Mr. president, members of the TTPBA executive, TTPBA members, specially invited guests, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I am acutely aware that I may have been set up, for there is nothing more challenging that listening to someone with a microphone rambling when all you want to do is enjoy your meal and move from the vertical to the horizontal position, post haste, probably by passing the now popular 6.30. WHICH by the way is not the time of day! I have had the misfortune of pretending to be interested, while someone rambled on for inordinately long periods; I hope I do not tonight fall prey to such temptation tonight. I may be long but hopefully not winded. Having spent all of my adult life in broadcasting I determined that I should focus to some extent on the state of play in the industry and if possible, at the same time keep you out of a semi comatose state. I have always relied on humour as my main weapon, some say my only weapon in public Speaking, and today’s media landscape is not short of fodder for such weaponry. I was advised that I could speak for 30 minutes, before you groan in collective agony be assured that I will heed my wife’s advice, “after five minutes you do tend to lose your steam so keep it short and sweet” ………she was referring my 5 minute daily radio satire Market Vendor for those whose minds may have wandered elsewhere! My entire working life has been and remains the pursuit of my passion in the media business, so perhaps I should restrict my observations tonight to that area of presumed expertise. Having read my first television newscast at age 17 and been a broadcaster since, spending the last 26 years as CEO of B’dos’ number one electronic media house Starcom Network and having created the region’s first pan Caribbean Network, the OCM Network, I could be forgiven for regarding myself as having over 40 years of media experience to date! Perhaps what I really have is one year’s experience repeated 40 times! There are two over-arching themes that I seek to underscore in this presentation, one deals with my lifelong commitment to the region through my work as a broadcaster and as President of the CBU and first chairman of CMC, The Caribbean Media Corporation, The other speaks to the frustrating matter of quality and standards which are daily sacrificed in order to drive shareholder value and increase profits. Both objectives are under severe threat, increasingly we live in an insular environment and the airwaves both radio and television abound with mediocrity. A broadcaster, entrusted with the airwaves has a great capacity to do good or evil within a society, he or she has the opportunity to influence for good or bad the direction of the society.” A quote from a speech I made over 30 years ago; it was relevant then as it is now. I have taken the liberty of altering to some extent, tonight’s topic, opting instead to look at “The role and responsibility of media in a changing landscape” after all, the suggested title of Media and Morality seemed like an oxymoron! Today to a greater or lesser degree, we, the people of the region, find ourselves facing all kinds of challenges: some live in fear of devaluation, downgrades by international rating agencies, VAT, taxation, lack of growth in our main engines, “for sale” signs everywhere, layoffs in the private and public sector, industrial action and social dislocation.
We yearn for clarity and decisive leadership at all levels - the world as we knew it, is not the same. We cannot and must not leave it to politicians alone to determine the future. Now more than ever WE the Media must play our part charting a new course for country and region. We have become unproductive and our service levels have declined. At some levels of our society there is a sense of entitlement – “what are you going to do for me?” - nurtured by our political systems that often lead people to believe the propaganda that just by voting for someone, somehow mysteriously everything will be all right! And if you accept the proposition that media is a reflection of society then we, this region, may be close to the precipice.
Let us look at the state of media today: In order to best understand the context, challenges and responsibilities of today's media, it is necessary to understand the changes that have taken place in media within the last decade. The 2 key elements in today's media mix are 1) traditional or legacy media, and 2) new media. In many respects these 2 media forms are expected to coexist in a largely antithetical relationship. Legacy Media operated the PUSH model where the provider determined what you were going to see or hear, when, where and how. It is in essence a provider driven media model. New Media on the other hand utilizes the PULL model where the consumer decides the what, when, where and how to suit their particular appetite. It is essentially a consumer led model. In legacy media, news was gathered by the media house passed through the traditional filters of verification before being exposed to the public; the new media environment is increasingly influenced by consumers reporting on events and sharing opinions without the responsibility of filtering for verification. We have entered an instant media world in which getting it first seems more preferable to getting it right. Source verification vs speculation.
There can be little argument that New Media is giving traditional media a run for its money, the cost structures are relatively cheap operationally, there is little need for the cost structures that impact traditional media. New media is global in its reach, size really no longer matters! Legacy media is largely constrained by national boundaries. These contrasts and often contradictions provide an adequate backdrop against which the challenges of today's media need to be examined. The imperatives of meeting targets and budgets and improving shareholder value drive media managers to use the fewest resources for the maximum output while in many cases devaluing the product in the process! A simple example comes to mind: years ago I was dismayed to watch a television programme where the presenter constantly shout “director roll the film.” Mics were inaudible and guests seemed to walk in off the street and the cameras and lighting would not have met basic broadcast requirements. I do not deny the popularity of the programme nor condemn the presenter but could we not have achieved minimum broadcast standards while attending the public’s interest? Boards of directors seldom discuss content and once the bottom line is in on target with projections, in a sense all is well. It is not! Today Legacy Media is also under attack from social media and in our quest to get it FIRST we are at times sacrificing the need to get it RIGHT. Social media will transmit in real time the salacious and even horrifying images of blood and mayhem. Social media in a sense is answerable to no one whereas legacy media is held to a higher standard. In Barbados last year a video of two high school students having sex in a class room was on social media for a couple of weeks. When the Nation newspaper subsequently ran the story on its back page it lead to a furore, a police investigation and subsequently to charges being laid in the law courts against the senior Editorial staff and publisher. This example clearly shows that legacy media will be held to a higher standard than social media AND underscores the importance of legacy media … the story did not receive national attention until the Nation newspaper gave it prominence.
Consider the impact on media of the following points: *Libel and defamation laws and the onerous legal and financial burden placed on legacy Vs. new media. These financial burdens have the capacity to bankrupt a media houses; few of today’s Media could survive a U.S.multi million dollar award as occurred in Jamaica some years ago. A now famous case involving most of the existing media in Barbados has been going on for 25 years, to date one media group has spent over $5Million TT in legal costs and counting.
PROPENSITY FOR DISINFORMATION AND MISCHIEVOUS MISINFORMTION.
Some might argue that legacy media is as capable of such mortal sins as social media, opposition parties across the region daily complain of a lack of access to state owned media. In Barbados the former head of news and current affairs at the state owned television station some months ago admitted that he was part of the early planning team for the last election. Presumably he was able to carry out his role as a member of the party faithful and then put on another hat and go to work and perform objectively as a news editor.
OPINION VS FACT.
Examine if you will, the concept of untrained citizen journalists vs the discipline of trained professional journalists and the impact on an informed society. How many of us would hand over our new car to a trainee mechanic just out of U.T.T.?
Or let just anyone off the street cut and style your hair? Yet that is precisely what we do when we unleash the untrained on society! And what about our commitment to the region and to Caricom, what is our role as media practitioners, do we believe that we have a role, a responsibility to break down the obvious barriers within our region and to offer critical support for the integration movement? I make no apology for being a committed regionalist. My family structure alone is a
manifestation of the Caribbean experience, however the existence of a Caribbean Broadcasting presence today varies from barely breathing to comatose. With over 30 radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago, fewer that five are members of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union with over 150 radio stations in the region a similar pattern emerges. Why is this? The CBU, midwifed into this world in 1970 by UNESCO, has played a critical role in the development of broadcasting in the intervening 44 years, initially focusing on regional programming, subsequently negotiating rights and coverage on a regional basis for major sporting events including Olympics, World Cup Soccer, cricket among others. The Union represented the interests of broadcasters in major fora internationally, including being a part of the committee of experts on a new treaty to protect the rights of broadcasters and provides training opportunities for over 100 media practitioners every year. Partnering with FES of Germany, in the early 90s we took the bold step to establish a satellite uplink facility and the exchange of content which commenced in 1986 and blossomed under the leadership of the late Michael Abend of the FES and saw an explosion of original local programming across the Caribbean. We established a Hall of Fame to recognize outstanding broadcasters, A Caribbean Song festival to support our indigenous writers and later joined forces with the Caribbean News Agency,(CANA) to create the Caribbean Media Corporation and the indigenous channel Caribvision. Today, the CMC and its subsidiary Caribvision are in intensive care; neither enjoys support from Caricom and only some broadcasters offer limited acceptance of the content
offerings. Small wonder then we have had so many misunderstandings over issues affecting our Region: the Shanique Myrie affair, landing rights for RedJet, higher tariffs on Barbados beer in St.Lucia and the repatriation of many Guyanese from B’dos, the challenge for many in accepting the CCJ as the final court of appeal in our region and the continued bickering over LIAT and other matters. No one is telling the story of the region, hence the mis-information and misunderstanding. The CBU offers many training programmes annually for members; these modules offer financial support to the participants from member organizations, but the importance of these sessions goes far beyond simply training. They create an awareness of each other and this helps to build contacts and links across the region. Today, unless I am prepared to go on line, it is very possible to exist in a world where my news has little or nothing from other Caribbean countries and in fact when it comes to the Dutch Antilles and the French speaking countries I could assume that nothing happens there as there is little if any news at all from these countries. In a sense therefore I am calling for a recommitment by broadcasters and Caricom to offer support and be a part of our regional broadcasting institutions, To recommit to training as a key strategy in the development of professional broadcasters and journalists and to embrace social media as a critical component of our media
strategies, traditional media needs to support its New media platforms with the same energy as is given to the legacy media. The CCJ is headquartered here in Trinidad yet the country is yet to join the CCJ and based on the remarks attributed to the Hon P.M. a couple weeks ago when she said it was inevitable that Trinidad would eventually have to join the CCJ I concluded this was not about to happen anytime soon. As I read the remarks I could not help but interpret the comments in a negative light, joining the CCJ sounded like something we might HAVE to do rather than something we are looking forward to doing. I hope I am wrong in my interpretation. Mr.President, I do believe that those of us blessed with the good fortune of having broadcast licenses have a responsibility to a number of stakeholders, to our shareholders but also to our staff, our advertisers and the public. I have always held the view that the airwaves belong first and foremost to the public and that broadcasters must operate in the public’s interest. We must be driven by financially sound models but must also seek to serve the interest of the public and to offer content that is relevant to our people; we must strive for higher standards across the board and seek to retain the brightest and the best. Public service broadcasting and operating profitably are not mutually exclusive models. It can be done without being at anyone ATM seeking to make withdrawals. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to take fresh guard and to look again at the role and the responsibilities of media in today’s world. When you strip away the technology and the surrounding buzz, what is it that we are offering the public? Is our role in radio for example solely to be modern day juke boxes or can we satisfy the public’s thirst for unique and relevant content? This is our challenge. The war, ladies and gentlemen, will be won by those who understand the need for and who provide the content that meets the needs of the public. Can we balance the need to show a healthy bottom line with the obligation to critically examine the issues that confront our societies and offer solutions to the challenges we face? Or will we be content to rewrite and regurgitate press releases and run excerpts of speeches by officials designed to put the best spin on the day’s sound-bites? In the past we were a voice for the people. We not only reflected what was happening in our countries but we influenced and guided thinking and behavior. In the days before and after the death of Maurice Bishop and the U.S. lead invasion of Grenada, CBC radio Barbados was a voice for the disenfranchised people of Grenada, providing the world with insights into what was happening. We, I say we because I along with Canadian journalist Isreal Cinman who was on contract with the CBC Barbados, broke that story and subsequently raised a very large sum of money through a Radiothon to assist Grenada. After Hurricane Ivan Starcom Network lead another Radiothon which raised over $1.2M Bds for the people of Grenada, we did it yet again for Haiti raising over $1.3M bds which was put into the OCM lead medianet initiative to assist in the rebuilding of Haiti. Are these roles now being relinquished? Do we see them as OUR responsibility? I note with some disappointment that after the floods that devastated St.Lucia, St.Vincent and other Windward islands last year there was no effort to seek the public’s financial support through the use of radio. Wouldn’t such a void be dangerous particularly with the cultural colonization that is so ever present in our region? Surely media must be in the vanguard of preserving what is left of our Caribbean, our neck of the woods. Our leadership pays lip service to our sense of Caribbeanness, so surely we as media should not be found wanting in that regard. Surely we are the gatekeepers of the public information process and must critically examine and report on matters that impact our societies. We must persistently demand of our elected and appointed leaders accountability and disclosure on matters of public interest. If we won’t do it, then who will? I submit that in supporting the CBU, CMC and Caribvision we are recognizing that in the region it is necessary to have both a delivery system for cross culture of our countries and also to have a watch dog overlooking the role of the Media. We have the capacity to police ourselves.
Democracy comes at a price and that price as you and I know is eternal vigilance, the fourth estate must be the overseer of democracy in our Caribbean nations. We cannot drop our guard, the threat is ever present. We have responsibilities to our various stakeholders, an important one must be the support for and promotion of our cultural industries, and in this regard Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica may be well ahead of the pack. We have seen and can measure the contribution of our Mas men, musicians, writers, our Nikki Menages and Rihannas and long before them the emergence of Reggae music and the contributions of the iconic Bob Marley, Sparrow, Arrow, Dave Martins Merrymen and others and witnessed Pan become mainstream in the world of theatre and film. I was horrified recently to learn that a young popular broadcaster had never listened to a song by Sparrow and knew nothing of him! Media has a pivotal role in supporting the cultural industries,Much more can to be done by way of supporting these fledgling industries. While I personally do not support legislating quotas, broadcasters do have a sacred obligation to support authors, writers and entertainers. We must not use the overworked
excuse that we “ reflect what the public want”. What the public wants is largely influenced by what we provide them! We are seeing too the emergence of a large and ever improving body of visual content but many film producers experience major obstacles in getting their product to market. Those producers need our support and partnership in the growth of our cultural industries. What emphasis do you as Managers place on training… we train our bus drivers, bell boys in hotels, life guards but not those who guard the airwaves? Releasing an untrained communicator on the airwaves is like giving a child a Molotov cocktail to play with! Lastly, the new technologies present both threats and opportunities, and the region must
determine where it stands in respect of digital transformation and standards. Media leaders must be in the front of the bus, not the back. The new technologies offer a range of services and opportunities to media practitioners; the challenge is for us to seize those opportunities and adapt them to our needs and services. Our industry has changed dramatically and at a dizzying speed, technology is the new engine. I submit however that media leaders should occupy the driver’s seat, always mindful of the responsibilities that we undertake when we step up to be the public voice of our people and our region. Technology is simply a platform on which the train runs, it is not the train itself, it is a tool but a meaningless tool if we fail to exploit it by ensuring that our country our region and the world is aware of who we are, our values, our dreams, our aspirations and our achievements, who will tell our story if we don’t? We have the resources, but do we have the will? The very awards you present here this evening speak to excellence, guts determination and ultimately success; they should be an inspiration to all who seek to be part of media. I don’t know what fit of madness caused you to invite me here this evening but I am grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to be a part of your awards ceremony. For me Trinidad has always been my second home, a place where I have always felt welcome, where hospitality is second to none, Tonight is no exception. Some time ago while lying in bed my wife asked me how many women I had slept with before her. My answer, none, I have only ever slept with you. All the others kept me awake. I hope I have kept you awake tonight.