Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reproduction Rights, Remembering Rodney and Ataklan's Sun Starts to Rise

Life happens. That’s what. And blogs have to take second place at times like that. A lot took place in the last few weeks. On the 10th I went to Miami at the invitation of Dr. Patricia Saunders to give a talk at the University of Miami on Entertainment Report as an archive of Jamaican popular culture. They were launching their website on Caribbean Art and Visual Culture "As Far as the Eye/I Can See" and celebrating the fifth anniversary of Anthurium, an online journal produced by the Department of English Literature.

I had with some difficulty managed to obtain copies of ER footage from TVJ but the quality was variable (much of the footage was unusable because the volume wasn’t consistent) and they had locked it so that I couldn’t go in and extract the clips I wanted to show during my presentation. Fortunately I had enough material to cover the gaps where I had intended to play the clips and the talk was a great success. I understand TVJ’s legal department’s zeal to ensure that their footage is not abused in any way but I think they are penalizing the wrong parties in the process.

I mean how likely is it that someone who writes asking for permission to use video clips in a presentation at an academic institution, providing all the supporting documents necessary, is going to turn around and sell the footage and violate TVJ’s copyright? Even if that had been my intention the quality of what I was provided would have been enough to render it useless for such purposes. Meanwhile I hear that multiple DVDs of TVJ’s hit series Rising Stars are freely available on the streets of downtown Kingston. A case of misplaced zeal and priorities?

I would recommend that the legal eagles at TVJ and other media entities take advantage of the fact that the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFFRO) is holding their 37th Annual General Meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay from Oct. 26 to the 31st, next week to be precise.

Now the ‘Reproduction’ in their name is not a reference to biological reproduction or cloning but ‘reprography’ or the legal reproduction or copying of copyrighted works whether textual, artistic, musical or any form of creative content. Their mission statement explains it best: “IFRRO works to increase on an international basis the lawful use of text and image based copyright works and to eliminate unauthorised copying by promoting efficient Collective Management of rights through RROs to complement creators' and publishers' own activities.”

JAMCOPY, the Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency (on the board of which I sit), is the local organization responsible for organizing this prestigious international meeting here. All week long international policy for the licensing of musical works, newspapers, visual material, digital products, amongst other things is going to be discussed and signed off on right here on our shores. One hopes that the local legal and media fraternity will take this opportunity to bring themselves up to date on these issues of intellectual property; IP as it is called for short is one of the most important products of the twenty first century and its licensing and regulation are going to be key components in the future welfare of nations.

I returned to Jamaica just in time for the Walter Rodney conference that was held from October 16th to the 18th. Rodney as many of us know was a Guyanese historian who taught at the University of the West Indies in the 1960s. What made him unique was his activism, his insistence on making education available to the poor, his focus on rehabilitating pride in things African. As Wikipedia has it:

Rodney was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. When the Jamaican government, led by prime minister Hugh Shearer, banned him, in October 1968, from ever returning to the country, because of his advocacy for the working poor in that country, riots broke out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages. These riots, which started on October 16, 1968, are now known as the Rodney Riots, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in his book, The Groundings with my Brothers.

The conference, organized by the Institute of Caribbean Studies in collaboration with the Centre for Caribbean Thought at UWI, was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Rodney Riots. One of the stand-out moments came when the floor was opened for discussion after Honorary Professor Edward Seaga, a former Prime Minister and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party which had been in government when Rodney was made persona non grata made his presentation. Mr. Seaga held forth for 45 minutes instead of the prescribed 20 and talked about Garvey and Rasta and everything it seemed but Walter Rodney, disappointing those who thought they were going to hear a personal aside on the events of the late 1960s. While he did eventually touch on the subject of the conference Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University and author of the book Rasta and Resistance got up during the discussion period to say that had Mr. Seaga been one of his students he would have given him an F. To his credit Mr. Seaga accepted the criticism graciously.

Another memorable moment for me was the opening talk by Pat Rodney, Walter’s widow. Walter Rodney was killed in Guyana in 1980 by a bomb disguised as a radio transmitter. He was attempting to run for political office there. For many on the African continent and elsewhere Rodney was a figure of the stature of Malcolm X. For instance my friend Achal Prabhala, read his writings in Bangalore, India and was moved to go all the way to Guyana to find out more about him. Read his “In Search of Walter Rodney” which appeared in Transition magazine.

Surely a Rodney memorial at UWI is overdue? I visualize a beautiful mural by Ricky Culture on one of the blank walls at UWI.

Finally I returned to find that Ataklan’s song Sun Starts to Rise (Ataklan is one of the most nonconformist, critical voices in Caribbean music today), complete with music video is now available on YouTube. Apart from being inspirational and simply brilliant, it has special meaning for me because it was born in my house about six years ago. I was hosting Klan on his first visit to Jamaica from Trinidad and woke up to hear him belting out the first few lines of the song. When he mentioned that his dream was to do a song in Jamaica I took him to Mikie Bennett at Grafton Studios where the initial production was done. It’s taken a while (at periodic visits to TnT I’ve had the pleasure of being treated to intermediate stages of the song) but Klan has finally got it off and it really is a beauty. The video is minimalist but eloquent. Do watch it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Produce-ing Laughter?

These were doing the email rounds; my friend Yaba Badoe sent them to me and i was about to forward them to various friends then thought this was an easier way to do it...

How on earth do people think of such things? talk about creativity--the creative parer! is this what they mean by 'new media'?

Apparently these images are all from Photobucket--The best place on the planet to store all your photos and videos--

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dragons CAN dance!

till i'm back...enjoy this...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Raising the Bar

The world's fastest men and women were feted this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica for their breathtaking exploits in Beijing this summer. The Government produced floats, big trucks pumping music, throngs of joyous people, and keys to new cars and the city of Kingston for many of them. We're not exactly sure what the latter will unlock; surely a little like giving someone the keys to Pandora's Box.

I feel like a dog with ten tails, said a woman in the street, beaming with delight the day Usain Bolt returned from the Olympics. And all of them wagging full speed no doubt-- what could be more evocative than that? As Brazil is to football, the most stylishly competitive track and field in the world will always be to Jamaica and young Usain will likely occupy a similar place in the firmament as the legendary Pele.

I was going through the newspapers that had piled up on me during those glorious Beijing days and found some really great visual material in them. If the print media routinely lets us down in terms of sloppy writing and poorly conceived and executed texts (no world beaters here, alas!) our cartoonists and advertising agencies rose to the occasion effortlessly demonstrating their world class skills in a series of brilliant cartoons and ads celebrating and commenting on the feats of the Jamaican athletic team.

In this post I've reproduced what i thought were the most creative print ads in local newspapers and one of my favourite cartoons by Las May of the Gleaner (apologies for the quality of reproduction, its entirely due to the technology i employed). What price that image of the public awarding a big zero to the antics of the two PNP contenders? (above). Adwise I thought IRIE FM won hands down (see immediately below) with its image of the receding heels of an athlete wearing the Jamaican flag like a cape. No prize for guessing what it says in Chinese--"Usain Bolt run things"--I'm sure.

Congratulations too to Maurice Smith (who has various friends of mine drooling over him); the captain of the team, he is an outstanding decathlete and his role as leader should not be overlooked.

Sorry now to have to drag you from the sublime heights of Olympic stardom to the dismal depths of print journalism in Jamaica but i need to revisit my post of a few weeks ago, Pronounced Dead, (September 5 to be precise) in which i lamented the kind of shoddy writing that passes for reportage and commentary in this country. I return to it now to quote from some of the incisive responses that post received which really bear being quoted and highlighted.

According to V.
the most worrisome part is that, other than illustrating the sloppiness of local editorial practices, the "pronounced dead" narratives also reveal an appalling intellectual dishonesty. Our newspapers know perfectly well that those routine police reports conceal more complex and sordid stories and they should make more effort (correction: MUCH more effort) to uncover and report them.
As Bitter Bean pointed out:
The truth is that those who run the papers care more about the advertising than the editorial content. Articles are just included so that all the ads don't look overcrowded.
On September 22nd the inimitable Long Bench left this:
I noticed today that the NYT actually created an online page to address the errors that editors and readers find --
Well, well, well. So my post was a timely one. It's not only in Jamdown that the print media is being critiqued by its readers for the numerous errors purveyed in their pages. The difference is that being Jamaica (read third world? provincial?) newspapers here have completely ignored all criticism, undeterred in their determination to pepper their prose with the most careless and egregious errors.

The Gleaner shows marginal improvement. In last Sunday's paper ( all the examples cited here are from September 27) the only thing i could find at first glance was this line from Ian Boyne's column: speaking of Portia he said "...the odds have been stocked against her..." A good proofreader should have picked that up, odds are stacked against someone not stocked.

From the Herald there were several bloopers: in Garnett Roper's column I read "What Jamaica faces is an economy which has almost grounded completely to a halt." Later in the same column "People are wondering around lost because of mounting bills." Today's editorial in the Herald is titled "Why Journalists must be troublemakers" and makes the case for aggressive newsgathering and storytelling. i completely agree; the Herald is virtually singular in taking such an uncompromising stand in the quality of the stories it carries. It must also display utmost integrity and intolerance of errors in the language it employs to tell its stories.

Finally the Observer had some priceless ones in its editorial titled "Will somebody please answer Ms Verna Gordon-Binns?" The editors seem quite incensed that Ms. Binns' proposal that ganja or marijuana be used to make ethanol instead of food staples was unceremoniously laughed out of parliament. Quoting from an unnamed document they refer to 'mitigating the environmental fallout from anthropological activity'. Now mind you this is a quote but the Observer retails it without commenting on its putative meaning. what on earth is being implied here? That anthropological fieldwork has somehow been destructive enough to cause environmental fallout? where, when and how? is the quote correct? Anthropology is "the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind." I'm at a loss as to what link there might be to the health of the environment here.

Why don't all three papers take a leaf out of the book of The New York Times? Mind you the level of incorrect language used in the NYT pales in comparison to the local newspapers yet in contrast the NYT had the grace and humility to acknowledge its shortcomings. Here's how their article on editorial errors started:
Even in the rush to publish, writers and editors at The Times strive for polish and precision in our prose. Sometimes we succeed.

But sometimes, after the dust settles, we are dismayed to see painful grammatical errors, shopworn phrasing or embarrassing faults in usage. A quick fix might be possible online; otherwise, the lapses become lessons for next time.

Will the local print media do the right thing and start paying more attention to copy editing what it puts out in the way of editorial matter? Jamaica's Olympic team has raised the bar very high but will the Press Association of Jamaica take even a baby step towards demanding (and attaining) internationally benchmarked professional standards in journalism from its members?