Thursday, June 18, 2015

Television News

Watching the local news is a bit different here in St. Lucia. Being a small island country, there is no distinction between local news and national news as is done in the USA. Instead, it is an hour long broadcast covering everything from a local blood drive to global politics. There are two stations that compete during the 7:00-8:00 PM time slot, and then a third station that broadcasts their news from 8:00-9:00 PM.

Sometimes we watch the news for two hours, and I like to notice the differences between the newscasts. Obviously I haven’t been here long enough yet, but I’m already wondering if there is some political partisanship by any of these channels. Does one tend to support the party in power more than the others? Is one of them more supportive of the opposition? Or have they all been “fair and balanced” in their journalistic endeavors?

Surprisingly, there is very little weather coverage here. None of the stations have a weatherman. They may run some basic weather information on the “crawler” at the bottom of the screen, and one station presents some weather information (without any verbal commentary) via something akin to PowerPoint slides as they go into a commercial break.

One reason for this lack of weather coverage is that for the most part, the weather here is warm all the time, with a chance for brief showers most of the time. So far it seems we have seen at least a bit of rain each day we have been here (although they still need more). The clouds will come and go, and occasionally a sprinkle or a brief downpour will happen. Rarely does it last very long.

I would imagine that predicting when and where it might rain under these conditions would be difficult. Plus, St. Lucia probably doesn’t have the extensive weather forecasting infrastructure that the USA has, with fancy Doppler radars at airports, satellite imagery, National Weather Service computing models, etc. So most St. Lucians just accept whatever comes—they know it will be generally hot, with a chance of rain. The temperatures here don’t vary a lot—I’ve heard that it generally ranges from a high of 90 to a low of 75, and this would be consistent with what I have seen so far during my first week. Of course, if a hurricane were to be brewing, I’m sure that it would become the focus of the news (hopefully I can avoid confirming my suspicions).

Sports coverage exists, but focuses on cricket and soccer primarily (and includes a sportscaster). The only American sports news that I have seen mentioned was a story about the NBA Championship, but this was only shown after coverage of a local basketball tournament. Needless to say, I saw nothing about the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.

There are a number of differences between newscasts in the USA. Probably the most jarring to me (at least at first glance) was coverage of a drowning victim in the harbor of the capital city of Castries. The news story opened by stating that passerbys had noticed what appeared to be a drowning victim floating in the harbor. The camera then showed something bobbing up and down in the water. Apparently it was the head of the victim.

While that view was something I would not have seen on American TV, the next shot was even more different. The news camera showed the arrival of a police boat, which then proceeded to pull the body on board. It could be clearly seen that rigor mortis had set in, as his arms were frozen out ahead of his body. This view would never have been shown on an American newscast.

However, as I thought further about it, I’m not sure that it was necessarily a bad thing. It may simply be an example of a cultural difference. Perhaps St. Lucians (and other countries) understand the inevitability of death, and don’t try to hide it or sugarcoat it. The news camera was simply recording what all the crowd of people lining the edge of the harbor had seen for themselves. The view was distant enough that you couldn't see details or recognize the face. They did mention that the death had ruled as an accidental drowning, and even noted that this man was known to have an addiction problem. So in some respects, it was a reminder not to get drunk or high because you might fall into the harbor and drown.

I should also point out that my host family has cable television with probably a hundred channels, most of them the same as one can see on American cable television. Since I was too cheap to pay for anything more than the most basic cable package at my old home, I have made the move from America to St. Lucia and now get more television channels than I had previously. I didn't see that one coming! However, I have been limiting my TV time to St. Lucian newscasts and a few glimpses of the BBC World News. I think I'd like to disconnect from the day-to-day American media news as I attempt to transition into the Eastern Caribbean culture. As a bonus, I realized that it will be nice to miss all the negative television ads during the 2016 political campaigns back in America.

Finally, I want to share the link to a feature story included on a recent newscast in St. Lucia about the new class of Peace Corps who have arrived on the island ( Look close around the 45 second mark and you can see me.

[The photo below shows me standing by the St. Lucian flag with the member of the St. Lucian Parliament who came to speak with us.]

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