Saturday 30th April, 2005


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Statement by the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association on the Draft National Broadcasting Code

Broadcast code unacceptable

The TTPBA’s formal position on the Draft National Broadcasting Code released by the Telecommunications Authority is that the code is unacceptable as it infringes on every citizens right to freedom of thought, expression and freedom of the press. These are rights that are protected by the Constitution of T&T.

The code has been presented to the public as something good, something that protects the citizens of T&T.

Via the proposed broadcast code the public is being offered an exchange. Not a fair exchange mind you, but that is not immediately obvious and it is easy to be seduced into giving up your right to free speech and expression in exchange for a promise that you will be protected from offence and ridicule by the radio and television talk show hosts and the public that exchange opinion and insults on radio and on television.

The architects of the code started out with one objective, the protection of the public. But each person needs to ask two questions:

(1) From what am I being protected?

(2) At what cost would this protection come?

The public is being told that they will be protected from violence, sexual content, from being insulted, or offended with regard to religion, race, national background and other characteristics. However, this protection comes at a cost.

It means that as a citizen of T&T, your right to a different view, one that someone else may not agree with, and your right to express that view, to express yourself, is taken away.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: are we prepared to have that right to freedom of thought and expression taken away?

When that is taken away, what you are left with is propaganda because differing views will not be allowed, controversial discussion will not be allowed because you are sure to offend someone, so only one view will be allowed. That is what is called propaganda—one view only is relayed to the public.

What is wrong, you might ask, with having a civil society where all men and women have good taste, fine manners and respect for each other? Surely such a society would allow for a better quality of life for all.

This promise of better things is what makes the code so seductive but the public needs to understand that what the code suggests it can deliver, it cannot, and should not, in a democratic society that holds dear the right to free speech and a free press.

There is a constitutional right to free speech and a free press. There is no right, constitutionally or otherwise, that can be interpreted as a right not to be offended.

America, the first country to have a written constitution that guarantees free speech and a free press, has looked at this matter we are discussing. And we would do well to remember that America is the birthplace of commercial radio and television and until very recently, the only country with true commercial radio and television.

This is what the American telecommunications authority, the FCC, has to say on this matter:

“…If there is to be genuine free speech, people must be free to say things that the majority may abhor, not only things that the majority find tolerable or congenial.”

The Telecommunications Authority is of the view that we are going down the road to Rwanda and the cause of this are the talk shows.

There is nothing to suggest that any talk show host has the power to incite racial violence and if he or she did, we would like to remind the public that there is redress through the law and any code that is implemented should acknowledge that such laws exist, can be enforced and laws take precedence over any code.

The broadcast media are of the view that they are being held responsible for the condition of society and if the code is passed into legislation the evils of the society can be brought under control. Nothing is less true.

The media do not make the society. The media can only reflect the society or that part of the society that it serves. If you find the media ugly then it is probably because the society it reflects is ugly.

The code infringes on freedom of the press. The media are one of the avenues through which the public is informed and able to form an opinion. The media provide knowledge and information, some of which, as a citizen, you will agree with and some of which you will not.

However, you form your opinion and through the media that opinion can be expressed. By accepting the code you lose that right.

The code seeks to dictate what the media can and cannot broadcast in all areas of their programming, including news and by doing so it infringes on the public’s right to be informed.

Each person’s character is a combination of many things, one of them being the knowledge he or she has amassed. Through the media you have access to knowledge and information that can make you a stronger citizen and a more active participant in the growth of your country. That is the role of the media. Take away freedom of press and you take away your access to information.

Our constitution was framed on the premise that we are a “society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual.” The public should not be deceived into thinking that this code is good. What infringes on your right of thought and expression and your right to a free press cannot be good.

We are of the opinion that the philosophy of protection that underpins the code is faulty and, as a result, most of the code is defective and needs to be redrafted, keeping in mind that no code can protect us from bad manners, poor taste, improper grammar and talk-show participants who are sometimes obnoxious. Poor taste can never be illegal.





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