BitDepth 725 - April 06

A Telecommunications Authority symposium on the broadcast media veers toward witchhunting.
Yes, the media is to blame, but for what?

Professor Ramesh Deosaran, Dr Anna Maria Mora, Jason Williams and Officer Derrick Sharbodie at TATT’s March Open Forum. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

At the last Telecommunications Authority Open Forum, the topic was a magnet for, um, comments, let’s say, about the quality of the broadcast media. The evening’s discussion was framed as a question: “What has been the impact of television and radio content on the youth of Trinidad and Tobago.”

What ensued was an almost unrelenting tirade, some of it from media practitioners and owners, about the quality of local broadcast media and some curious statements about its realm of responsibility.

In her keynote address, Dr Diane Douglas, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at UWI, noted that the “media are agents of socialisation, effectively the parents of a generation.” On the face of it, not such a startling statement, but soon after, Dr Douglas shared the story of a young criminal she spoke with who said that “television is a good place to get ideas for crime.”

Dr Douglas’ presentation would prove to be typical of the presentations from the panel and the discussions from the floor, earnest and middle-class perspectives that looked backward with a nostalgia that was both wistful and useless.

Drawing the ire of practically everyone, including moderator Dennis McComie, were the lyrics of the more extreme Jamaican singers, whose influence it was agreed, was pervasive.
Dr Anna Maria Mora urged more parental monitoring and supervision, arguing that “sex and aggression are our basic natures; we have to learn to be human.”

Police Officer Derrick Sharbodie, who works with the St James Police Youth Club, ranged widely in his talk, branding the albums of Jimi Hendrix “suicidal music,” but also offering some valuable frontline assessments of the influences on young people.

Sharbodie sensibly observed that even if the television is turned off and the programming is changed, it will still be downloaded or viewed online.
Sharbodie said that one child told him, “I have an iPod and it have no advertisements on it.”
Sharbodie’s talk was rich with real world experience, but he isn’t a sociological analyst, and while some of his observations were trenchant, others seemed rhetorical. Among the ideas and perspectives expressed by the panel were the seeds of some sensible proposals, but the ideas and irritations just kept flying, sometimes at cross-purposes

Perhaps sensing the tone of the proceedings, Ramesh Deosaran of the Institute of Criminology at UTT noted that “We must be careful not to make the media a scapegoat for our prejudices and concerns. The media is not a church or a religion, it is an industry.”
From the floor, Robert Amar, Chairman of 104.7 FM, called for “immediate censorship and aggressive action” to be taken against broadcasters who were...making money? Pandering? Playing vulgar music? It wasn’t clear where lines had been crossed, and outrage was justified.

COTT’s Heather Baldwin-McDowell, speaking as a private citizen, lauded “Matthews in the Middle,” the Government’s unwatchable flood of propaganda masquerading as a bad sitcom.
The Media Association had no presence on the panel, but broadcast practitioners were represented by Jason Williams, who offered tame apologia for his colleagues, noting that “there is need for responsibility in the media” and “censorship must be approached with care.”

TATT’s Open Forums are talk shops that are part of the organisation’s stakeholder outreach and communications strategy, so these statements and positions remain opinions that inform the telecommunications authority’s deliberations.
It’s hard to know what they will make of the results of this forum, which proceeded along overwhelmed by social concerns wantonly attributed to ‘money jumbie’ media and with no persuasive rejoinder by newsroom leadership and publishing and broadcasting owners.
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