The Caribbean archipelago curves from Cuba in the northwest to Trinidad in the southeast. The islands have all been at some stage colonies, departments, or possessions of European or North American countries. This history has given the region a varied culture that has created divisions among groups of islands. The English-speaking group, for example, traditionally has been apart from the others. These differences of language and other aspects of culture have created barriers in communication among the 38 million people of the islands.
The Caribbean’s history has left it with differing political and administrative systems that, to a significant degree have determined the structure and operations of the media in the many countries. The culture of the media is also a consequence of the economic history of the islands. The media are more diverse in the larger and more populous islands such as Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. With the exception of Cuba, the political systems in the region are based on periodic elections that have produced administrations ranging from social democratic through centrist to center right. They are generally pro-business.
Fundamental political changes in recent years in the English-speaking islands have seen them become politically independent of the UK over the past 45 years. These countries inherited the British approach to press freedom (Surlin and Soderlund 1990). There were also political changes in other countries with the overthrow of right wing dictatorships in Cuba (Batista), Dominican Republic (Trujillo), and Haiti (Duvalier). The change in Cuba was to a socialist administration with a centrally controlled economy, while the Dominican Republic and Haiti moved to elected administrations. Other islands have remained colonies, possessions, and overseas departments of the UK, France, the Netherlands, and the United States.
In most of the countries in the region, the past 25 years have seen fundamental changes in economic policy that have affected the structure and operations of the media. Most countries had one or two major newspapers that were owned by the state, economically influential individuals, families, or businesses. Radio and television stations were owned, in the main, by governments, well-established economic entities, or rich individuals.
Progressive deregulation of many economies has led to increased private business involvement in the media. Barriers to foreign ownership of media have also been removed in some countries. Many governments have divested state-owned media. This has led to a rapid expansion in the number and type of media operating in commercial competition.
While the constitutional and legal environments in most of the countries allow for free media, many media houses and professional associations complain intermittently about elements that limit this freedom. These range from the murder and physical intimidation of journalists to the application of laws concerning slander and defamation.
The Association of Caribbean Media Workers, a federation of media professional organizations (Cuba is not represented), found an “ambivalence of respect” for the practice of journalism in an environment “in which commercial and political agendas exist” (Association of Caribbean Media Workers 2006). It reports: “Self-censorship becomes a foil against the practice of good journalism and citizens are denied a view of reality necessary to move themselves and their societies forward”.
The leading daily newspaper in the Dominican Republic is Listín Diario (circulation 160,000). It was part of the Grupo Intercontinental, a financial services and media conglomerate, one of whose banks – Baninter – collapsed in 2003 under what the government claimed was fraud of $2 billion. The government took over the group, including Listín Diario. Other daily newspapers include Hoy (80,000), El Caribe (42,000), El Nacional (42,000), and Ultima Hora (circulation unavailable).
The main dailies in Haiti are Le Matin (circulation 8,000) and Le Nouvelliste (circulation 9,000). Both provide coverage of national events. Both operate in a turbulent political environment that has overtaken the country since the overthrow in 1986 of the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier.
The main newspapers in the English-speaking Caribbean are privately owned and operate in an environment that allows freedom of expression. The main newspapers in Barbados are dailies – the Nation (circulation 35,000) and the Advocate (16,000). The main dailies in Jamaica are the Gleaner (circulation 45,000) and the Observer (40,000). Both report higher circulation for the Sunday editions. The Gleaner also publishes the Star, an afternoon weekly. There is also a national weekly, the Herald (circulation unavailable), and several weekly community and regional newspapers. The main dailies in Trinidad and Tobago are the Express (circulation 85,000), the Guardian (60,000), and Newsday (48,000). There are several weeklies.
The newspapers in these countries cover broadly national issues relating to politics, business, and crime. They give significant coverage also to regional and international developments, particular where these have an obvious impact on their readers.
Newspapers in the Leeward Islands (Antigua-Barbuda, St Kitts-Nevis, and Montserrat) and Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Vincent) concentrate more on domestic political and social issues. There are a few dailies, although most are weekly. While most are privately owned, several are published by political parties. The financial viability of many of these newspapers tends to be uncertain because of the small markets in which they compete.
There are 104 licensed radio broadcasters in the Dominican Republic that operate on AM and FM frequencies. Most of these are provincial, while some provide national coverage. These are located mainly in Santo Domingo, Santiago, San Francisco de Macoris, La Romana, Azua, and Barahona. The stations are privately owned, mainly by major business enterprises and media conglomerates.
Haiti has 121 listed stations broadcasting on AM and FM frequencies. Most are located in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien, Jacmel, Les Cayes, and the Central Plateau. The stations are privately owned and are generally small operations.
Most radio stations in English-speaking countries are privately owned. There is, however, state ownership in some of the smaller countries. The number of private stations has expanded over the past 10 years following the deregulation of the media market in several countries There are 32 radio stations operating in Trinidad and Tobago with commercial and community licenses. There are 17 in Jamaica. State-owned radio broadcasters are in the minority in the Leeward and Windward Islands, where they compete with a growing number of private stations.
The major television broadcasters in the Dominican Republic, which provide national coverage, are RadioTelevision Dominicana, ColorVision Canal 9, Teleantilles, and Telesistema. There are 54 television community and local commercial television broadcasters. Television Nationale d’Haiti is a state-owned broadcaster that provides national coverage. Six privately owned television broadcasters provide provincial coverage.
The leading television stations in Trinidad and Tobago are state-owned CNMG TV operated by Caribbean New Media Group, and privately owned TV6, which is part of the Caribbean Communications Network group. In Jamaica the main stations are operated by privately owned RJR Communications Group and CVM Communications.
State-owned television broadcasters in the Windward and Leeward Islands increasingly are competing with privately owned stations. Most television stations are part of converged broadcasters that also operate radio stations.
The content of most stations mainly is imported, with locally produced programming limited to newscasts, discussions/talk shows, and coverage of live sports and culture.
New Media And The Internet
There has been rapid expansion of privately owned cable television providers across the region. The content generally is sports, culture, and news, with limited local content being supported by foreign programming. Government regulators and the media industry in several jurisdictions are discussing the extent to which cable providers are allowed to carry advertising. The pace of the expansion of new media ventures in the Caribbean is constrained by relatively low levels of Internet access in the region. Figures from Internet World Stats (2005) indicate that these range from 1.7 per cent in Cuba to 60 per cent in Barbados.
While the average level of Internet penetration in the Caribbean of 8.1 per cent is higher than in most emerging economies, the region lags behind North America and Europe. Increases in the level of Internet penetration in the region will be determined by the efficiency of new players, which are challenging long-dominant providers, and the extent to which these will be able to offer broadband access at rates that can be afforded in countries that are poor. Caribbean media houses increasingly provide web-based versions of their output. This is generally limited to repurposed content by newspapers, and radio and television broadcasters. However, in some instances the content is continuously updated. There is also an increasing number of web-only media – mainly newspapers – produced mostly by and for the Caribbean diaspora in North America and Europe.
Newspapers, which have been the traditional media in the Caribbean, have been forced to change their business and editorial operations to deal with increasing competition from broadcast media. The rapid changes in technology, combined with liberalized state policies, have put newspapers in direct competition with other – mainly electronic – media. Except in Cuba, the changes in the region’s media industry have significantly removed governments as major players in the industry. Media are being managed not as a public good being delivered by the state, but as private business. The financial framework has changed from state subsidies to accountable profits.
Caribbean newspapers were at the vanguard of these changes, and were influenced by what Grant-Wisdom (1995) saw as a consequence of a shift in the use of capital for activities, and the search for “strategic partnerships” in business. Consequently, the region’s newspapers were followed by electronic media houses in moving from being unique business ventures to becoming wider media enterprises that benefited from an economic scale of production that enhanced their chances of survival in an increasingly competitive environment.
This tendency for newspapers – and subsequently electronic media – in the Caribbean to seek linkages that could widen their markets was evident more than two decades ago. Brown and Sanatan (1987) observed that in the late 1980s the ownership of newspapers in the region was primarily private, and that this was a consequence of traditional links between advertisers and early newspaper development in the region. They said that the tendency toward concentration in the print sector was “observable,” and noted: “There is a cluster effect in newspaper management and plant operations. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Express is linked with the Nation in Barbados. These newspapers have been helping the weeklies in St Vincent, Dominica and formerly in Grenada”.
The trend toward linkages has gathered pace across the region, leading to significant convergence in media businesses. This has been driven by increasing competition, which has brought about mergers and acquisitions as media businesses tried to survive by being more efficient. This has reflected developments in media in other parts of the world. However, the driving forces behind these changes, and the need to create entities that can benefit from economies of scale, as suggested by McChesney (2001), have been particularly important to Caribbean media because of the small markets in which they operate, and the increasing commercial competition that has accompanied the liberalization of the industry.
There is, for example, the case of Listín Diario of the Dominican Republic, which began at the end of the nineteenth century as a daily listing of the arrival and departure of merchant ships. It became a national daily and, after being closed because of political turmoil in the country, re-emerged in 1967 as the centerpiece of the Grupo Listín de Communications, publishers of other newspapers, including El Expreso, Ultima Hora, and El Financiero. It soon after was acquired by Grupo Intercontinental, a major financial services conglomerate, and was expanded to include 4 television stations and 70 radio stations (James 2003).
The Caribbean Communications Network of Trinidad and Tobago, owner of the Express newspaper and the TV6 television network, holds a majority interest in the Grenada Broadcasting Network along with minority interests in other Caribbean media companies. The Nation Corporation, a privately held company, is the owner of the Nation newspaper and Starcom Network radio stations. Caribbean Communications Network Limited and the Nation Corporation agreed in 2005 to merge their operations to create a publicly owned regional media company called One Caribbean Media.
- Association of Caribbean Media Workers (2006). The looming storm: The Caribbean media in 2005. Port of Spain: ACMW.
- Brown, A., & Sanatan, R. (1987). Talking with whom? A report on the state of the media in the Caribbean. Jamaica: Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication.
- Grant-Wisdom, D. (1995). The economics of globalization: Implications for communications and the service sector. In H. Dunn (ed.), Globalization, communications and Caribbean identity. London: St. Martin’s.
- Internet World Stats (2005). Internet usage statistics for the Americas. At www.internetworldstats.com/stats2.htm, accessed August 7, 2007.
- James, C. (2003). Dominican Republic seizes media group. Financial Times, May 16.
- McChesney, R. W. (2001). Global media, neoliberalism, and imperialism. Monthly Review, 52(10). At www.monthlyreview.org/301rwm.htm, accessed August 7, 2007.
- Surlin, S. H., & Soderlund, W. C. (1990). Mass media and the Caribbean. London: Gordon and Breach.