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Time for media workers to re-organize

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Fri, Aug 24, 2012

The latest in a series of public discussions, organized by the Community College, took place on Wednesday evening with the focus being on matters pertaining to the media. The College cannot be too highly commended for its initiative in organizing stimulating public debate and discourse on a wide range of topics very relevant to the development of our society.{{more}}

In particular, the live broadcast of these discussions, via radio and television, is a critical element in the wide dissemination of the various views on the topics. It permits persons not in the physical location to be able to follow the discussion from the comfort of their own homes, or in workplaces or wherever those persons may be at the time of the broadcast. This is a most welcome development, for in the past such topical discussions tended to be held at locations in the capital city and those outside Kingstown had little access to the ideas generated by such healthy debate.

The one major limitation in terms of broadening participation by the audience not at the physical location, is the inability to actively participate in the discussion via questions and comments. But this is merely a technical challenge, and the organisers may well take up the challenge posed by one of the panelists on Wednesday to rectify this technical limitation and use technology available to permit such broader participation.

The latest in the discussion series dealt with the legal and ethical issues pertinent to the operation of the media, traditional and new, in our society. It is especially relevant in our politically-charged context. As one panelist reminded us, in spite of all the technological advances in the media, the one development as far as public media policy is concerned, has been the freeing-up of the airwaves, particularly in relation to FM radio. Side by side with this development, not just in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but in the wider Caribbean as well, a virtual obsession with talk shows has enveloped our societies. With no clear guidelines or standards, and with popularity of the programmes often determining the level of advertising revenue, competition has become intense.

In such an atmosphere, privately-owned radio stations very often take the route of looking for “popular” and “controversial” talk-show hosts, irrespective of training or levels of competence. So while on the one hand there is a welcome opening for the voices of ordinary citizens to be heard, on the other hand, there is the growing danger of permissiveness and even irresponsibility in the public domain. The situation is worsened by the pervasiveness and intensity of the political divide, with the media being the sacrificial lamb for those who have political motives, on one side or the other. With no set standards, public media discussion becomes an open sesame, and any attempt to curb irresponsibility is vigorously opposed under the fig-leaf of protecting “freedom of speech”.

Some of the panellists on Wednesday evening’s programme raised these issues pointing to the need for an enlightened but responsible public media policy. It is to be hoped that the discussion is deepened and broadened in the entire society, for it is a matter critical to the evolution of our society. It brings into question the issues of whether there ought to be regulation of the media, and more importantly, by whom and in what manner. It is a debate that we do hope that the many practitioners in the media field would continue to stimulate. Related to this, quite naturally, is the loose, unorganised state of the profession itself. There have been initiatives in the past, establishing first a Vincentian association of Journalists, and then its successor, the Media Workers Association, but there is no active association of media practitioners. The issues relating to the operation of the media in our evolving society present a golden opportunity for media workers to reorganize and make an impact on media policy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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