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It’s time that NTRC step up to the plate – Joseph

It’s time that NTRC step up to the plate – Joseph

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If Flow pays international television networks to be able to broadcast their programming, why doesn’t it pay local television stations for their content? This was the question posed by businessman Stephen Joachim on February 23, describing the issue as “unfair business practice.”

He was one of the panelists {{more}}at the public consultation/panel discussion addressing the proposed merger of regional telecommunications giants Columbus Communications and Cable & Wireless Communications.

Speaking with SEARCHLIGHT, co-founder and managing director at Island Koncepts Inc (IK TV) Dwight ‘Bing’ Joseph said that although he acknowledges that this practice was inherited by Flow from its previous owners, it is high time that this changes.

“A lot goes into producing and developing content,” explained Joseph. “We have to pay to be on their network, which is really crazy!

He said that this issue is not unique to Flow, and is common practice with most cable providers in the region – especially in the smaller islands.

“I know [in] Trinidad, they pay for local content… Without the local stations, the cable providers really can’t sell to the local consumers because the local consumers want the content,” he pointed out.

“It seems as though these companies don’t value what we produce. Instead they send us big bills. But let us [the local stations] go down or off air, you know the amount of calls we get… from consumers?”

Joseph said that this practice is very unfair because, in effect, local television stations pay to be broadcast, and Flow turns around and sells that content to its consumers.

Executive director at the National Telecommunicat-ions Regulatory Commission (NTRC) Apollo Knights said that on a personal level, he fully agrees that Flow (and other cable television providers) should be paying local stations for their programming. However, from a regulatory and legal perspective, Knights said that the NTRC does not have the framework nor authority to make it mandatory.

“Certain things we don’t have jurisdiction over – like content, programming… which in the past has caused a lot of problems,” he said.

“This is how it works with these kinds of systems. The big entities require payment, and the smaller ones now have to pay to get the same stuff.”

Knights further said that legislation that would allow the NTRC to make it mandatory for cable television providers to pay local stations for broadcasting their programming is “much needed”.

“People think we regulate every single thing… but that is not the case. We can only regulate what is allowed to be regulated… If it’s exempt, we can’t touch it.”

However, Joseph criticized the NTRC’s standpoint on the matter, saying that the body needs to lead the charge to have the necessary framework and regulation implemented.

“It’s time that NTRC step up to the plate and regulate this thing,” he insisted. “You can’t hide behind this thing about they have limited powers. If they want something to be written into the law, they can take an Act of Parliament and have the act changed to accommodate what they want. This is a government entity; they can’t continue to hide behind that… That is stupidness!”

Joseph also acknowledged that some might say that local television stations need to improve their content before demanding that Flow pays them to broadcast their channels.

“I agree but how do you do that without the resources?” he asserted. “We don’t have the big budget like these international channels.”

At last week’s panel discussion, Joachim also expressed concern about the effect that large telecommunications companies are having on the local economy and the employment situation, saying: “These companies generate significant cash flows from our local people, and much of their profits… leave our shores!”

Others providers of local content include SVGTV, VC3 and GIS. SEARCHLIGHT attempted to reach Christopher Gordon, country manager of Flow for comment, but up to press time yesterday evening, we were unable to make contact. (JSV)

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