October 21, 2019

Caribbean: The challenge of change for regional media

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Gary Allen, President, – file photo RJR

The following is the text of the opening address by Gary Allen, president of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, at the organization’s 50th Annual General Assembly in San Andres Island on August 12.

A few years ago when one of our newest members at the time, Teleislas, raised the prospect of introducing us to another beautiful part of the Caribbean, we were interested but being from the Caribbean we thought we had seen it all.

Today, I can say that we, from more than a dozen Caribbean territories are thrilled to be discovering this wonderful part of ourselves, our culture and our peoples, which most of us had not experienced before.

This is one of the best 50th Annual General Assembly gifts the Caribbean Broadcasting Union could have received – the gift of being at the age or fifty and discovering new and exciting things about one’s self.

I am happy to be the President at this time of discovery and celebration.  It is an honour for me, especially coming from Jamaica to San Andres.  In the last few days it feels like I am either visiting Little Jamaica or I am from Big San Andres – whichever way it feels like a part of me.

I am happy with the strength of democracy in our Union which makes me the 12th president of the Union.  I pay tribute to all previous presidents, including former President Vic Fernands who has served two terms adding up to 18 years; also to our Immediate Past President, whom I call my Maximum Leader, Shida Bolai.

We have had nine Secretaries General in these past 50 years, with two secretaries general also serving the Union as presidents.

Over these years, Trinidad and Tobago has hosted us most frequently – once every decade for five occasions.  The Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname have hosted us four times each.

I suspect San Andres Island is taking of the fact that we are already angling to be hosted again.

While it was a long journey for some of us to get here, in terms of location, we are much closer, in many ways, than the journey makes it feel.  We are much closer physically; we are much closer culturally and we are much closer historically.

Thank you all for the warm welcome and the splendid atmosphere for our 50th Annual General Assembly.

It is always good to connect with family members in the CBU and to discuss our many challenges, opportunities and activities, and I look forward to an excellent conference under the theme: “Caribbean Media: Uniting the Region through Indigenous Content”.  In fact, I cannot wait to hear historian, CARICOM representative on Reparation and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles on our topic.

I am sure you will permit me on your behalf to thank the Government and people of Colombia – represented by Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Hon. Silvia Constain Rengifo, the Governor of the Department, Admiral Juan Herrera Leal, the Management and Staff of Teleislas, represented by Manager, Emiliana Bernard Stephenson; her staff, our partners and our sponsors.

You will permit me to single out two other very special family members, that we are exceedingly pleased to greet and welcome here in San Andres: Immediate Past President Shida Bolai, and immediate past Secretary General, Sonia Gill.  Both ladies have given tremendous service and guidance to the CBU within the past decade.  We salute you ladies!

Also, permit me to say how pleased we are with our government representation from Jamaica, Minister of State for Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Alando Terrilonge and Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator Robert Morgan. 

Our sponsors, partners and supporters have been good to us in making this conference possible and we thank them for the ongoing support.

Challenge

This is a time of challenge for the indigenous media but it is also a period of emphasizing our value and our worth to our people.

As a new Information, Communication and Technology eco-system takes shape globally, print, radio and television are being re-shaped.  As this happens, it is important for governments and regulators to take charge of designing the right successor framework for indigenous media and not leave them behind in this change.  While we push for universal access and connectivity for all, let us not forget to pay attention to what happens after connectivity- what content will they connect to, connect with and what content will our people be connected by when we secure this access.

Clearly defined direction is required. 

The credible, independent, public serving and commercially driven media remain relevant and needed.  Spontaneous, uncorroborated user generated content cannot be elevated to credible broadcasting and trustworthy publication.

Governments and regulators must consult with the industry and get the new framework balanced/right.

Getting it right

Getting it right, includes getting the business model right!  We cannot be expected to serve the best interest of the public, allocate hours of time and tens of millions of dollars in airtime to government reserved time for broadcasts, pay regulatory and license fees, face competition from all forms of new media technology players and still find enough resources into building excellent quality programming that uplifts our citizenry.

Getting the policy framework right, includes finding the right model for recognising the value of the local content we make – it cannot be that subscriber platform operators are by regulation required to recognize financially the value of foreign content, but local content from us as broadcasters and independent producers is expected to be used by them free of cost.

Getting it right, includes getting the business model right!  We cannot be expected to serve the best interest of the public, allocate hours of time and tens of millions of dollars in airtime to government reserved time for broadcasts, pay regulatory and license fees, face competition from all forms of new media technology players and still find enough resources into building excellent quality programming that uplifts our citizenry.

Getting the policy framework right, includes finding the right model for recognising the value of the local content we make – it cannot be that subscriber platform operators are by regulation required to recognize financially the value of foreign content, but local content from us as broadcasters is expected to be used by them free of cost.

These investments we make in creating content must be treated appropriately, if we will build true and sustainable creative industries.

And let us not forget that in times of emergency and sometimes disaster, it is these members of the indigenous media eco-system that nations rely on.  The broadcaster in Montserrat has transformed that society into a well prepared and well educated society about how to live with an active volcano.  Many of our societies were prepared, maintained and restored when Storms and Hurricanes like Gilbert, Hugo, Ivan and others, have visited – because of the work of broadcasters.

Indeed, let us recall that a few years ago when a Hurricane devastated Dominica, while the Prime Minister was able to make a Facebook post that told the World about his personal experience during the hurricane, he had to fly to a nearby island and get access via their radio and television services to reach his own people with messages of calm, order through reliable information channels.

So we have our critical role to continue to play, and those who ignore us do so at their peril and the peril of their nation.

The CBU’s future

Over the next few days we will ALSO discuss and give a mandate to the next board to examine the CBU’s future in this new environment and how it must change to better meet the needs of its members.

Do we still need a physical, domiciled headquarters?  Can we afford that?

Is a Chief Executive, by whatever title, the way we must continue?  Do we need to continue to meet annually, and do so face to face?  Are our training and development roles being most efficiently met?

We must face and answer these questions over the next two days, and with your diligence and support we will answer the call.

We have a full agenda, but we also have the will and the ambiance to complete the tasks.

The next 50 years will be more critical and exciting than the last and it is we who must in San Andres lay the foundation for what will be built.  Let us step to the task, have robust deliberation, design solid plans BUT also let us explore San Andres, enjoy the experience, go and tell others about it and prepare to come back soon to do it again.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.

NOTE: Gary Allen, President of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, is also of the RJRGLEANER GROUP

SOURCE: http://rjrnewsonline.com/opinion/the-challenge-of-change-for-regional-media

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