May 22, 2005
By Raffique Shah
I have not seen the draft Broadcast Code that the Telecommunications Authority wants to impose on radio stations, nor do I believe my studying it will help me form an opinion other than what I have long held on the media in general. In fact, with the multiplicity of radio stations, I have lost track of who owns or runs what station, what their programming is, whether they are worth the effort it takes to scan stations seeking something to edify the mind, or soothe it. I hardly listen to radio on mornings, except to quickly digest the news, much of which is regurgitated from the previous night anyway.
I do, however, listen to some of the night-time talk shows, and on occasion I have had my ears and mind assaulted as I scanned the frequencies on mornings seeking out any "new news". I know why members of the telecommunications body might want to regulate some of those talk shows. Its members must have tuned in to these stations a few times, which is all it takes to identify the drivel that passes for radio, hence their decision to act. But in this the Authority is making a serious mistake. Any such action would be deemed an unforgivable sin in this hypocritical society in which freedom of speech, at the highest level, allows the lawmakers of the society (I am referring to Members of Parliament) to lie on, scandalise, verbally assault, and otherwise abuse persons who have no right to redress, because of the privilege of immunity they enjoy.
So if in Parliament "dey slandering", why should radio hosts and members of the "Radio Callers Association" feel inhibited with respect to the wildness they carry on with on a daily or nightly basis? In this country, people have the follow-the-leader mentality.
My colleagues in the media are bristling over the proposed code, many of them with good reason. We successfully fought against the Panday/Ramesh "Green Paper" that had proposed some draconian measures against media houses and journalists. So it's only fair that we fight against anything close to it, introduced by whoever is in government (or their agents), whether or not there is some measure of justification for their move.
I am not blanketing all radio hosts in the latrine-pit category. In fact, if I can identify two hosts who run their programmes tightly, Anil Gurahoo of Radio 103FM, and David Mohammed of 102FM. They make much sense in their "editorials", they conduct lively interactions with their callers, and they cut off anyone who attempts to unjustly denigrate people on the basis of race or religion, and they do not, like the others, encourage the "we" and "dem" syndrome. Dale Enoch of 95.5FM has run into problems with his bosses because he is seen as being not-PNM-enough. But nightly, Enoch is assaulted on the airwaves as "ah PNM dog"! Hell, I have listened to people say make the vilest comments about me, with hosts encouraging them. But I have not complained. I even appeared on a few such shows, and whenever those stations call me for comments on matters in which I am knowledgeable or involved, I chat with them. Being a public figure, I have learned to have a thick skin, to let the jackasses bray.
And I'll tell you why. In my 24 years in the media, I have stuck with the press. The printed word is a hell of a thing: it's there in black and white, and if I libel someone, the newspaper and I can be hauled before the courts and be made to pay the plaintiffs huge sums of money. So print journalists need to be extremely careful, since we not only risk libel suits, but no newspaper would retain journalists who routinely commit libel.
Radio has few controls in this regard. The Telecommunications Authority cannot demand tapes of their programmes, and woe be unto the individual who seeks to take action. If anything, that is where the Authority should put its focus. It should ensure that all talk shows are taped and delivered to it, and any citizen who feels slandered or aggrieved by statements made on such programmes must have the right to recourse. That's the prudent course to take. Do not muzzle the media. Monitor them. And give citizens the right to redress. Other than that, I'd behave like the late Eric Williams: switch off my hearing aid and "let the jackasses bray".