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We need broadcast laws in SVG NOW!

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Fri, Jul 22, 2011

Editor: Guyana is currently discussing a broadcast bill. According to media reports, the Bill proposes, among other things, that broadcasting in that CARICOM nation shall not incite violence, ethnic, religious, or cultural hostility. It further says programming must also reflect and promote Guyana’s political, cultural and racial diversity and interest groups.{{more}}

St. Vincent and the Grenadines also needs broadcast laws and we need them NOW! These laws should be accompanied by a broadcast commission, which, among other things, will issue, suspend or revoke licences, and otherwise police the implementation of the broadcast code. The broadcast laws must speak to many of these issues proposed in Guyana. They must also dictate that to qualify to use the airwaves in SVG, broadcasters MUST commit a stipulated amount of time to the dissemination of locally produced material. It is highly unacceptable that while radio stations in SVG broadcast songs banned in their countries of origin, they refuse to play local calypsos. Further, even religious stations and those catering for other niche audiences can broadcast or report on events such as sports, schools’ drama festivals, and public speaking competitions. Television stations should not be allowed to survive while merely rebroadcasting material produced elsewhere, divorced from our Vincentian context or “Caribbeanness”.

A broadcast bill in SVG must also state what type of material can be disseminated at certain times of the day, and the audiences they are allowed to target. Alcoholic beverages are advertised just before, during, or are major sponsors of the most widely consumed news broadcasts in SVG. How then do we reconcile our efforts to keep our children and youth away from drugs and alcohol and encourage them to listen to news broadcasts, during which they are told “everybody drinking [alcohol] … young and old … night and day”?

In communications theory, more competition should result in an increase in the quality of media content and a survival of the fittest. However, as Pamela Barbour noted in “The Unplanned Baby: Liberalised Radio Broadcasting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”, “the reality is that standards tend to trend down to the lowest denominator”. For the most part, entrants into the market revert to the status quo, where content comprises music, talk shows, and news reports, often copied from elsewhere.

Stipulating that broadcasters in SVG must produce and or disseminate local content might result in some radical changes in the business plans of existing media houses, or might deter prospective media owners. However, on the other hand, it should increase the quality of content that Vincentians consume. Local programmes might include in-depth analyses of crime and violence in our society, including why we have the highest instances of rape in the sub-region. Such programmes would tell us if it is the case that Vincentian women are more inclined to report rape than their other Caribbean counterparts. These programmes will tell us, from a civic point of view, the roles and responsibility of our government, including its respective branches and offices. We will learn, in a non-partisan context, about the history of our country. We will learn why forest reserves are necessary and why it is important not to catch protected species out of season. Through these new programmes, our students also can improve their English language skills or even improve their French and Spanish.

Broadcast law, if well-intentioned and properly articulated, will in no way curtail freedom of the press in SVG, but will increase the types and quality of programmes to which Vincentians have access. Training of practitioners, of course, is another issue. However, this would take care of itself as a matter of course, when broadcasters are expected to produce content that meets a certain standard.

Our country has a long way to go to reach the level of development of some of our Caribbean neighbours. A change in attitude will take us there sooner. The media can play a powerful role in this regard. Since, after 15 years of liberalisation and self-regulation, broadcasters seemed not inclined to move in this direction, broadcast laws must force them to do so.

Kenton X. Chance

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