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Plugging the gap left by BBC Caribbean service


The Caribbean has had more long-lasting relations with Britain than any other country. These relations have not always been beneficial to the region, but the reality is that for four centuries, our fortunes, or misfortunes, have been intrinsically connected with those of what we came to regard as the “mother country”.{{more}}

We have had the experiences of slavery, colonial rule, neo-colonialism, a patched-up West Indies Federation, Independence, membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and our continually expressed desire to remain in the folds of the Privy Council, in spite of the establishment of our own Caribbean Court of Appeal. There has hardly been a more loyal group of ex-colonies where the United Kingdom is concerned.

Sadly, that commitment to Britain and cleavage to its social and cultural values, have not been reciprocated. If one takes trade as an example, we have always been expendable where British interests are concerned. Whether it was sugar, cotton or, latterly, bananas, the wider self-interests of the “mother country” have always taken precedence over our own. In the almost two decades of the banana wars, other European countries with colonial connections, such as France and Spain, have visibly acted to try and defend the interests of banana producers in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Not so Britain where Caribbean producers are concerned. They were left at the mercy of the European Commission and the unjust WTO rules.

The United Kingdom has also been in the forefront of actions taken internationally, which are inimical to our interests. Financial services and visa restrictions, imposed supposedly to fight drug trafficking and money laundering, come readily to mind. Yet, the same Britain has supported the action of the European Commission, in providing more favourable terms to Colombia for banana imports, whilst eroding traditional Caribbean preferences.

Currently two major issues, one economic and the other, cultural, are of grave concern to Caribbean nations. One is the new air travel tax which, operationally discriminates against Caribbean destinations. The second is the decision by the British Broadcasting Corporation to close down its Caribbean service, as a consequence of budget cuts by the Conservative government. Caribbean nations are vigorously opposing the former, which is having a negative impact on our tourism and just last week appealed to the UK Parliament. Thus far, there is no indication that the British government is in any way sympathetic to our concerns.

The BBC issue, while not economically harmful, is nonetheless of major concern in the area of information. Given regional weaknesses in this field, Caribbean citizens have long relied on the BBC as their window to the world. While the World Service will still be in operation, the Caribbean Service of the BBC has become a most valuable source of information for a region which has not been able to get its act together where information is concerned. We have, over the years, made some steps to set up our own regional information systems, the CMC (Caribbean Media Corporation) being the latest, but the lack of appropriate funding for this unit exposes the level of real commitment on the part of our governments.

The closure of the BBC’s Caribbean service can be, if we are serious as a region, a blessing in disguise, for it leaves a void to be filled. Can CARICOM, ambitiously aiming at a Single Market and Economy, take up the challenge in this vital area, and provide the resources necessary to plug this gap? Lamenting British actions or criticising them are not the appropriate actions. Let us move to shoulder our own regional responsibility. The excellent human resources employed by the BBC’s Caribbean Service are there to be utilised.