Since sport is such an important aspect of the Jamaican psyche, the way media carries stories form a fundamental expression by the people of Jamaica internally (whether home/abroad); and is implicit on how we are viewed by the rest of the world.
The efforts of Jamaica’s sportsmen and women, have for a long time, been the pinnacle of the success stories, not without the usual expected controversies. What is key is the value the media has placed in always reporting on sporting events which are hosted in Jamaica or where there are Jamaicans participating.
In 1948, Jamaica earned one gold and two silver medals and was ranked 20th in the medal standings. The late Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint were the only two medallists. That news spread around the world like wild fire at the time. However, another news item emerged with the mishap in the 4 X 400 metres where Jamaica did not complete the event. Four years later, the news was, Jamaica earns two gold and three silver and ranked 13th in the medal standings. One of the gold medals was in a record time and in an event where Jamaica failed to finish in the London Games in 1948.
The record in the Olympics has been spectacular and in the media’s eyes, Jamaica has achieved a lot. This is what is reported.
However, the media is also the first to report the controversies, scandals and any other item of news they may deem important enough to catch the eyes of the public. What then is Jamaica’s role in shaping, determining or even guiding what media reports?
In achieving independence since 1962, lots of things changed for Jamaica. The economy grew, people became more literate, technology became available, media also grew, so it shaped the way people consumed information and Jamaicans at home and abroad has far more ways and means to bring the information to them.
The role then of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) and its affiliate federations must now put a number of programmes in place for its athletes and administrators to understand the implications of good and ‘bad’ press. Public Education programmes must be the order of the day complimented by workshops and seminars. Literature has to be made available to all concerned to ensure that there is a consistent delivery of standard information, making it plain that the measurement is not different based on where you are from, but the same no matter what.
Athletes have to be prepared to cope with press who will bombard them with questions they may not have thought about, but be made to understand that being in the public requires specific work in handling media.
Some of the media presence Jamaica gets across the world could not be paid for in any media campaign. So while we gain on one side, we should always aim to be proactive about maintaining a positive image. When negative stories emerge, then we should be keen on managing the damage which may be done.
Come August 15 to 23, all track and field fans, existing and new, will have their eyes focused on Jamaica. I ask that we be prepared.