NTN LogoWednesday, October 10, 2001 -- Whenever you switched on a television in Saint Lucia up to three months ago, there was a 95 per cent chance you would’ve been greeted by some type of American programming. It isn’t so any more, thanks a government initiative to bring Saint Lucians alternative, relevant television through the newly-established National Television Network (NTN).

The pervasiveness of American television isn’t just confined to Saint Lucia. It’s a Caribbean-wide issue compounded by the fascinating appetite which the average citizen seems to have for soap operas, sit-coms, and other productions which glorify the American way of life. Communication specialists, cultural activists, some economists and other scholars do see a problem, however. They contend overexposure to American norms and values is undermining the Caribbean way of life by subliminally influencing how our people think and fuelling unrealistic expectations which put additional pressure on the region’s fragile economies.

NTN, being operated by the Government Information Service  (GIS) on Channel 2 of the Cable & Wireless-run cable TV service, is a response to such well-documented concerns.  On air since the middle of May when test transmissions began, NTN is initially offering four hours of programming daily from 6 to 10 pm. The exciting mix of educational and informative programming which places emphasis on domestic happenings and issues, is then repeated around the clock until 6 p.m the following day when a new broadcasting cycle begins. The plan is for NTN to evolve gradually into a full-fledged 24-hour operation over the next five years.

Embert Charles - Director“When we speak of “alternative” programming, we mean that what you will see on NTN is not what you will get on the other channels which offer mainly American fare,” explained Embert Charles, Director of Information Services. “When we speak of  “relevant”, we mean programming which allows Saint Lucians to see images of themselves, as well as other people in the Caribbean and elsewhere who are facing similar challenges in our common quest for development.”

Charles added: “Most importantly, we are seeking to empower our people through relevant information, not only about what government specifically is doing on their behalf but also about the many complex international issues we face as a nation and region, so that we as Saint Lucians are in a better position to make wise choices as we search for solutions to common problems. We believe that this is very important for our development”

Being an arm of GIS, NTN naturally will give priority to providing information about government’s policies, programmes and activities in keeping with the mandate of GIS. NTN, however, goes far beyond government. Reflecting its designation as a “national” medium, NTN is more about involving communities around the island and giving them a voice in pursuit of their development aspirations. Communities, therefore, can look forward to receiving significant coverage of their various events and activities on NTN. The type of coverage previously neglected by the commercial media.

NTN is also about encouraging and nurturing local television production talent. Once independent producers come up with programmes which satisfy the criteria of NTN for broadcast, they will have access to the airwaves. Already, one such production house, Visual Domain Ltd., has seized the opportunity to get its Tourism Guide programme on air. And it has received rave reviews. To further diversify its output, NTN also plans to source relevant material from other GISs in the Caribbean, regional television stations like the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), private TV production houses like Banyan in Trinidad, and international organizations like the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

Roger Joseph - PIO“During our early test transmissions, we broadcast the Windrush series of programmes looking at the contribution of  West Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom and the conditions they faced on arrival there in the 50s and 60s,” said Principal Information Officer, Roger Joseph. “We had very positive public feedback on this as well other programmes including one from Banyan featuring an interview with the late Lord Kitchener and an old film by Derek Walcott called the Rig.”

 “This type of spontaneous public response demonstrates there is demand out there for this type of programming and we are pleased to serve the public in this regard,” added Joseph who has been overseeing the smooth implementation of the NTN project.

After three months of successful testing, NTN is getting ready for its formal launch. Saint Lucia has broken new ground in the Caribbean with NTN, taking a new approach to public service broadcasting to provide a solution to the longstanding serious imbalance between foreign and local information and images on domestic television screens. It’s a project in which Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, as the minister responsible for information, has taken keen interest. Dr. Anthony sees information playing a pivotal role not only in cultivating an improved relationship between Government and Saint Lucians but also in helping Saint Lucians to develop a clear perspective of themselves in relation to the rest of the world.

Prime Minister Anthony“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,” said Dr. Anthony of the role of broadcasting in contemporary society at the opening of the new complex of the HTS broadcasting company three years ago. “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,” he added.

NTN will strive to achieve these high standards and a whole lot more. The official launching is set for October 14, 2001.