Anyone who spends a great deal of time on social media will be very familiar with the new language of “likes”, “shares” “tweets” and ” followers”. The numbers associated with these are the indicators of popularity, reach, power, approval and value.
For example, If I post something to Facebook, lets say a photo of myself at the beach, that photo may receive 100 likes, 30 shares and tweeted and re-tweeted 50 times by my 2000 followers. This system creates a ranking or measure for what is popular and what is important.
Now if the issue is “Public” something that appears on a Jamaica Observer or Jamaica Gleaner headline, the ranking system then becomes connected to a “public opinion”. This public opinion suggests what “we” like, what “we” think and who “we” are. The “we” is Jamaican.
Part of the challenge with this understanding of public opinion is the view of the Jamaicans are easily stereotyped or/and simplified and therefore used conveniently.When we talk about the public’s opinion whose opinion are we talking about? where do we hear it and why does it matter?
Public opinion is usually used to refer to ideas and beliefs that a group of individuals hold. in response to national issues or issues which affect a large group of people.
The Dynamics of Public Opinion in Jamaica
If a certain group of people have an issue or cause in Jamaica and they start to defend it, talk about it, advocate for it and it becomes public. Does public opinion kill it or support it?
After two weeks of newspaper headlines, discussions on current affair programmes, protest and Facebook posts about the University of the West Indies terminating the contract of Professor Bain; i couldn’t help but think about all the other hotly debated topics and protests before this one.
Do you remember some months ago the tension between Public transport operators in the Kingston Metropolitan region and the JUTC, The stoning of JUTC buses?
Do you remember the discussion protests and debate around any of the following;
The Vybz cartel murder trial?
Goat Islands and the Logistics Hub?
The Cuban Light bulb scandal
The Tivoli commission of inquiry
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Millers travel expense and trip to China
The JLP Leadership race
The prison school report
The HFLE curriculm
The killing of Dwayne Jones
The rape of 4 women and a baby in St.James
In all these issues what was the “public opinion” and how did it affect what was being discussed? In the case of JUTC (Jamaican Urban Transit Company), I recall a split for and against private bus owners. Some persons pointed out that the buses on those routes were notoriously undisciplined and that the Government (JUTC )should restore order on the bus routes, others supported the government because the measures were an attempt to stop the public bus company from losing millions. Those who were in support of the private bus owners argued that they needed to work too and the government was being unfair.
This is always one feature of what is captured as public opinion in Jamaica. It is simply for or against.
The “public” in Jamaica is represented as the simple man or woman usually of African descent ( even though the motto says out of many one people). Using this representation there is little expectations of complexity or connection between issues, even history because the simple man or woman usually of African descent is not complex.
Media and Journalism the creators of Public Opinion in Jamaica
There is a suggestion that the public opinion is independent, authentic and representative. I am suggesting that there are three main ways in which the public’s opinion is shaped and three main ways where we hear the public’s opinion. The public’s opinion is shaped by newspaper headlines, tv and radio news reports, dancehall artists and current affairs programmes. This makes it difficult to distinguish who is saying what. This is the second characteristic of public opinion in Jamaica
Let us use the example of the Health and Family life Education curriculum.
This is a headline which appeared in the Jamaica Observer on Monday, July 08, 2013.
Gay material now expunged from school curriculum, says Thwaites
THE Ministry of Education has made it mandatory that schools, starting at the early childhood level, teach Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) as a core subject.
Principals have been reminded that all early childhood students up to grade 3 at the primary level, must, as part of the integrated curriculum be taught the equivalent of at least 30 minutes of HFLE per week; students in grades 4-6 a minimum of 40 minutes per week; and students in grades 7-9 at the secondary level for at least 30 minutes, twice per week.
“I wish to stress the point that HFLE is as necessary as all the other subjects, and the time allotted should not be reallocated to other subject areas,” Education Minister Ronald Thwaites insisted in an address to the Ocho Rios Primary School leaving ceremony last week.
The HFLE curriculum was withdrawn last year because some parents and teachers objected to the previous material for grades 7-9, saying it promoted the gay lifestyle. It has since been revised and all material in the curriculum now said to be age-appropriate and sensitive to the traditional beliefs and practices of the Jamaican Society. Minister Thwaites announced that the revised publication would be distributed at the start of the new school year.
He advised the Ocho Rios Primary students that HFLE lessons would help them to adopt healthy lifestyles and avoid risky behaviours, such as teenage motherhood and fatherhood, which can hinder their personal development.
The education minister also urged parents to start putting together their contribution to the school’s auxiliary fee, so that by September they would be in a position to pay it as responsible parents or guardians.
“These fees are integral to the efficient operation of all public schools. The Government alone cannot provide financial support to educational institutions,” stated Minister Thwaites.
This is a news item which covers the story;
In both cases what does the public understand about these issues before it comes to them as a news item on tv or in the newspaper. Where have we been talking with the public about these issues just because they are important considerations, not scandals and problems. This is the third quality of public opinion in Jamaica it is deeply connected to an issue or problem.
The fourth characteristic of public opinion in Jamaica is the underdeveloped ideas on which it relies and the source of these ideas in folk knowledge, colonialism, and Christianity.
What essentially happens is a deceptive separation between the public and “others”. Politicians, Policy makers, people who make the news, business people in Jamaica are not considered as the public, they are not calculated as a part of “public opinion”. They are given space for their views to be separate and different. They are experts.
This is the fifth characteristics of Public opinion in Jamaica. You will see this public opinion expressed on current affairs programmes on TV such as All Angels which airs on TVJ
There are many conclusions which we can draw from this brief exploration without denying that there is need for a significantly more critique and detailed analysis. This post has probably just opened up a few ideas around public opinion in Jamaica. I was really searching for a way to identify and explain the dynamics of a particular idea,” Jamaican public opinion”.