Interviews

An Interview with Jamaican Media Consultant & Author, Marcia Forbes, PhD

Written by Glen Laman

Dr. Forbes is author of the book, Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica.  She is well known in Jamaica for her success in transforming the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) into the privately owned Television Jamaica (TVJ).  She was also the keynote speaker at Atlanta’s Jamaican Independence Ball in 2011.
 
1) Why did you write, “Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica?”
For many, many years I’ve felt that I have at least one book in me. Based on my experience from Phase Three Productions, the multi-media production company my husband and I formed in the 1980s, later complemented by what I learnt at TVJ, I really wanted to write a book on the history of media in Jamaica.  Having watched the way in which television evolved from a single station (JBC) which broadcasted for a few hours each day in the 1960s to three free-to-air stations and a plethora of cable systems with numerous channels and being in the forefront of the cut and thrust of some of these changes gave me a great vantage point from which to write.  Serving on the board of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union based in Barbados and the executive committee of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association in the UK, allowed me the opportunity to view the role of media not just from a local perspective but regionally and globally as well. 

When the time came to settle down to reading toward a PhD, my focus was on the ways in which youth audiences interfaced with television, in particular with music videos, a key programme genre of youth culture and one which had captured the hearts and minds of young Jamaicans.  Having observed the ways in which music videos had morphed into soft porn, a far cry from my days as video producer and director at Phase Three in the 80s and early 1990s, I was keen to understand what youths made of the video images and lyrics and how these influenced their creation of self, social and sexual identities. 

The overseas examiner commented that she had never seen a Ph.D. candidate take on such a large body of work and commended me for being able to get it done. The process toward the Ph.D. was a journey I’d never again want to experience in life!!  More than anything else, it taught me humility, patience and perseverance.  But from day one of that journey I was clear that this body of work would become my first book.  And so it has!  Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica is written in honour of our youth who gave a tremendous amount of time and showed great interest during my data collection. My plan is that they will learn and grow from reading my book which has been accepted by the Caribbean Examination Council as a required text for sociology at the Advanced Proficiency Level.  It is equally relevant to Caribbean Studies and to several other university courses.

2) What are the implications of the trends you describe for Jamaica’s future?

Since the time of my data collection in 2004 to 2007, there have been some changes in locally produced music videos.  These have been brought about by the actions of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, with focus on ensuring that certain types of images and lyrics are not aired on free-to-air TV during times when children are likely to be a main part of the audience. Parental advisories and labeling of all programmes have also been mandated under the Children’s Programme Guidelines.  Clearly though, decency and good taste are highly subjective and very controversial, additionally media are invasive and ubiquitous plus the internet offers the easily accessible world wide web.  Jamaica’s youth are not peculiar.  All around the world there are concerns about certain types of media contents.

It really boils down to parenting and instilling certain values in our youth.  Media literacy programmes which will help youth to understand the motivations behind media messages are also quite important and that’s the direction I’m heading with my work.  There are tough issues which Government, civil society and parents – all of us need to tackle!!  While I would never support the argument that media merely reflects reality, the fact is that our youth are beset with social conditions such as high levels of sexual violence (incest, rape etc.), poverty, crime and neglect which go to the heart of why media may be so easily able to negatively influence so many of them.  Media provides the escape some of them are searching for and allows them to live large vicariously.  We need to address the social conditions to allow our youths, especially males, more opportunities to succeed by pursuing acceptable avenues toward wealth creation.
 

3) What were the most unexpected findings from your research?
The ways in which young males, based on heavy consumption of certain genres of music videos, are influenced into sexual activities.

  • The resilience of females–despite heavy consumption of music videos.
  • That religion did not play as much of a salutary role as I had anticipated.
  • The powerful and pervasive influence of dancehall across gender and social class.
  • I found that, to youths, music videos represent far more than entertainment and serve several important roles in their lives.

4) You have had several successful careers prior to this, what prompted the latest change?
I don’t see being a researcher and author as so much of a career change since the work I’m doing is entirely media-focused.  It’s really about making progress in one’s life and moving to self-actualize in ways which will benefit society and ambitiously, the region and even the world. I’m taking on one aspect of media work that no one else in Jamaica or the English-speaking Caribbean is doing.  That is to hear from youth themselves and what they have to say about their relationships with media and to analyse this and present it back to them in book and other forms that they can use to enlighten themselves. Having focused on youth and television and represented that body of work through Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, my focus is now on ‘new’ media, which is really perhaps not so new anymore since the internet is now 20 years of age but it’s new to many Jamaican youths.  Then there are the social networks like Facebook and Twitter, at 7 and 5 years old, respectively, they are new but are revolutionizing the ways in which we communicate.  I’m getting in on the early days of these in Jamaica and riding the wave of youth engagement with these technologies, what they make of them and how they are shaped by them.  It’s fascinating work really!!

5) Which of your former careers has had the most profound impact on you?
Everything I am today is a coming together of everything I’ve done in my life so far and so it’s extremely difficult and I daresay impossible for me to dissect and say this or that aspect had the most profound impact.  I went into nursing as a teenager because my boyfriend (now my husband of over 30 years) was sure that the sun rose and set on nurses.  So it was really to prove to him that I could be as good as any of the nurses he worshipped.  By the time I was 30 years of age I left nursing having been trained as a Registered General Nurse, Registered Midwife, Critical Care Nurse, Nurse Educator and Nurse Manager.  I was a Ward Sister (Charge Nurse) in my 20s, unheard of in those days and being trained for a leadership role in the profession.  Nursing has had a great positive influence on me even now that I’m studying youth behaviour.  I remember a Professor at UWI wondering how I could take on the kind of research work I did for Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica.  She felt it required a background in psychology.  What she did not know is that I had done quite a bit of psychology in my various nursing training programmes plus on the job experience with children and adolescents as Sister in charge of a paediatric ward.

 Whatever area I take on, my goal is always to balance on-the-job experience with formal training, so on leaving nursing for the media world, although I co-owned and worked full-time in my multi-media television production business, Phase 3 Productions Ltd., that didn’t stop me from getting my BA and MA in media/communication.  Soon thereafter it was the challenge of Television Jamaica (TVJ) which is where I came to national and regional recognition through my work and the successes I, along with a small team, was able to achieve.  My Ph.D. was done through the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication so I’m really entirely steeped in media and this is the area I plan to continue with through writing books, conducting workshops, giving lectures/presentations etc.  My media life has been and continues to be an awesome journey.  This body of work that I’m currently engaged in examines youth in relation to new media.  It keeps me interested and fresh in my outlook.  I’ve been learning a great deal and that always makes me happy.  It’s just the money that continues to evade me in this new role of researcher, author but I’m convinced that it will come.

The one year foray into Government was really a great way of fleshing out my life experience. As a Permanent Secretary I served at the highest level of the civil service and learnt a tremendous amount, the kinds of things one could never learn from a book, listening to the radio or watching TV.  It made me understand at a very intimate level why so many things in Government and in Jamaica do not work and the ways in which the Civil Service and the Political Process are in dire need of total overall.  This extremely packed one year stint also allowed me to serve Jamaica in a different way since private sector representation is so different from representing at a Government to Government level.  The fact that I covered two different ministries, Mining & Telecommunications and later Energy & Mining when the Prime Minister made changes, allowed me to represent Jamaica on issues relating to telecommunications, mining and energy, taking me to China, Singapore, Peru, Venezuela and the Caribbean.  I know it was an honour to have served my country in this way.

6) How would you describe your upbringing?

I will answer this by telling you the professions and training of my adopted parents, my paternal Aunt and her husband. My Aunt having attended Teachers’ College and later attained her Master’s Degree, was the head teacher of an All-Age School in Irish Town.  My Uncle served in the Royal Air Force (administrative services), was trained in theology and worked as the Financial Controller of what was quite a large company in those days, Cremo Limited.  They were both professional and conservative. 

I grew up understanding right from wrong and knowing very well that wrong-doing was punishable.  So as a little girl when I got angry and bit a child in the line, Auntie made them pull me from the line, had me apologize to the child and instructed the school to call me dog so as to teach me a lesson.  That was the end of my biting ways!!

Books were always a part of my life and I had to read.  There was also discipline in doing homework and accomplishing household chores, even when there were two helpers.  Aunty made sure her girls learnt to cook and wash and bake, attend church, teach Sunday School, sing on the choir, were confirmed in the Anglican faith and understood that failure was not an option.  We had to come to something – ‘Miss Oyen girls’ as the community lovingly called my cousin and I.  My Aunt, to whom my book is dedicated, is Ho-Yen, hence the Jamaicanism of Oyen.  Her husband, God Rest His Soul, was full Chinese and instilled that work ethic in us.

7) Is there a life lesson you can share with us?
It’s not where you are coming from but where you are going. Never look down on anyone, except to lend a helping hand.

You can learn more about Marcia Forbes on the web at http://www.marciaforbes.com/

About the author

Glen Laman