IS PAYOLA AN OLD NAME FOR THE NEW FACE OF EXTORTION AND CORRUPTION?

As an entrepreneur, especially if you ply your wares within the entertainment industry, have you ever paid anyone within media to carry your story…a club launch, a new record release, a new play, or a show? Well, even if you had, I wouldn’t expect you to step up on stage and give an acknowledge bow. But your silence doesn’t mean that you have never done it, or it negates the fact that PAYOLA is still an issue within the media. Payola means the paying of cash or gifts for radio play, and is a combination of the words “pay” and “victrola”, which stands for LP record player. Payola has been around since the inception of the radio, disc jockeys and radio stations were offered money or gifts to play a particular song. When I was a young reporter covering entertainment activities, no one could have paid me to carry their story. On one occasion, I was invited to a particular club launch on Constant Spring Road (Jamaica) where the promoter handed me an envelope. Initially, I thought it contained other information about the club’s operations or weekly activity schedule. However, when I opened the envelope I noticed it contained money. When I asked what the money was for, I was told it was for me “to buy a drink!” Knowing what the implication would be if I was to keep the money, I promptly handed back with a comment that I was there on assignment, besides I was already being paid by my employer to cover the club’s launch. The response I got was even more shocking than the envelope containing the money. “Delroy, you are a strange one… You are the first reporter I had ever handed money and it was refused,” said the club’s promoter. I left the club smiling, knowing that my integrity was intact, besides it has never been for sale. It has been some years since I left mainstream journalism for corporate communications, and I have always been hearing people, particularly from those operating with the entertainment sector, continuing to complain that no matter how they send their news releases to media it hardly ever amounted to anything much. Even though one sees lots of entertainment stuffs being published and aired, sometimes the same people over and over, week after week. And judging from a entertainment news stand point, there’s hardly any news in about these individuals or activities. Now, there could be several reasons for that – either you don’t know how to write and present your news to the targetted media, or your activities weren’t newsworthy enough for the media to take note. In other cases, that’s not the situation. My understanding is that a few reporters, editors, and producers are out there with a price tag, and operating very hush, hush, and under cover. But how can it be stopped? It can’t! Payola, in one form or another, is as old as the music and entertainment business. In earlier eras there wasn't much public scrutiny of the reasons songs became hits or being heavily publicised. Besides, I don’t know of any prosecution for payola in Jamaica, but what I do know a few who were fired as a result. But, what do you do when reporters, editors, and producers are being paid peanuts, just like our men and women in the police force? Doesn’t that make it easier for payola, corruption, and extortion to thrive? Well, if it’s a problem for a police officers hustling on the job, or for community enforcers to collect extortion money, then it is no different for persons in the media to use payola tactics. When the police and community enforcers do things of this nature, we all call it corruption and extortion. When the media do it, we call is PAYOLA – a seemingly harmless word that appears to the uninitiated devoid of anything remotely resembling corruption and extortion. Recently, I was contracted to help an entertainment facility, which must remain nameless at this time, to conduct an official launch, attracted some 350 persons, inclusive of media, entertainers, party goers, politicians, and corporate interests. All extolled the new facility, not just only for bringing in entertainment, and excitement to the vastly domicile community but for brining in enterprise and emerging employer of choice to its host communities. The following day after the launch, nothing about the new facility appeared in the media. The owner was baffled. The second day? Nothing… except fielding a few calls from several media interests, which had representatives at the function, soliciting advertising. Owner became upset… and felt that the publicist didn’t do a good enough job… and oblivious to that fact that over 350 persons turned out at official launch, something for which the publicist was wholly responsible for. Besides, the media turned out in droves. Was the “non-mention” of this particular entertainment facility in the media a case of the publicist failing to “grease” a few palms? Your guess is as good as mine. And that’s one of the insurmountable problem facing most small business operators these days. You have got to pay your way to survive!

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