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Sunday, September 3, 2017

To produce, air, and publish a variety of local productions on State-owned television and radio, with the associated social media network, is not merely a good proposition, it is an absolute requirement if we are going to transform this post-colonial society and begin to develop a civilisation.

Having access to a relevant television and social media institution functioning to provide information, opinions and perspectives on self, told through our history and social relations is a necessity to advance our human development. It is needed for unlocking our creative selves, and for achieving confidence in our ability to independent thinking and action. The programmes produced must lead us away from the adopted tribal-based dispositions we have acquired towards each other. The information and opinion-forming programming must tell of the contributions made by all.

Informational programming will assist in the construction of a national identity and facilitate the development of a sturdy and diversified economic platform. To conceive of and to implement a programme of economic and social diversification requires the nurturing of the creative mind; the genius that we have that gets into the open in unorthodox ways and means through the occasional creative manufacturer: carnival and its creations, in sport, in our musical talents. Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams once said that if only we could replicate our carnival behaviours and creativity throughout the rest of the year, we would be among the greatest countries in the world.

The need for information and creative-based thinking was recognised in the 1980s by the William Demas Wisemen group in the context of Caricom; so too did the West Indian Commission.

We cannot feed our minds 24 hours a day on the products and perspectives of other societies and expect to emerge as an independent-thinking people.

Although the brand TTT remains a powerful one, the focus must not be on the branding, but on how the station is to be constructed to create rich local programming content of news, current affairs and culture, and one that encourages a transformative discourse on political structures, organisations and mobilisation.

Quality programming will attract an audience whatever the station is called. However, the station can also accommodate the screening of government-produced programmes. Such programmes must be slotted into identified spots in the schedules and must be clearly marked-off as “government programmes.”

In the context as outlined above, I fully endorse the intention to construct a state-owned television and radio station to produce and air local programming. However, “state-owned” does not translate into “government-owned.” The state consists of all of the institutions and people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the proposed station/s must embody and reflect that constitutional construct of the state.

What is now required is for the Government to articulate in document form the mandate to be given to the new TTT, and the policy framework in which it will be required to operate. The Government has the outline proposal as developed by the Helen Drayton board. It is to the present, the most complete and adequate document on the construction of the kind of station envisaged.

The Government can choose to adapt or even dismiss the document. However, in its place must come an equally clear and comprehensive outline of intention, complete with how the station is to be financed over the short to medium-term, and critically, how the board of commissioners and executive management will be selected.

Most importantly, the Government must divest itself of control over the institution. It must have no supervision over editorial policy. That must be pre-determined and placed under the management control of the editorial management of the station. An absolute requirement for the electronic media environment, not merely the state-owned station, is the establishment of an independent broadcast authority, every sophisticated media environment in the world has one.

Its function will be to establish and monitor standards of broadcasting by all electronic media.

As to the funding of the station, the Government, on behalf of the state, already has quite an amount of capital invested in plant and equipment and in the archives of the station/s. It may need to invest even more dependent on the state of the existing equipment. The Drayton report outlined a method of funding from state agencies and more. I would add that the multi-national corporations operating here must be induced to invest in national development through the station; many such organisations give grants through foundations internationally.

Those institutions with a stake in T&T, the trade unions, the NGOs, credit unions and co-operatives, the private sector establishments, must invest in a stake in the public service broadcasting company. People, viewers, listeners must all be allowed to invest in the station.

Most critically, the privately-owned production companies, which will provide content for the stations, must be part of the constructed production environment.

It is only when such an outline is fashioned in conjunction with public opinion that we can take seriously the intention of the Government to establish a public service broadcasting facility. And just in case anyone in Government believes that control of the state-owned media will help it to win the next election, I have been there through People’s National Movement (PNM), National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), United National Congress (UNC) and People’s Partnership/UNC governments, the station loses credibility and the audience disappears.


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