Political Communication Strategies in Post-Independence Jamaica, 1972-2006
- Published: May 2020
In Political Communication Strategies in Post-independence Jamaica, 1972–2006, Floyd E. Morris analyses some of the factors that contribute to apathy among citizens towards the political process by focusing on the communication strategies used by leaders and their administrations. He examines the relationship between leaders and the wider society they seek to influence, the communication methods and techniques that have been deployed in the exercise of power, and how change is effected or stymied by political communication. The central argument of the book is that the success or failure of leaders and their administrations in modern Jamaica is closely linked to an effective communication strategy to support their programmes and policies.
Morris examines the campaigns and tenure of three of Jamaica’s longest-serving prime ministers and assesses the communication strategies used to market their government’s programmes and policies. By analysing the successes and failures of administrations between 1972 and 2006, he offers insight on the best approaches for connecting with and engaging citizens through effective communication.
List of Abbreviations
1. The Conceptual Framework of Political Communication
2. Political Culture and Political Communication in Jamaica
3. The Structure of Political Communication in Jamaica
4. Communicating Economic Programmes and Policies
5. Communicating Social Programmes and Policies
6. Communicating Programmes and Policies Relating to the Regional and International Agendas
7. Political Campaigning in Jamaica
8. New Media, Political Communication and Citizen Participation in Jamaica
9. Closing Analysis of Findings and Recommendations
For democracy to thrive in any society, there must be effective communication. In a liberal democratic society, leaders and their political parties take on the responsibility of representing the people. In this process, they formulate programmes and policies to foster development, and put mechanisms in place to accommodate communication and receive feedback.
In approaches to politics, citizens have become more like consumers (instrumental, oriented to immediate gratification, and potentially fickle) than believers, and as Blumler and Kavanagh (1999) note, politicians must work harder to retain their interest and support. This reflects the challenges and realities that confront contemporary political communication. It highlights the issues affecting citizens’ participation or nonparticipation in the liberal democratic process and the need for politicians to find new ways of engaging with them.
An interesting and intriguing discipline, political science embraces other subdis- ciplines such as international relations, public administration, political philosophy and, more recently, political communication. Even though it is a recent develop- ment, earlier political actors found ways and means of communicating with their audience centuries ago. Political communication incorporates the various modali- ties of the communication process and is the continuous transference of political information between stakeholders within the public sphere (Norris 2004).
In the context of liberal democracy, the subject of political communication has involved a dialogue on freedom versus order. Freedom, in this context, refers to basic civil liberties, while order refers to the levels of restriction that exist within a society (Hahn 2003). The debate has seen the evolution of two distinct groups, categorized as “liberals” and “conservatives”. Liberals believe that to facilitate meaningful development, the freedom of individuals must be given prominence and be respected. Conversely, conservatives believe that to facilitate the devel- opment of civilization and preserve the freedom of individuals, order must be maintained.
Political Communication and Media
It must be noted that while both groups believe in order and freedom, the distinction lies in the priority that each group gives to the issues that arise from the dialogue. Liberals believe that freedom comes first, while conservatives believe that order is the fundamental priority (Hahn 2003). The critical point of intersection and equilibrium comes at freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and property rights. Both groups believe that these elements are fundamental to the preservation of democracy and ultimately enhance the practice of political communication (Habermas 2006).
The dialectics on freedom and order have intensified over the years through varied social institutions. Habermas (1989) described them as the public sphere where the dialogue manifests itself in conversations on a wide variety of issues. An active participant in the dialogue is the media (Dahlgren 2000a). The development of the media over the years has given new impetus to this area of political communication.
In Jamaica, political leaders have adopted multiple strategies to communicate with and inspire people to national action. Some of them have worked successfully, while others have failed miserably. It is posited that ineffective communication has contributed to voter apathy, and ultimately to the failure of some leaders. Prior to this, this belief was not examined; therefore, this work generates new knowledge and adds to the existing literature in the field of political communication.
It must be noted that this author is not suggesting that ineffective communication is the sole cause of political apathy. Factors such as corruption, poor governance, unfulfilled expectations, disillusionment, arrogance and mismanagement have contributed to political apathy in Jamaica and the broader Caribbean (Waller 2013; Munroe 2002; Stone 1989a, 1989b). However, the focus of this book is on political communication.
There has been a radical change in the political landscape of Jamaica, largely due to the transformation that has taken place in the media. Prior to the 1940s, television stations in Jamaica were nonexistent, and the Internet was unknown. The development of satellite technology and invention of the transmitter facilitated a radical change in the way that political actors have communicated to their audiences since the 1970s. The political landscape virtually became a theatre, as the ability of leaders to speak, act and charm merged with the possibilities presented by audiotape and camera; the result was an intensification of competition between political organizations as they tried to win the minds and hearts of their constituents (Graber 2011).
Due to the significant growth of the media in Jamaica since 1980 and its liberalization in 1991, citizens are now more exposed to diverse varieties and formats of information as new players have been introduced to the industry. By 2012, there were three major national newspapers, three free-to-air television stations, twenty-seven radio stations broadcasting nationally and forty-one cable providers (Dunn 2012). The Internet also became a major part of the landscape as citizens were able to use diverse social media platforms to articulate their views on national issues. This massive expansion assisted in exposing the dialectic taking place in the public sphere and exposed the failure of politicians to advance the levels of development needed to empower the people. Consequently, conflicts emerged and politicians were seen as strong on rhetoric and weak on deliverables (Blumler and Gurevitch 2001). Despite global developments, however, political parties in Jamaica and the wider English-speaking Caribbean have been lagging. Apparently, they lack the necessary structural reforms to address the dwindling support for their organizations.
The level of political competition intensified as liberal democracy (Munroe 2002) throughout the world took on a new shape and form. In this regard, the media played a pivotal role, as its rapid expansion exposed more people to a new political culture (Blumler and Kavanagh 1999). By the latter part of the twentieth century, the political theatre of Jamaica entered homes via cable, satellite and the Internet. This resulted in an informed citizenry, now empowered to make rational choices. As globalization (Giddens 1991) took root and liberalization (Munroe 2002) became in vogue, more and more individuals focused on them- selves instead of on traditional organizations, resulting in less time and effort spent with grassroot organizations such as political parties. This had profound implications for the advancement of liberal democracy (Giddens 1991).
The intensification of the process of Americanization and cultural penetration facilitated by the media also prompted a virtually new political culture throughout the world. Globally, voters were becoming more aware and more independent of traditional social and political institutions such as political parties (Hallin and Mancini 2004). A decline in voter participation and support for political parties was reflected in Europe and North America, where recent elections showed that less than 50 per cent of the electorate participated in national polls (Friedman 2012). In Jamaica and the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean, a similar situation was occurring.
After winning an election and assuming the mantle of government, political leaders are confronted with certain economic realities. This may affect their ability to keep their campaign promises. Politicians who fail to communicate these challenges add to citizens’ frustration, causing a major trust deficit. Consequently, political leaders are now required to apply modern political approaches to regain the trust and confidence of constituents in order to re-engage them in the voting process. The use of modern, innovative political communication strategies is a cogent response, and failure to design them could mean facing public disorder and ridicule. This process, however, must be driven by empirical data so that it can withstand academic and professional scrutiny.
The approach to political communication forms the core premise of this book. This growth in the Jamaican media landscape correlates with simultaneous growth in the levels of uncommitted voters in the country. Statistics indicate that over 40 per cent of the voting population is ambivalent about the political process (Anderson 2015). The fundamental question concerns what is contributing to this growing ambivalence among voters. Feedback seems to indicate that one of the reasons is a serious deficit in the way that leaders communicate programmes and policies to citizens. It is for these reasons that this book was written.
This is the first book of its kind in Jamaica, and it will contribute to a greater understanding of political communication, political culture and the broader political landscape. Central to this understanding are the arguments of D.F. Hahn, Jürgen Habermas, Carl Stone, Harold Lasswell, Stuart Hall, Marshall McLuhan and others who have developed theories that give insights into the subject of political communication.
Media and Leadership in Jamaica
In Jamaica, the Internet has become a significant part of the landscape, giving rise to a plethora of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The result has been a demand for better performance from political leaders because of this enhanced access to information. Voters have become more independent and individualistic, and therefore less willing to support the collectivism of political parties. Public opinion polls show over 40 per cent of the voting population as apathetic and uninterested in participating in the electoral process (Anderson 2015). Programmes and policies articulated during election campaigns are often not fully implemented, which has contributed to growing frustration among citizens (Graber 2011).
Since gaining independence from Britain in the early 1960s, Jamaicans have been exposed to several interesting political leaders. Their means of communicating programmes and policies to citizens have often been quite captivating. Edward Seaga, prime minister from 1980 to 1989, developed a skill for using the local vernacular and patois in his speeches, such as “light a candle, sing a Sankey and find your way back home” (Jamaica Observer, 13 December 2015). This was also done by Alexander Bustamante, who served as prime minister from 1962 to 1967. In one of his famous statements, Bustamante said, “Shoot me first, before you shoot my people” (Jones 2009). The uniqueness of this approach to communication by some Jamaican leaders has elicited different responses and results from the voting population.
In Jamaica and the wider English-speaking Caribbean, limited scientific studies have been conducted to determine the efficacy of communication strategies used by political leaders to communicate with citizens. While extensive work has been done on the political process and political system, research on the way that decisions are taken by government and transmitted to citizens, as well as the mechanisms in place for providing input and feedback, is nonexistent. In sum, there is very limited research that has been done on the development of mediated political communication (Hill and Hughes 1997) in modern Jamaica (that is, in the last forty years). An examination of the holdings of the West Indies and Special Collections at the Main Library on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies revealed only two major studies completed in this area: “The Press and the 1967 General Election in Jamaica”, by Kenneth Chin-Inn, and “Politics, Ideology and the Media in Jamaica: An Analysis of the Development of the Electronic Media, 1972–1992”, by Bernard Jankee. Accordingly, there are ample research opportunities to fill the lacuna in this aspect of Caribbean political life.
The success or failure of a political leader and administration in modern Jamaica is closely linked to an effective communication strategy for programmes and policies. In this context, leaders’ understanding of the nature of the dialectics taking place in the public sphere, particularly the media, is important. The level of understanding and the nature of the responses to these discourses will assist in determining their success or failure. Thus, within the framework of liberal democracy and political communication, the ultimate indicator of political success or failure is regarded as the winning or losing of an election, as this is the forum where the population approves or disapproves of proposed programmes and policies.
This book, therefore, analyses mediated political communication (Hill and Hughes 1997) in modern Jamaica during the period 1972–2006 by determining:
- How communication strategies of selected political leaders have served to engage citizen participation during this period
- The nature of the relationship between political leaders and citizens in mass mobilization in Jamaica
- The effects of the media representation of political masses on group membership and political party involvement in Jamaica
In considering these issues, the following questions are raised: What communication methods and techniques have been deployed in the exercise of power in relation to the perceived popular source of that power – the people? What is the relationship among leaders leading individuals and the wider society they seek to influence? How is change effected or stymied by political communication?
In addition to articulating a strategic political communication meth- odology that is applicable and relevant to the region, the book formu- lates an approach towards communicating programmes and policies of government to the people. It must be noted that most countries in the English-speaking Caribbean are postcolonial territories modelled on the Westminster system. As a result, there is a great deal of homogeneity, which makes it possible for the arguments made here to be applicable in this geographical space.
This volume presents a comparative analysis of the political communication strategies of three of Jamaica’s political leaders during the period 1972 to 2006 – the liberalization period of the media landscape. Prime ministers Michael Manley, Edward Seaga and P.J. Patterson hailed from the country’s two prominent political parties, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and had distinct leadership characteristics. They were also the only leaders who served two or more full terms since Jamaica gained its political independence from Britain in 1962 (regarded as the modern era of Jamaican politics) and were considered significant achievers.
Michael Manley was tall, handsome and articulate; he served as prime minister from 1972 to 1980, and again from 1989 to 1992. He was known for using his charisma to persuade the masses to buy into his PNP government’s programmes and policies (Panton 1993). Manley was the first Jamaican politician to be re-elected in two distinctly different political times: the Cold War and post–Cold War eras.
Patterson served from 1992 to 2006. He was portrayed as a strategic and technocratic leader (Marable 2007). As a lawyer, his style of communication was more formal and structured than the others mentioned here. Unlike these two other leaders, Patterson was a black Jamaican. Despite this, he managed to lead the PNP to more victories than any other leader in the modern Jamaican political context.
Edward Seaga emerged from the JLP as another technocratic leader who was a significant force in the Jamaican political landscape. His leadership style was autocratic (Stone 1992); however, his witty approach to political communication helped him to achieve several important political victories from 1980 to 1989.
For clarity and consistency, these terms will be used in the following ways in this book:
Americanization – The process of inculcating values and attitudes from the United States to individuals and societies that are not originally from there. This has been facilitated by globalization through the use of modern technologies. Important to this process is the media, which has acted as a pre-eminent conduit for transmitting American values and attitudes worldwide.
Capitalism – An economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. In this economic system, the private sector is required to play a dominant role and deter- mines what is to be produced, how much is to be produced, when to produce and the price to charge for the goods or services produced.
Communism – A philosophical, social, political and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money and the state.
Democratic socialism – A political and economic theory under which the means of production, distribution and exchange are owned or controlled by the people, and the opportunities of society are equally available to all. Under this system, there is a great emphasis on social policy to drive the development of people. In the context of this book, it is the model that was pursued by the Manley regime in the 1970s and the declared ideology of the PNP.
Economic liberalization – The lessening of government regulations and restrictions in an economy in exchange for greater participation by private entities. Jamaica embarked on a process of economic liberalization from the latter half of the 1980s until the early 2000s. This was a part of the strategy to modernize the economy and make it more competitive.
Effective communication – Although regarded as subjective, this occurs when the designed message reaches the intended audience and the interpretation of the message is close to or similar to that which was intended by the sender. Hall et al. (1973) articulated a process that they believed led to effective communication. They developed the encoder/ decoder model, in which the communication process entailed production, circulation, consumption and reproduction. Production is the phase that deals with the design of the message. Circulation addresses the channels through which the messages are distributed. Consumption is the use of the message by the receiver, and reproduction deals with the means of feedback that is provided by the receiver of the message. Once the receiver interprets the message in the way it was intended by the sender, the process is deemed to be effective. Distortions indicate there are problems with the communication.
Globalization – The intensification of worldwide social relations linking distant places in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many thousands of miles away, and vice versa.
Jamaica – An island state located in the Caribbean Sea, approximately ninety miles south of Cuba and southeast of the Gulf of Mexico. It has a population of approximately 2.7 million inhabitants of diverse ethnic origins. Patois, the local dialect, is spoken by approximately 95 per cent of the population as a substitute for the officially recognized, dominant language of English.
Ever since the country gained independence in 1962, parliamentary democracy has been the form of government practised with regularly held elections to elect its governments. The two major political parties are the JLP and the PNP. Unlike the United Kingdom, Jamaica has a codified constitution in which basic civil liberties are enshrined. In this regard, it is important to note that the right to dissent and freedom of expression are deeply entrenched in its political culture. Fundamen- tally, this is significant here, as these are quintessential to the practice of political communication.
Lessons – What has been learned from a particular engagement or activity. In this context, the focus is on the programmes and policies introduced by leaders in Jamaica during the period 1972–2006, viewed from a political communications perspective.
Liberal democracy – The type of democracy practised in Jamaica, a political ideology and form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism. It is characterized by elections among multiple distinct political parties, separation of powers into branches of government, the rule of law, a market economy and equal protection of human rights and civil liberties.
Liberalization – The process by which states, to one degree or another, must lower and ultimately remove national barriers to the movement of capital and barriers to competition across states and within states, with regards to the movement of goods and services. The process of liberalization was primarily driven by external institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Market-driven economy – An economy where the prices of goods and services are determined by the market. In the context of Jamaica, this was part of the process of economic liberalization during the 1990s.
Mediated political communication – The flow of political information among political actors and citizens through diverse media channels.
Modern Jamaica – The period from 1972 to 2006, the era after Jamaica gained political independence and embarked on the liberalization of its economy, during which radical transformation took place in the media landscape. During this period, each of the three leaders discussed in this book was elected for two full terms.
Patron clientelistic – The nature of dependent relationships that develop between political leaders and their supporters. This reference was coined by Stone as he described the nature of the relationship between political leaders and supporters in Jamaica.
Political communication – “Any written or electronic statement, pamphlet, advertisement or other printed or broadcast matter or statement, communication or advertisement delivered or accessed by electronic means, including but not limited to the Internet, containing an explicit appeal for the election or defeat of a candidate.” Such a communication is circulated to an audience substantially comprised of “persons eligible to vote for the candidate on whose behalf the appeal is directed” (Nagy 2001, 3). This is a relatively modern term in the realm of political science, and it refers to individuals’ relations with one another on a political level. The definition restricts political communication to that of election campaigning and takes into consideration pre-election or postelection activity.
Hahn (2003) defined political communication as an ongoing argu- ment in a society about politics. He believed that this dialogue revolved around freedom and order and was therefore a specific mode of commu- nication relating to political conversations. It is generally utilized as a mass mobilization strategy by political leaders and their political organi- zations to communicate with citizens.
Political leadership – The art and science of making decisions on behalf of a country by politicians. Pope Francis, speaking to the US Congress in 2015, opined that “a good political leader is one who, with the interest of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces” (McGregor 2015). Political leaders must therefore exercise political leadership that will create processes which will result in the transformation of their societies.
Political socialization – The process by which members of society develop attitudes and feelings towards politics. In other words, political socialization amounts to political upbringing. Privatization – The process of divesting government-owned assets to private individuals or companies.
Success or failure – The ability or inability of a political leader and his or her administration to communicate with and motivate or demotivate its citizens or supporters to participate in the political process. Here, the litmus test is the ability to win elections.
In chapter 1, the conceptual framework of political communication is presented, including the theoretical and philosophical issues that affect it; the nature of political culture and political communication in Jamaica, as well as the structure of its governmental communication; the analysis of the variables of economic development, the social order and the international and regional agenda; and political advertisement and campaigning. This chapter also exam- ines the current situation as it relates to new media on the island and the impact of it on the democratic process.
The nature of the political culture as it relates to the various institutions which constitute political influence in Jamaica is highlighted in chapter 2, and the role of the family is explored. Attention is drawn to the trade unions and their nexus with the political parties, and emphasis is placed on the role of the media.
Chapter 3 looks at the structure of political communication in Jamaica, while chapter 4 explores the nature of the relationship between the leader and citizens, as well as the effect of economic programmes and policies on mass population.
Chapter 5 considers the introduction of social programmes to society, and then chapter 6 appraises Jamaica’s regional and international outreach. There, some attention is paid to the method of communicating the country’s stance regarding global issues and the population’s reaction to this.
Chapter 7 explores the diverse approaches to political campaigning in depth and considers its evolution since independence. New media, political communication and citizen participation in the process are the focus of chapter 8, including the national response triggered by the introduction of the Internet.
Finally, chapter 9 presents a synopsis of the entire book, including the analysis of findings along with their recommendations and suggestions of opportunities for further research.
I am a known political affiliate of the PNP and have been an active participant in the political process of Jamaica since 1998. I was appointed a senator in the Parliament and then promoted to minister of state in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in 2001. I served in those capacities until 2007, when there was a change of political administration. I was reappointed to the Parliament in 2012 as a senator, and in 2013 was promoted to president of the Senate. These parliamentary and government positions enabled acquisition of first-hand experience with implemented programmes and policies.
Given this context, conducting work on political communication while being an active participant in the political process was occasionally challenging, with some JLP interviewees cautious about responding because they were concerned that the information could be used against them in a political campaign.
However, every effort was made to adhere to the ethical standards required in qualitative work. As a result of my intimate knowledge of the workings of Parliament and government, I was able to triangulate qualitative data with documentary and other sources to avoid bias in the book. This allowed the data to drive the process and mitigated or prevented the inadvertent imposition of personal opinions on the findings, thus enhancing credibility.
Challenges were also presented in preparation of this text by the fact of my visual impairment. Happily, with my vast experience and the assistance of relevant technology, all obstacles were overcome, ending in the successful production of this book.