Print Media Era (1700-1834)
Jamaica’s media history dates back to 1718 when Robert Baldwin published the country’s first newspaper, Weekly Jamaican Courant from his printery on Church Street. Between the period 1718 and 1834 no fewer than 33 newspapers were published across the island. These included The St Jago Intelligencer, Royal Gazette, Cornwall Chronicle and County Gazette, Kingston Morning Post and Trelawney Advertiser. Books and magazines developed at a slower pace than newspapers as only 12 books were published in the 40 years that followed the advent of the local printing press. Among them were the account of the 1721 trial of notorious pirate captain Jack Rackham alias Calico Jack and his female ship mates Anne Bonney and Mary Read and records of legislative votes in the House of Assembly. The Jamaica Magazine (1781) signalled a new form of print medium, the magazine, its content was lighter than that contained in books and newspapers of the times. For reasons that are unknown, it seemed that most early magazines averaged a life span of two to four years. Early newspaper owners belonged to the powerful planter and merchant class that formed the establishment and as such the papers reflected their interests. The Gleaner and Weekly Compendium of News rolled off the press September 13, 1834. The paper founded by Jacob and Joshua DeCordova, later became known as The Gleaner and remained under family ownership or management until 1948 and as the distinction as the oldest continuously published newspaper in Jamaica.
The period was dominated by the system of slavery that divided Jamaican society into two groups; the powerless black slaves and the powerful white plantocracy who controlled the political and economic life of the country. Numerous revolts occurred as the tensions between both groups escalated. Many newspapers functioned as an extension of the establishment and reinforced the existing status quo. Karl Marx states that “in every epoch, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.” Marxist theory is centred on conflict of interest between groups in the society, since one group (dominant group) gains at the expense of another (subordinate group). Marxist Media Theory purports that those who control the economic base of society (dominant group) also control the social, political and intellectual consciousness of the society and constitute the ruling class. The mass media is owned by this group. As a result media institutions are locked in the power structure and consequently act in tandem with the dominant institutions of society. Therefore, the media simply disseminates the ideas and views of the ruling class and deny or defuse alternative ideas. In Jamaica, the ruling class comprised members of the wealthy planter/merchant group who were the owners of newspapers. It is not surprising that newspaper content was primarily comprised of shipping information, notifications of slave auctions and runaway slaves and advertisements for goods and services they offered and anything of interest to that group.
Additionally the establishment was not interested in change and used every available means to neutralize or eliminate opposing viewpoints or any form of dissent, be it individual, group or newspaper. In the case of persons and groups, the modus operandi was excessive brute force as witnessed in the Sam Sharpe Rebellion (1831) and the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) where no attempt was made at mediation. In the case of newspapers, they simply withheld financial support in the form of donations and advertisements which ultimately crippled its ability to remain viable, as evidenced in the Edward Jordan and Robert Osborn publication, The Watchman (1831). Both men were coloured members of the House of Assembly who used the paper as the medium to advocate the rights and interests of free coloured persons in the society. Its often controversial viewpoint was not supported by the powerful...
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[ 4 ]. Stanley Baran, Introduction to Mass Communication Media Literacy and Culture, (Mew York: McGraw-Hill, 2002) p. 379
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[ 10 ]. Michael Manley, A Voice at the Workplace, (London: Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1975) p. 44-45
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