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State-owned media can be of benefit

Published: 
Monday, October 12, 2015
TONY FRASER

In an electronic media environment in which commercial media are devoted to providing mainly foreign entertainment fare (television) and to meet the lowest common denominator demands on radio, with few exceptions, creatively constituted and deliberately focused, state-owned electronic media are as needed as diversification of the economy. 

Indeed, the establishment of state-owned media following a public service information format of news, current affairs, entertainment and a cultural programming agenda, must be part of the institutional transformation to achieve economic diversification. 

My proposition is that diversification and transformation of the economy and society cannot be achieved without a communications media environment that will nurture the kind of attitudes, intelligence, productive dispositions and human development skills needed for transformation. 

William Demas and his Wise Men report of the 1980s did in fact advocate a vibrant and region-wide media environment in which information and cultural transformation would be relevant. Not too incidentally it is why another commission of the 1990s (Time for Action) recommended region-wide easy movement of journalists and media workers. 

Maybe, however, both the Demas and Ramphal commissions did not sufficiently stress the need for an environment in which quality media should exist as a necessity, precursor even, for economic diversification and transformation to occur. 

At the simplest level of example, a public service information media environment will combat against the insularities and insecurities which continue to plague regional integration in the interest of the Caribbean. Informed public service broadcasting would work at replacing those tendencies with a deep understanding of the importance of linking regional economies and societies at a very fundamental level as we seek to make our way in the world. 

Succeeding governments, when they are kicked out of power by the electorate, claim not to have communicated all their wonderful policies and programmes. What they mean is that they should have engaged in more propaganda. 

The People’s Partnership government spent the last six months of its term saturating the environment with ill-conceived propaganda, irritating the voter and compounding their situation. Their communications maestros sought to effect mass manipulation—not mass communications of a progressive nature. In fact, so blind were they that they did not appreciate, or sought to ignore the fact that the state-owned media they had conscripted (usurped and stolen are perhaps more precise descriptions) had become totally without credibility and audience. 

This is the context in which I make my argument for state-owned media. First, there is need for a quality public service broadcasting medium which would feed the information needs of the society as part of the means of transformation. It is pointless and highly wasteful to have a so-called state-owned media chasing commercial survival in the same manner as the privately owned electronic media. 

Second, to compromise state-owned media in the hope that they would assist the ruling party to return to office has a distinguished history of failure over several governments and ruling parties. If such a notion were to figure in the minds of the government as it wonders what to do about state-owned media, they would save themselves much grief by incarcerating whoever advises them so to do; they just have to check the history of such efforts. 

That having been said let me define precisely what I mean by state-owned media and to distinguish them from much else. The traditional electronic media of radio and television in the form of the stations under what is now known as CNMG comprise one element of state-owned media. Among the entities are several radio stations and one television facility.

Allied to them would be whatever social media capacity which now exists in the CNMG stable of media facilities. Such state-owned media are to be differentiated from the media under the umbrella of the Government Information Service Limited. Those can be rightly considered channels for the government of the day to use as it so desires to communicate with the population. 

It would be up to the enterprise and expertise of those who manage such government-controlled media to make the content attractive enough to ensure themselves of an audience. Plus as has been the case for a long time, the government would, through the licensing arrangements/agreements with all of the privately owned and state media, have access to free time for their programming. Such arrangements could be renegotiated appropriate to the times. 

How are the new state-owned media to be reconstructed? That is a question for discussion and negotiation. However, I would start the discussion by advocating that the reconstituted state-owned media will start life with facilities paid for by the tax payers, those which now belong to the CNMG. 

One option would be for additional working capital to be invested in the media house for an upgrade of equipment and facilities required for the kind of quality public service information media that is being advocated. 

It is possible that various elements of the national community will enter into the partnership with seed capital. What is being attempted here is in the interest of long-term human development not merely seeking to make short-term profits—if financial profits at all. 

The good to be achieved would benefit all in terms of how the society prepares itself for the future. So in the same manner that the government invests in education, similarly the investment in creating a quality state media would be investment in public information and enlightenment.

• To be continued

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