Broadcasting Jamaica to the world for over 30 years- Phase 3 Productions

Whether it is the sweet reggae music, spicy food or record-breaking athletes that define Jamaica’s culture, for more than three decades, one company has been instrumental in conveying this culture to its citizens and the rest of the world.

Phase 3 Productions started thirty years ago not as a business, but as a hobby, as Richard Forbes nurtured his love of video production in his Kingston home. Since then, it has grown into a multi-million dollar company that has broadcast some of the nation’s most important events. Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Desmond Tutu, Fidel Castro and the Queen of England were just some of the state visits Phase 3 produced. And then there are the landmark cultural events such as Summerfest, Rebel Salute, Jamaica Jazz and Blues Fest and sports such as the Jamaica Athletics Association’s World Championship, the ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ Championships and the CONCACAF Under-17 Women’s soccer competition.

This year marks three decades that the Forbes family, consisting of Marcia, Richard and son Delano, have owned and operated Phase 3 Productions in Jamaica. It now employs 100 freelancers and a full-time staff of 25 people.

Phase 3’s roots originate from Richard’s love of technology and his dabbling as a DJ. “It very, very quickly grew into a real business,” says Marcia Forbes during an interview in her colourful office.

Its first ventures included three JBC television shows (Sports Spotlight, to mention one) and music videos for Lady G, JC Lodge and Lovindeer. And Phase 3, through Delano’s work on music videos, also produced Voice winner Tessanne Chin’s video for Hideaway. Delano also won the Caribbean Broadcasting Union’s Best Video of the year for three years straight.

In the early years, business started to take off as the government-run public broadcaster Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) began to rely on Phase 3 to transmit events. “The JBC’s outside broadcast unit broke down, so they commissioned us to do national events,” says Forbes of one of the company’s first challenges. Forbes recalls another particularly difficult day, when Phase 3 had two outdoor events at opposite ends of Kingston scheduled, and only one mobile broadcasting unit. “All our vans had flashers, and we were driving from downtown with our flashers on with someone hanging out the van and a police escort. We managed to set up before the JBC,” she recalls with a laugh.

Fast forward to present-day. In 2012, Phase 3 produced 323 hours of local content, almost half of which was carried on live television, and 2013 exceeded 500 hours. Phase 3 has also worked with other international channels (NBC’s Telemundo, Televisa, TV Azteca, beIN Sport and Traffic Sport) and has broadcast the live stream to Brazil, Japan, the USA, the UK and other countries in Europe and Africa. The company’s clients include Sagicor, Sandals, the Jamaica Observer LIME, Flow, BET, MTV, Viacom and the Bank of Jamaica. Phase 3 was also the official broadcaster for Jamaica 50’s celebrations at the Jubilee Village.

But of course, growing a business over three decades is not without a steep learning curve, Forbes admits. However, these challenges over the years have translated into wisdom and skills that are now relayed to Phase 3 staff and dozens of university students, who pass through as interns. In the past year alone, Phase 3 took on eight interns and hired three. And in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Phase 3, the company plans to formalize this training with a structure program for interns and newcomers eager to learn more about the industry.

Jamaica’s university students are not the only ones who learn on-the-job at Phase 3. Son Delano, who is now the Creative Director and CEO, got his start in the industry as early as age 5, when he acted in television commercials. By age 12, he was working with his parents at the company, rolling up cables and cleaning equipment, and at 16, slowly took on more and more responsibility as his father Richard lost his sight. In addition to this practical experience, Delano has academic qualifications to back it up; he has a BFA from New York University in Film Directing (with a minor in Economics) and an MBA from Florida International University.

“In terms of our field, without blowing our own trumpet, we act as a resource,” says Delano. “We are not just an equipment resource. It is not uncommon for us, even for jobs that we’re not working on, that producers will call us. Some people refer to us as a university because a lot of companies have come out of Phase 3. We have no issues at all with that kind of scenario. People who come here, we are all learning from each other. Lot of people know us for reinvesting heavily, for our hard work and for keeping up to date. Us being able to transition through the decades does speak to us in a good light.”

As does the company’s resourcefulness. “We have learned how to make do with very little,” Mrs. Forbes says, touching on the difficulties of doing business in Jamaica. “We have also learned that you are only as good as your last job. If you don’t deliver then you are chopped liver. Everybody wants to be the best, and entertainers are not always easy to deal with,” she says, adding that while the entertainment industry aspect seems “sexy” to outsiders, it is anything but. In fact, it is long hours, coping with the unexpected and accommodating many demands from clients.

(Read another good piece about the Forbes family and Phase 3 here.)

Perhaps the most substantial experience came with the live broadcast of Sting, which is an annual “clash” of words between dancehall artists. This year marked the first time that it was streamed live via pay-per-view to the North American market (93 million homes, to be exact). In a series of logistics way too confusing for those not in the industry to understand, four signals were broadcast to Las Vegas, where they were then picked up and relayed to American and Canadian homes.

While the event had a few glitches, it was deemed a huge success, and other businesses have come calling for Phase 3’s recipe. “From our end, in terms of the signal, it was highly successful,” says Forbes, adding that the live nature of the broadcast was relatively unprecedented.

The company plans to apply this method to other events such as major sports competitions, and they are even planning to provide the capability to stream them live to people’s tablets or phones. This level of innovation is not without sacrifices, however, Forbes adds. “We lost our shirt but not our pants,” she says of live streaming events, especially sports, but this takes a lot of resources. “There is a tremendous interest in live streaming athletics, but then you need customer service departments, you have to purchase the bandwidth, you have to guess or plan for the right amount of subscribers. There are many, many issues related to live streaming.”

It is, however, the way of the future, as is high definition television, Forbes adds. To this end, Phase 3 keeps its technology as up-to-date as possible. “We see our role as pioneers in content export,” Forbes says, adding that production is now mainly based on software. In the bigger picture, Forbes says Phase 3 is committed to remaining a foundational company in Jamaica. “We are committed to reinvesting and offering jobs to Jamaicans. There is a lot wrong with Jamaica, that is true, with crime and corruption being a double-headed monster, but despite the negatives, every cloud has a silver lining and we choose to look for the silver lining…We have been here for 30 years and we have some level of investment, so we are still relevant. We are proud of our longevity and we have not stood in the same place, while we have watched other companies come and go…We are totally committed to Jamaica. We don’t have one foot somewhere else. This is where we work and where we choose to live.”

Phase 3 now has eight high definition cameras and a $20 million (JMD) high definition field production truck. The company has also invested more than $300 million (JMD) in equipment and in 2012, acquired assets worth $55 million. Unfortunately, none of this infrastructure can be locally sourced, as it is not manufactured in Jamaica, Forbes adds, which is a “real opportunity cost. When we buy equipment, nothing we use is produced locally.”

All this acquisition is taking place in the midst of a dramatically changing market that is being shaped by social media and new technology, Forbes adds.

“The market has been revolutionized. You had big production houses and now everybody is a producer or content creator. The business model has evolved and we have embraced social media,” she says. Indeed, Forbes is considered a social media expert and has two books to back it up: Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles and Music Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica. She also completed a Fullbright Fellowship at Emerson College in Boston some years ago, where she completed a Master’s degree in Global Media, Communications and Advertising. Forbes continued this education and is actually known formally as Dr. Forbes, as she completed her Phd in Communications at the University of West Indies.

So what is next for Phase 3? There have been rumblings about taking the company public, Forbes says, and in fact, some major financial firms have indicated interest in this prospect. “But we like the autonomy. We will expand and that’s the thrust of where we are going.”

(Full disclosure: Phase 3 provided complimentary passes to the 2014 Jazz and Blues Festival so I could get a sense of the scope of the company’s activities.)

Sigma Run

This morning marked the 16th annual Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run 2014. According to race organizers, 22,368 people took part, both runners and walkers. It is the largest race in Kingston and proceeds go to charity. To date, $118 million (JMD) has been raised for organizations that focus on children’s welfare.

The route is officially 5.5 kilometres and tracks through the corporate area. I have done most of the races now and this is by far the most popular, and therefore crowded. We were all packed into the main street, waiting for the gun to go off. There was about a half hour of speeches and ceremonial events, the highlight of which was the singing of the national anthem by Tessanne Chin.

The wheelchair athletes depart first, then the runners, then the walkers. It was a slow time for me but good to get back out there for my first race since the full marathon. I officially ranked 7th in my age group and 34th out of 6,203 females! Enjoy your Sunday.

Kingston at Night

Here is the view of Kingston at night from a place called Lookout at the top of Red Hills Road. Other than some dogs barking and cicadas making their noise, it is quiet and peaceful up there. The whole city is visible, from the airport to Portmore to the tall buildings of downtown. And it was a full moon.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! This is Flora the dog, who lives in Treasure Beach in Jamaica’s south-west parish of St. Elizabeth. We went out on a boat with Flora’s person Ted, who took us to the Pelican Bar and the Black River, where you can see crocodiles.

In this picture, Flora suddenly was aroused from her nap because she sensed dolphins. She felt them before we saw them and then they appeared to us, playing alongside the boat. I hope you are feeling as excited as Flora about someone or something in your life today. Enjoy your day!

Who was your mentor along the way?


How do you move a society forward? This is one of the fundamental questions Dr. Leslie Yaffa has pondered over the years, prompted by her research on mentoring and Jamaican youth. For close to two decades, Dr. Yaffa has devoted her efforts to the effects of mentoring on youth’s self-esteem and potential.

Dr. Yaffa first visited Jamaica in 1996 when she visited as a Master’s student doing her practicum, and late last year, visited Youth Opportunities Unlimited (along with several other volunteer organization such as the YMCA and YWCA) to begin a research project on the effects of mentoring in the Caribbean. Dr. Yaffa lives in Toronto and now works for the online University of New England.

Dr. Yaffa’s rationale for the research (for which she is waiting to hear whether or not she got a grant to continue it, which would involve partnering with YOU) is that mentoring is one of the most effective yet efficient ways of reaching youth. However, there is little to no research in the Caribbean, where YOU is one of the largest mentoring agencies in the region.

“The idea of mentoring is cost effective, first and foremost,” Dr. Yaffa says. “It utilizes the basics of social services like trust, bonding, rapport, advocacy, networking and volunteering service. It gives skills that kids don’t have.”

Not to mention the fact that these interventions, often with youth who have little support or guidance at home, can change a life. “You never know when one interaction and one intervention could change somebody’s path. If we think back, we all have mentors. Think back yourself, and recall that one teacher or coach who said those magic words that bolstered your self-esteem, that made you believe in yourself.”

Perhaps the biggest champion of mentoring is the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. Here are their vision and mission statements:

Vision: Children around the world realize their potential, creating a better future for themselves, their countries, and the global community.
Mission: To help children around the world reach their potential through professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships with measurable impact.

BBBS research shows that mentoring has real, tangible results: one study found that youth in mentoring relationships are 46 % less likely to start using drugs and 27% less likely to use alcohol. They are also shown to stay in school and earn better academic results.

President Barack Obama also urged citizens to get involved in mentoring in this year’s State of the Union address:

Mentors help children build confidence, gain knowledge, and develop the strength of character to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. They are relatives, teachers, coaches, ministers, and neighbors. Anyone can be a mentor, and every child should have the chance to be a mentee. Young people with mentors have better attendance in school, higher self-esteem, a greater chance of pursuing higher education, and a reduced risk of substance abuse. That is why my Administration is creating new opportunities to give back — from expanding national service, promoting responsible fatherhood, and challenging businesses to grow their mentoring activities, to First Lady Michelle Obama’s mentoring initiative, which pairs local high school girls with powerful role models.”

But back to Dr. Yaffa. She founded the Walk Good Foundation, which

conducts research on child and adolescent program development and evaluation in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. Advocacy is a key component to any research that will become practice, and the challenge continues to make sure that networks, collaborations, communities and children and adolescents are continually involved in the evolution of programming.  The roots of Jamaica and the Caribbean are built on a collectivist idea, if any research is to succeed it is important to collaborate and embrace the community as a partner.

The goal of the foundation is to create a bridge from theory (research) to practice.  At the same time creating alternative programming for children and adolescents in Jamaica and Caribbean wide.

Specific to Jamaica, Dr. Yaffa envisions an informal sort of mentoring taking place in the inner-city communities. Rather than relying on people such as Usain Bolt or Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce as mentors, why not recruit more accessible youth, those who live in the communities, who have made mistakes and are able to advise their younger peers about the realities they both face, Dr. Yaffa wonders. She tried this model, with success, before in communities such as Waterhouse.

“We used the model of taking people from the neighbourhoods, and people asked why are we using kids from the streets?” she says. “”But they encourage education and to strive higher, and these are the mentors they see everyday. People like Usain Bolt are not attainable. If you have kids showing ‘I did not do it 100 per cent correctly, you can still do it correctly’, that works. In Waterhouse, we used younger kids and older kids from streets. We had informal conversations and this drew kids in who were standing in streets. Literally, we sat in streets and we brought a different topic every week. It works because people want somewhere to go. They want to belong.”

Which brings Dr. Yaffa back to her original question: how do you move a society forward? How do you not lose the youth to the streets, to a life of crime or poverty? Her research is showing that mentoring works by providing someone to talk to, someone to emulate, to be accountable to, to provide guidance and structure and to simply provide love.

Hopefully her research project will be approved and she will ultimately have raw data to back up what most of us intuitively know: mentoring, listening, simply spending time with someone who otherwise does not experience these basic human necessities, is perhaps the most soothing balm to an ailing soul.

International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers

Today marks International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. This is a concept more typically associated with African nations such as Chad and Uganda. (Thanks KONY 2012).

I have been wondering, however, if this terminology can be applied here in Jamaica. On the weekend, the Jamaica Observer ran an article called “Young ‘shottas’ take on frontline duties,” in which is described the phenomenon of young men being recruited as gunmen for inner-city gangs.

We are seeing more of these cases where youngsters between ages 17-25 are being given more roles to carry out the major crimes in communities where gangs operate,” Steve McGregor, who heads the volatile Kingston Western Police Division told the Jamaica Observer.

The police said that in the first month of the year alone, approximately 25 of these young criminals, all below age 25, have been apprehended in the volatile Kingston West division in connection with serious crimes.

The latest three were nabbed during a series of operations that took place in Denham Town last week. Three high-powered weapons, including an AK 47 were seized during the raids.

“The men were between 17 and 18 years old,” a senior member of the Major Investigation Task Force (MIT) said.

According to the police, criminals between ages 16 and 20 are being used as front men by gangs to commit deadly crimes in communities.

“Young criminals are being placed as front men by criminal gangs to drive fear in the hearts of citizens in communities while older members venture out of their haven to commit other crimes such as contract killings,” the senior investigator said, supporting claims made by McGregor.

I’ve also heard of this from a couple of the youth who have come through YOU. Read about one young man’s experience here.

Child soldiers are usually recruited at a young age by people involved in organized crime. They come from impoverished communities and are often unattached (ie no parental figures), have limited education and live in “conflict zones.”

This is not a secret in Jamaica. But I wonder if the fact that it has become a norm, and the fact that Jamaica is not “Africa”, has cast this issue in a different light. In any case, let’s look at Unicef’s definition of a child soldier:

For the purposes of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes,
UNICEF defines a ‘child soldier’ as any child, boy or girl, under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including, but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members. It includes girls and boys recruited for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage. The definition, therefore, does not only refer to a child who is carrying, or has carried, weapons.

From my observer’s perspective, I would say Jamaica’s youth who have been recruited into gangs, and in the service of gangs, qualify. The term could apply to females as well, who at a young age are called into service by the neighbourhood dons.

According to international NGO Child Soldiers International, there are tens of thousands of youth who are serving as child soldiers. Many groups are working to eradicate this phenomenon, and I wonder, were this definition applied to youth here in Jamaica, what the implications would be. According to the Paris Principles, which were established in 2007, youth under age 18 face different protocols in terms of being punished by law for whatever illegal activities they engage in. So this could have ramifications for Jamaica, should the nation’s lawmakers and citizens choose to embrace this concept. It would, however, probably require a vast shift in mentality in how children and youth are regarded, especially those from so-called “ghetto” communities. Here’s a brief description of the Paris Principles:

The aim of the Paris Principles and Commitments is to combat the unlawful recruitment or use of children by armed forces or armed groups. Their specific objective is to prevent the occurrence of this phenomenon, to secure the release of children concerned, to support their social reintegration and to ensure that they are afforded the greatest protection possible. In adhering to the Paris Commitments, states agree to uphold certain basic principles which will allow them to achieve the set objectives. The Paris Principles give more detailed guidelines on the implementation of the Commitments. As at September 2011, 100 states had endorsed the Paris Commitments.

Clearly, there are more questions than answers at this point, so this is something to ponder on this International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

UPDATE: A quick comment on Jamaica from a colleague of mine who works for the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative: “The techniques for recruitment, the use by adults and the vulnerabilities are all the same – the context can be different but all in all we do see the connections. Context can be considered different given that it is not all out war but conflict still…”

Canadian man missing in JA since Dec. 27, 2013

The other day, I noticed a small ad in the Jamaica Observer: a Canadian man went missing just after Christmas. It seems his family or friends are trying to find him after not hearing anything from him since then. What could have happened to him? The mind can go so many places.

It is coming up on two months now. The Jamaica Star has published a small piece about it. Check it out here. This story seems to have an update from the ad, which listed him as having last been seen at Rick’s Cafe in Negril on Dec. 26. This is a popular place for tourists. This story states that he was last seen in Montego Bay in Rose Heights a day later. This is not an area where most tourists would go. Here is the full story, and the link to the Jamaica Constabulary Force alert:

The police are seeking the public’s assistance in locating a Canadian, who has been missing since Friday, December 27, 2013.

He is 43-year-old Gregory Ashodian of Platanes Quebec, Canada. He is Caucasian, slim build, is about 180 centimetres (5 feet 11 inches) tall and has tattoos on his right arm, chest and left calf.

Information received is that Ashodian was last seen about 11:45 a.m., in Rose Heights, Montego Bay, St James. He has not been seen or heard from since. His mode of dress at the time he went missing is unknown.

Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Gregory Ashodian is being asked to contact the Sangster International Airport police at 952-2241 or 952-6732, police 119 emergency number, or the nearest police station.

“When YOU came aboard, there was a lot of violence and now there is less”

Ann Marie Lynch of Jacques Road Parenting Group
International aid and “development” can be confusing. Who are we “helping” and what are we trying to develop? Why do they need help? How much of its GDP does a country reserve for international aid? What is the rationale for which countries receive funding? Who are the beneficiaries and why are they selected? How do we measure if they actually benefit from the “aid”? How are both parties made accountable? How is the “change” achieved by the “development” sustained?

We can get lost in these questions and the terminology itself. Starting with “development”. Many people have a problem with this word because of the assumption that the communities and nations you are trying to “help” do not measure up to first-world standards. Yes, when it comes to infrastructure, you can apply this term without qualitative, assumptive judgments. A road has too many potholes? No sanitation facilities? Yes, that is not developed and they can be fixed. But when it comes to community relations, how do you go in and “help” and community to “develop?” Whose standards do you apply? What are you trying to achieve?

In the past decade or so, especially after the latest recession hit in 2008, both government and the development community, including Canada, have awakened to the need for increased accountability. Which means international donors (people who grant money to both government and civil society organizations) want to see numbers and budgets. How many people did you help? How do you know you helped them? As development efforts are not always tangible, like a skills training course (you can measure how many people graduate and become employed, versus a conflict resolution course- how can you measure direct benefits in that situation?) it can be challenging to measure these more qualitative efforts.

And more importantly, the reality is that the “help” usually manifests in “change” often only evident in tiny, incremental and less obvious, tangible ways.

To this end, since I arrived here, I have been collecting individual stories from people who have benefited from the non-governmental organization I work with- Youth Opportunities Unlimited (I am here via Cuso International) . YOU is primarily an NGO that provides mentoring to unattached, inner-city youth who come from violent and crime-ridden communities in which unemployment levels are often close to 75 per cent, at least among the youth. I have heard firsthand, however, how YOU has gone into these communities and provided mentoring services and other programs (for example, parenting and life skills workshops and conflict resolution courses) that have had real and lasting effects on troubled communities.

Youth Opportunities Unlimited has worked in Kingston’s inner-city communities for over two decades. It was founded in response to an outburst of gang activity in these communities and is based on the premise of mentoring. To be specific, YOU’s mission and vision focus on the relationship cultivated through the mentoring relationship. Through regular contact with adult role models, the youth build self-esteem and learn how to behave in a work environment. The ultimate goal is to mould youth to become productive, positive members of society. As YOU’s tagline goes, “Developing our youth, building our nation.”

To get a sense of what YOU has achieved, please read on and also visit our Youtube page, where there are testimonials from “beneficiaries.” YOU has changed lives and communities for the better. Let these people tell you about it in their own words.

Navada Smith:
“The program helped me, taught me discipline and how to plan…I learned a lot of things, like how to be organized, how to plan and how to deal with children.”

Arlene Bailey:
“I garnered so much self-esteem…I was in a bad state. (YOU) allow mi fi blossom. Someone with a troubled past tends to be arrogant, but I have been polished a lot.”

Randy McLaren:
“The program gave me a strong platform to help people, to help others and share with others….I learned that we can make suggestions, but to this day, I never tell anyone what to do. It always boils down to the individual.”

Sheryl Hamilton:
“Before, I didn’t think I was being the parent that I ought to be…YOU is an excellent program, especially the parenting workshops. They send parenting skills in a whole new direction that is positive. And I have seen the youth look in positive directions, and this helps to stimulate other young persons in positive directions. YOU has had a lasting impact.”

Ann Marie Lynch, president of Mountain View Youth Group:

“YOU helped us come up with our parenting group and workshop training. A lot of things we are doing in the community now are based on the training we had. It has formed a strong bond in the community. It gets the people together in Mountain View. People can cross boundaries now that they couldn’t before. Jacques Road youth would never go to Bergher and Jarrett Lane. Since YOU came on board, the youth mixed together.

There has been a great change in violence and crime. There is a reduction. It’s because of the program. For the kids, the mentoring is the greatest thing that they have ever had. When YOU came aboard, there was a lot of violence and now there is less.

Mentors are greatest things in the kids lives, even this morning, people were asking about them, when they were coming back. They still go out with their mentors. Lashannette* went out with her mentor the other day for her birthday.

YOU has had a great impact. Especially for the young men, the mentors acted as a father figure or a big sister for the young women. One young woman’s mother died and she got a mentor who acted as mother figure for her.

YOU had a great impact on Mountain View. We are so sorry the program had to end. We have less teenage pregnancy since YOU was there. The youth looked forward to every Saturday, going to the workshop. They did not have anything to distract them so they did not get into trouble.”

Mentor Marcia Skervin:
“I have been a mentor for close to ten years, the opportunity to change one life has been a life changing experience for me, the wholesomeness that comes with mentoring and moulding young people to find their greatness is very rewarding for me.

The partnership and growth that I have experienced with YOU has also shaped my outlook on social responsibility, through that relationship the impact was phenomenal.

I would encourage more active participations in the mentoring programs if we can change one life, we would be well on our way to social change.”