less than a dozen bands spanning all three categories.

Though the primary focus tends to be on the large bands, pan connoisseurs point to the improving musicality and creativity of the small and medium bands and Panorama regulars are often wont to mention the keenness of the competition particularly in the small and medium band categories.

The second-place achievement of Lopinot-based Supernovas in the large band category this year is remarkable if only because they made the jump from small to large after placing second in the small bands category in 2015. Some would suggest that such a phenomenal achievement owes much to the fact that the smaller categories are generating a standard of play separated only by the number of players.

The other factor to consider is the role of an emerging, relatively new generation of pan arrangers. Duvone Stewart of Pan Elders/Renegades, Seion Gomez of Buccooneers and Amrit Samaroo of Supernovas/Melodians come to mind, alongside a host of others in bands that did not place in the top three and are waiting in the wings in the Junior Panorama competition.

I would keep a keen eye on Aviel Scanterbury of Bishops/Trinity College East, which placed second in the secondary schools’ category and Andrew Charles of Renegades Juniors. There are others, but these two are preparing for the big time and will be names we should remember.

It is also becoming clear that pan music is entering different levels of sophistication and that some areas of experimentation, though by no means new, are gaining greater acceptance on the Panorama stage. Andy Narell’s dogged insistence on slowing the pace and scoring melodic riffs that make use of jazz chords did not take Birdsong to the finals yet again, but there is every chance of such an approach being influential in the minds of the newer entrants.

It is being argued that in the event of such a transformation in the approach to arranging for Panorama, as has been the case over the past 10 years and more, judges and the criteria employed may need to be adjusted or redefined.
The current adjudication criteria are Arrangement, which carries a maximum of 40 out of 100 points; General Performance 40; Tone 10 and Rhythm 10.

There is nothing to suggest that crowd response, nifty costuming, attractive flagmen and women, well-timed fog machines or noisy pyrotechnics are factored into any of the four criteria – nor should they be. There would, however, need to be further elaboration of the expectations regarding arrangement and the amorphous notion of a “good” performance.

Do Dane Galston’s dance steps count for anything? Did Boogsie’s masked entry onto the stage make a difference in any way? Did Carlton “Zanda” Alexander’s stately and authoritative conducting style count?

The difference between the winning band, Desperadoes, and Supernovas was one point (285-284). And Supernovas was separated by joint third-place bands Phase II and Renegades also by one point.
Perhaps breaches of the eight-minute time limit ought to be looked at again, along with – in the absence of a real pan theatre – the time spent per band in setting up their instruments.

Over the years, Pan Trinbago has been able to accelerate the process much more smoothly. But there is clearly room for improvement.


On another note, the decision this year to prevent accredited photographers from mounting the stage generated considerable expressions of discontent. Pan Trinbago would do well to negotiate better conditions for some of its most solid allies in promoting one of Carnival’s most valuable shows, whatever the past transgressions of a few camera-bearers. Photographers covering the event this year had clear ideas on how the interests of the organisers and those who practice their craft behind the camera can come better than they did in 2016.


Lovers of pan also appear to have some ideas of their own worth listening to.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Seven Killings: Unpretentious, edgy

Negotiating Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is like exploring an unlit crack house at night shirtless and barefoot. At any minute, something can jump out at you or you can witness anything from raunchy, illicit pleasure to murder or you might simply step in fresh or old human faeces.

The 704-page epic Jamaican tale is no easy read and, most certainly, was no easy write. In the end, James has a Man Booker Prize for Literature to show for his pains and Jamaica a challenging, discomfiting new icon of high literary accomplishment.

Set in both onshore and offshore Jamaica – aka New York and Miami - the Jamdown dialogue has the potential to challenge the uninitiated. There is nothing affected or pretentious – no tourist rendition to earn the comprehension of newcomers.

Violence is heaped upon violence and the sex is sprinkled like sweet and sour escovitch on naked fish bones to the sound of Bob Marley and the Wailers. Hard to imagine in homophobic Jamaica the “battyman” gangster whose open secret festers and festers and is soaked in the blood of the murders that open and close the book.

There is nothing to comfort those who see in Jamaica and its politics the perverse romance of a socialist experiment gone wrong, a tourist paradise or the glamour of a musical superstar worshipped far and wide. The story of “The Singer’s” attempted murder in 1976, the famous 1978 Peace Rally that saw a joining of hands on stage and of criminal minds off-stage and the inter-connectedness of political warfare, drug trafficking and gang murder are on display in gory detail.

The more knowledgeable quickly recognise the voices of Marley, Manley and Seaga and the charred corpse of notorious gang leader, Jim “Don Dadda” Brown (Josey Wales, to James), who epitomised the corrupting influence of murderous drug money prior to his mysterious death by fire in a Jamaican prison in 1992 while awaiting extradition to the United States for drug racketeering and murder.

The veils are thin and the storylines faithful to the original plots designed to maintain political control and, through it, criminal turf. Or, as James challenges the reader, the other way around. In the process, Cold War tensions arise, inviting “the Cubans” and their bombs, covert CIA intrusion and the dishing out of guns to beat back the communist threat.

Most of the main characters epitomise the “rude boy” culture and much of the more memorable dialogue flows at the rate of the dub poet full of sustained fury. 

“Madness,” says gang member, Bam-Bam “is walking up a good street downtown and seeing a woman dress up in the latest fashion and wanting to go straight up to her and grab her bag, knowing that it’s not the bag or money that we want so much, but the scream …”

In New York, a conflicted senior gang enforcer for the Storm Posse finds relative peace and confronts his sexuality and his fate. “Think like a movie. This part you put on your clothes, boy wake up (but boy would be a girl) and one of you say babe, I gotta go.”

Then there is the woman in love and awaiting a plane ticket to the States from her white American lover. Once there, she imagines, she can build a better future. But he is going back to his wife. She stays back in Montego Bay. From her, the lines: “Two years since the election. Jamaica never gets worse or better, it just finds new ways to stay the same. You can’t change the country, but maybe you can change yourself.”

James undoubtedly deserves his place at the front of the line; A Brief History of Seven Killings its place at the top of the region’s literary accomplishments. The years have passed and so have elections. In what ways, the author challenges us through a hapless lover, have things really changed?

First published, in part, in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian - January 14, 2016