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A broadcast authority can set media standards

Published: 
Monday, October 19, 2015

Covering one of the Tobago House of Assembly elections in the 1980s as a member of a Trinidad and Tobago Television team, we took up residence in Tobago under the direction of news director, Jones Madeira, a week before the poll to report on the campaign.

After a couple days of coverage, we came across an old man in Roxborough.  Walking with the aid of a stick, he approached and asked if we were the people responsible for putting his neighbour on television the night before. Yes, I said apprehensively, not sure what the old man was up to. 
With tears streaming down his face he thanked us for putting his neighbour on TV as that simple act validated the right and value of his neighbour, himself and all of Tobago to be seen on television. 

Back in the 1980s, only Panorama and programmes such as the drama productions of Horace James and Community Dateline with Allyson and Holly’s “Scouting,” Ricky Tiki and a couple others portrayed ordinary people on television.

Our news programmes though were filled with the images of politicians, the captains of industry, one or two trade unionists and select groups of newsmakers; we surely did not place some humble dweller in Roxborough on television.  

Immediately as the old man spoke to me I came to fully understand one of my university readings from Dr Everold Hosein who had asserted that people have a right to communicate on their medium.

“Television, in the final analysis, is a scarce public resource, it belongs to the people. While it may be managed, owned and operated by a select few, the public retains the right to communicate via the technology of the television medium and should have access to those facilities,” said Dr Hosein back in 1976 in an essay which reviewed the imported television content in the Commonwealth Caribbean. 

The old man in Roxborough had gone ahead of us in his desire to see himself and the people of his village on television. The reformulation and conversion of CNMG from being the political rag of the People’s Partnership/UNC is required to do exactly what Dr Hosein had advocated almost 40 years ago and what the old man from Roxborough had desired for.

Hosein’s survey of television stations in the Commonwealth Caribbean found an average local programming consisting of 72 per cent of the overall content; TTT’s was above the average at 73 per cent. I would venture that that percentage of foreign programming versus quality local production has climbed in favour of the imported content.

Three years ago, producer/director, videographer/editor Dion Boucaud and I produced a 90-minute video production, which had been in the making for two years before to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1937 Labour Riots and its implications to the present day.

One television station charged $33,000 to put it on the air, the spokespersons for one other said it had no interest in it, and the “state-owned” television station (CNMG) wanted to show it but would not pay a cent for the recalling and analysing such a vital element of the working class history of the country; to say nothing of two years of production without funding.  

Incidentally, one of the foundation blocks of the documentary was an interview I had done with Ethelbert Blades 15 years before when he was deep in his 90s. He was the only living member of the Butler brigade who had engineered the transformation of the old colonial order.

Only one of the energy corporations here, the National Gas Company, advertised in the production when it went on the air. I recall these matters to indicate the absolute need for television and radio facilities owned by the state of T&T—defined as all of the people and institutions of the society—to reflect, guide and entertain us with quality programming beyond the control of politicians.

The commercial television and radio stations are functioning to meet the needs of owners and managers and viewers interested in that form of entertainment. The main fare of the radio stations is about shouting, political and ethnic bias.

Outside of such programming, there is an absolute need for a media house directed to developing the information and consciousness base of the society. Political parties, all of them, are not interested in having such a media house.  Their objective is indeed in a different direction; they want to keep the population entrapped in race and party fanaticism. 

As a vital element of creating quality media, including the privately owned television and radio stations, there is the need for the establishment of a Broadcast Authority to develop quality standards for the electronic media to achieve and sustain. There are several models in the international community as to how the Authority will be constituted and how the codes and standards are to be arrived at.

One model for T&T would see media houses, media institutions such as the Media Association of T&T, the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association, labour, the religious bodies, the business community, political parties, non-government organisations and several others contributing ideas on the formation of the Authority.

Such an institution should be funded by all of the groups involved, at least initially, with a broadcast template and an independent management structure coming out of planning and discussion. 

• To be continued. 

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