The Role of Broadcasting in Contemporary Society - March 8, 1998
Dr. the Hon. Kenny D. Anthony
Prime Minister & Minister of Information
Official opening of HTS New Headquarters Building
Morne Fortune, Castries, Saint Lucia
March 8th, 1998, 3 p.m.
on the Theme
The role of Broadcasting in Contemporary Society
Our presence here today, in this place, to open the new headquarters of the Helen Television System and its sister radio station Helen FM/Radio 100 is filled with significance. You will recall that the Morne is an old battleground of the European powers that once fought many battles to possess St. Lucia. Today different battles take place with the presence of the campus of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the UWI School of Continuing Studies, and the regional headquarters of the OECS. It is not without significance that our major electronic media houses also find their homes on Morne Fortune. Radio St. Lucia and HTS dwell together at the top of the Morne. While healthy competition and the demands of our small market-place make rivalry inevitable, I trust that these St. Lucian media houses would continue a good working relationship for the good of all. And in the context of our immediate reason for being here today, we ought not to ignore the fact that Cable and Wireless, the main provider of telecommunication services to St. Lucia, also has an important facility not far from this spot.
Our resident educational institutions fight the battles against ignorance and illiteracy, and they provide our young nation with a labour force trained in a variety of academic and vocational skills. The OECS, of which we are a founding member, fights continually for harmonious relationships between member states. Whether through education reform, natural resource management, air transportation policies, or telecommunication reform, among many other initiatives, we are battling together, with our regional family of the OECS, to make our societies more united and prosperous.
The radio and television stations planted on the Morne, find themselves today at the forefront of the international battles in the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors. Fights that are as much for financial profit and advertising ratings as they are for political and cultural influence. Terms like "cultural penetration", "monopoly providers", "value added services", "interconnection", "regulatory frameworks", "direct TV", are becoming as familiar today to the man in the street as the older references to satellite dishes, cable TV, cellular phones, digital equipment and the now ubiquitous Internet. Here on Morne Fortune’s ridge, we are geographically placed between the north and south of our country. A north that has enjoyed the fruits of the prosperity of the seventies and the eighties. A south that is waiting, anxiously, eagerly, to enjoy its own benefits and development. And here too, we are poised, at the lip of a new century, on the threshold of explosive demands in the areas of education and regional cooperation. Here too, and most relevantly to our gathering, we stand before a doorway of fast emerging opportunities in the telecommunication and broadcast sectors. If St. Lucia, from Gros Islet to Vieux Fort, from Atlantic coast to Caribbean beaches, is to gain, socially and economically, from the tremendous possibilities now waiting in telecommunications and the informatics industry, then local and regional telecommunications reform is an urgent necessity. Review of legislation and licences, establishment of regulatory bodies, the greater involvement of the Minstries of Trade and the National Development Corporation, are priorities for this Government. A reexamination of relationships with established providers like Cable and Wireless has already begun, to prepare for new licence agreements due in 2001. The WTO and its international contracts have made competition the pattern of the future and St. Lucia must be ready to meet the hard challenges with skill, ability and confidence. The airwaves of St. Lucia are a valuable, tradable, natural resource that the Government must and will utilise for the good of all the people.
Rapid advances, and the innovative convergences in technology they have produced, make it difficult these days to separate telecommunications, broadcasting and information. International bodies encourage countries to develop Information Infrastructures that embrace the multi-media capabilities of the Internet, as well as the access afforded by satellites to business partnerships, educational institutions, medical facilities, news and entertainment networks. The traditional goals of information, education and entertainment are no longer territory monopolised by radio and television. More than ever today, "the medium is the message," as state-of-the-art technology make it possible, for example, to study by computer tele-conferencing or off direct-TV. The value of a modernised, integrated Information Infrastructure is cited as 1. Increased productivity, 2. A better quality of life through improved access to information and 3. Greater competitiveness as more avenues open up for private sector investment.
I. The Purposes of broadcasting
All that I’ve said up to now represents the broad contemporary background to our presence here this afternoon. Even while we gather to celebrate the opening of the new headquarters of this impressive facility, we dare not ignore all the other factors that affect broadcasting today.
Yet, St. Lucia is still a small island society, in which a sense of island-wide community still exists. While we discuss, as we must, the technological advances that are upon us, we continue to look to HTS and our other broadcasting entities, to provide us with the basics of information, education and entertainment. As a small, developing society, with scarce resources, St. Lucia needs a healthy balance between the necessity for public service broadcasting and the inevitable growth of competitive, commercial, advertising-based mass media. When you and I tune in to the several popular call-in programmes, we join with other listeners at perhaps our only meeting place, on common cultural ground, in a similar political sphere and with shared terms of reference. Our broadcasting systems provide us with a unique social space. They provide a unifying influence, encapsulating our diverse backgrounds, interests and needs.
To inform, educate and entertain; to build a healthy national consciousness; to inspire a positive sense of shared national purpose; to create necessary ethical sensibilities - surely, all these must be among the purposes of the broadcasting profession.
II. Broadcasting’s place in contemporary society.
A writer on the social influence of broadcasting has said that it "has been a value-orienting and value-forming medium of communication. Broadcasting’s images and sounds become part of the structure and content of people’s imagining, understanding, and judgement." He continues, " the responsibility that comes with this power is enormous. How that responsibility is exercised is in the hands of broadcast managers." (James A. Brown. Broadcast management. 1976).
No one can doubt that the press, the mass media, the field of broadcasting have a very important place in contemporary society. The print media are referred to as the "fourth estate", a "watchdog" of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Government. In recent years, the electronic press, radio and television, have been designated the ‘fifth estate." The mass media and their broadcasters form an important and influential bridge, a crucial channel, between Government and people. As well, they provide lines of communication between the peoples of the societies they serve, and peoples of different societies. We cannot remind our broadcasters and media managers enough of the great and serious responsibility they bear. The press, both print and electronic, are the guardians of the public’s right to information. The people’s right to know is an essential ingredient of a free and democratic society. The media also has a responsibility to guard the most cherished values and traditions of the people.
Broadcasting is a profession. As such it has a role in society-building. It stipulates areas of training for those who would qualify to work in its ranks. Like every respectable profession, its teachers and leaders stress to their colleagues the importance of identifying and following its ethical guidelines.
There are three broad tasks that face our media. First, they must observe, as impartially as possible, the environment in which they find themselves. In reporting, as accurately as possible what is happening, they provide the facts of the situation to the public. Since our society’s life does not consist only of politics or scandal, a responsible media house must try its best to give as wide a coverage as possible. In a small country like St. Lucia, why do we not have more news and information from Choiseul and Micoud and Black Bay and Fond Assau? Why do we not see more of the St. Lucian people and their lives, concerns, achievements on our television screens? Admittedly, the increase of radio talk shows have brought us more of the voices of more of the people. But even in radio, we still need more in-depth coverage of the lives of all our people. I hope that HTS’s new facilities will provide more of this kind of informed material. This Government is committed to providing its restructured Department of Information Services with the staffing and equipment it needs to do its part in this necessary information work. The development plans of this Government for the long neglected regions of our country will not succeed without adequate provision for channels of information. Both for information to the people and information from the people. HTS and other private sector media houses must share with Government a concern to provide the kind of media coverage needed urgently today. The development of the economy of the under-developed southern regions of St. Lucia cannot proceed without media coverage of the areas.
Secondly, the media provides a forum, a meeting place for discussion of all social issues. Again, the increase of call-in programmes in the past few years has done much to create a greater sense of democratic participation in matters that concern us all. This Government is committed to freedom of the press, to wide, open discussion of public and social affairs. But the Government must repeat its call to media managers and broadcasters to self-regulation, to a greater sense of civic responsibility. You cannot afford complacency or careless, irresponsible use of the airwaves. You must accept a greater commitment to social leadership. I encourage young journalists, and those aspiring to a career in broadcasting, to think much on these things. Experienced media workers will tell you that the serious journalist does not have much time for the apparent glamour of the job. It involves hard work that makes many demands on those who would do it well. And more than ever today, we as a Government, are duty bound to ask the media to take matters of public morality, professional accountability, and personal integrity, with the utmost seriousness. The thinking public expects broadcasters to behave responsibly as members of an influential profession. We cannot afford compromise on these issues.
The third task of the media, especially in a developing society like ours, is that of teaching. Don’t you think that we need more education-type programmes on our airwaves? Would sponsors not support well-produced educational-type features? Even as this Government prepares for educational reform, we have to consider immediately alternatives in delivery of educational curricula. In fact, has HTS not already taken the lead in providing for the Southern facility of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community college the means for developing distance education? In proposing new visions, new directions for St. Lucia, the Government will consider and use, with confidence, the new technologies available. Once our Department of Information Services has settled its new structures, and has organised regular information programmes for every Ministry and public corporation, I will encourage the Director and his staff to turn their attention to the exciting field of educational broadcasting. Continuing education for those at home, the handicapped, those in correctional facilities, as well as regular educational courses for those who need them, are an urgent necessity. The developments in telecommunications technology provide wonderful opportunities for us to broaden educational possibilities. I look forward to the involvement of HTS and other private sector media houses in these exciting and promising possibilities.
III. Conclusion - Ethics and responsibilities
Government’s regulatory frameworks, its licensing stipulations, its revised legislation, will not make media managers and on-air personalities responsible. To meet the pressures of the bottom-line, to ensure comfortable profit margins, many will either ignore their license agreements or find ways around them. When asked why St. Lucians are not provided with more local programmes, many will cite the cost of in-house production against the generally cheaper cost of acquiring canned sit-coms. What do visitors see of our culture and daily lives when they tune in to local radio and television? What do we St. Lucians see of ourselves on the many channels now available? These are not matters to be dismissed cynically and carelessly. The mass media is certainly the mirror of this society. The content and quality of our broadcasting reflects the mental and moral qualities of those who plan and present the programmes. To ignore the growing protests and heated discussions, to bury heads in the sands of self-satisfaction, is to do a disservice to St. Lucia and the great profession of broadcasting.
As a nineteen year old independent nation, facing the blank refusals of organisations like the WTO to consider our small size and scarce resources, we must face up to the necessity of self-discipline and the burdens of personal responsibility. This Government does not believe in establishing censorship boards. Those institutions, while they may serve some purpose in extreme situations, only postpone the more important duty of taking responsibility for one’s choices.
While entertainment and recreation are a human and social need, don’t media managers and announcers have the responsibility to respect the values held by the majority of the society? Isn’t there a need for good judgement, some sense of what is appropriate? Can we afford to disrespect the innocence of children, the sensitivities of the elderly, the opinions of others? Are the public and the conscious media professional satisfied with the total performance of our mass media?
Political and social freedoms, represented by a free media, carry heavy responsibilities. It may be that organisations like the Media Workers Association need to take up the tasks again of reminding members of the broadcasting profession of their ethical responsibilities.
As we celebrate with HTS, I have taken the opportunity to raise at some length, the issues that face your profession and the viewing public today. You who work as broadcasters, both in management and as presenters, will decide ultimately whether the local electronic media will be mediocre, shallow, and dedicated to sensationalism. Or will you make it a quality leader in articulating the best values that produce a maturing, self-disciplined, self-respecting people? As you inform, educate and entertain, from the vantage point of the Morne and alongside the other institutions, please help us to create a sense of national purpose.
I thank you.
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