Friday, October 23, 2009

Television in Guyana – Lack of Identity Expressed through Media

By Celia Shortt

As a journalist, one of the big things I look at when I engage with another culture is their media system. So much can be learned about a culture and its identity from their media. An observer can see their pride in their country, their struggles as a nation, or their desire for change. When I arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, I was anxious to view the country through its media and learn as much as possible about it.

So far, in my short time here, the biggest thing I have learned about Guyana from their media is that they are in search of their identity as media. Most of their programming is taken from American networks and programming. When I say taken, I don’t mean conceptualized or based on, I mean directly taken. They take blocks of programming from an American television station, commercials and all, and air it as their own on television stations. They do insert some of their own commercials over the American ones, but it’s still predominantly American programming. The majority of their news is even American. Like the other programming, they borrow, television stations here take blocks of programming from American cable news networks and air it for some of their evening newscasts.

For me, an American living in Guyana, the large amount of American programming is quite nice. When I came here, it did cross my mind that I would miss certain television shows. Not to mention, American news. So far, I have been able to follow both because of their dependence on American programming.

Now, some stations do have some local programming and local newscasts, but what little there is was created by people who have not had proper training. What television and/or media training they’ve received they’ve picked up along the way by others who may or may not have had proper training.

Despite these issues, I still learned quite a bit about Guyana. First, in the small amount of original programming, I could see the pride the Guyanese have in their country. Their morning news shows contain programming that shows what their country has to offer its citizens and its visitors, as well as the natural beauty their countrys possesses. The expression of this pride, however, is curtailed due to their lack of training. In other words, their lack of training makes it hard for them to professionally express their pride in their country through their media.

This lack of media training is perhaps the biggest thing I learned about the Guyanese culture. It has led to a struggle for them to express their identity and it has caused a desire for change so that they can do their job well.

In the first month that I was here, I was part of a television workshop which had a goal of training Guyanese journalists so that they could do their jobs better. Most who came did not know how to properly construct a news story. In addition, most did not know how to correctly navigate around the journalistic restrictions in the country. They were doing the best that they could with what they had. Seeing these journalists learn some of the necessary skills to be an effective journalist was not half as exciting as seeing them cultivate the desire to become a driving force in Guyana and the rest of the world.

In the time since the workshop, I have already seen some changes in the news programming. The stories are written and filmed better than before. Additionally, behind the scenes, journalists are implementing changes to help them do their jobs well.

As an observer, it is exciting for me to see people learn new things. As a journalist, however, it’s exciting for me to see Guyana discover Guyanese journalism instead of simply having journalism in Guyana.

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