a broadcast code
the major broadcast jurisdictions in the free and democratic
world are governed by regulations to guide the operations
of radio and television.
Similarly, all of the major national and international broadcast
institutionsthe British Broadcasting Corporation, the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CNN, ABC and all the othershave
their own internal codes that govern basic principles of broadcasting
and journalism, including ethical considerations.
One of the major arguments for regulation revolves around
the reality of countries having limited spectrum space (that
indefinable thing, for a non-engineering person like this
columnist, through which facilitates the sending and receiving
of signals) and therefore in seeking to allocate that space
in the best interests of citizens, there should be regulatory
guidelines for the utilisation of such a precious and limited
Allied to that contention is that radio and television beam
into living rooms and the privacy of peoples homes almost
without hindrance (unlike the newspaper you pick up on the
corner, making a deliberate choice to do so) and so there
must be standards acceptable to the nation as a whole.
One counter to having a broadcast code holds that listeners
and viewers should be allowed to use the switch to turn on
and off or turn to alternative stations. Yet another view
says if there is to be a code, it should be internal and not
imposed and monitored from outside, especially by government,
any government, which can use the code to achieve partisan
This columnist is on the side of the establishment and maintenance
of international standards of broadcasting to be observed
by the electronic media here with each broadcasting unit having,
and this would be complimentary to the broader code, its own
code and set of principles to guide not only the production
of news and current affairs but programming and advertising
Journalists are daily investigating and reporting on institutions
and individuals that do not follow acceptable principles of
behaviour in their activities: why should the profession of
journalism not be held similarly responsible to observe internationally
accepted principles practised in those countries from which
we inherited our tradition of broadcast journalism and programming?
It however does not follow that recognition of the need for
standards, responsibility and accountability through the application
of internationally accepted broadcasting principles translates
into automatic support for the draft being circulated by the
This is a position I first articulated back in the early 1980s
in a column in the Trinidad Review and have repeated several
times in the intervening 20 years plus.
The short history of attempts in T&T to establish some
form of regulation to the industry goes back to the National
Alliance for Reconstruction government (1986-1991). The NAR
was the government which opened the door for the expansion
of the radio and television industry.
As with the NAR itself, the broadcast code was kicked out
of the window with the promulgators receiving a thorough pasting
for being perceived as trying to control the media.
The effort of the UNC with its Green Paper on the reform of
media laws, although different to what went before and that
of the present in some fundamental ways, received a similar
roasting with Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj and Prime Minister
Basdeo Panday being the main targets.
In the present, the TATT draft, being piloted by a couple
public servants, has got a warm enough baptism and its future
seems as uncertain as how WI will play tomorrow.
Before we get to an analysis of the actual draft, the observation
must be made about the peculiarity of this society to wail
and moan about everything that is wrong with a particular
industry or form of operation but when an attempt is made
to counter the negatives, there is a sudden transformation
of specialist public opinion and the institution and institutional
practices become acceptable, even exemplary.
For instance, elements of Indo-Trinidad have slammed the Afro-centric
broadcast media in Port-of-Spain for discrimination and for
practising the worst forms of racism possible.
Indo-Trinidadian culture is said to have been denied a place
on the national media and the cultural and religious groups
representative of Indo-Trinidad are said to have been denied
a radio licence on spurious, perhaps racist, grounds. Indeed,
the courts have ruled on these latter allegations and found
them to have substance.
At the same time, Afro-conscious citizens highlight what they
see as the daily assaults of racism against their community
emanating out of the Indian radio stations and also charge
that Afro-Trinidadian culture is invisible on television and
silent on radio.
Also, there are those who are of neither tribe but who fear
that the free-for-all clash, contention (some of it deliberately
and politically encouraged) and the diminished, even absence
of, professional standards in the industry could have disastrous
effects on race relations and the maintenance of civil society.
However, when faced with the challenge of doing something
about it, an irrational hysteria emerges. Maybe there is work
here for the social psychologist who may investigate if there
is some psychosis hindering progress.
But handling race relations sensitively and productively to
enhance the possibility of cohesion even in the plural society
is not the only known problem of broadcasting and broadcast
journalism. Bias, ignorance, incompetence, the absence of
journalistic standards and fairness are all challenges to
All of this does not suggest that politicians should escape
scrutiny and the draft not be subjected to searching analysis.
What the column is advocating is that a draft code should
be approached in an adult fashion with recognition given to
the international nature of such a code.
Indeed, the broadcast industry should insist as a first position
that there be extensive discussions and that the industry
should be central to the finalisation and monitoring of the
code when it is established.
In this respect, the first comment on the TATT attempt to
develop a code is to say that organisation should not be the
one to work with the industry to develop the code and to manage
its implementation. That should be the responsibility of a
properly constituted independent broadcast authority. TATT
should be left to work out the technical and economic environment
for telecommunications development.
With the broadcast authority will come a structured environment
that will implement and manage the code, including the establishment
of sanctions and a process for applying the sanctions. Moreover,
the authority will have responsibility for other matters,
again long talked about, such as local programming, including
the music and entertainment industry.
To be continued