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Play What You Want

Govt rejects local content quota system for radio, TV

By Terry Joseph
January 25, 2004

Prime movers in the local music industry are livid over Government's refusal to legislate a minimum quota of indigenous music for broadcast media despite a move to ask the industry to initiate a voluntary quota.

Government's decision was released this week in an eight-page policy document on broadcasting. Saying it endorsed freedom of the press and media, the document stated: "The Government does not propose to dictate content in broadcasting - a mandatory percentage for local content is contrary to both the country's Constitution and the tenets of free enterprise."

The decision is a stinging slap to the face of 20 years of lobbying by stakeholders, which culminated in protest marches organised by the Recording Industry Association (RIATT) and a slew of meetings between that body and Government.

President of RIATT and vice-president of the Copyright Organisation (COTT), Kenny Phillips, called the decision "madness," saying Trinidad and Tobago was no bigger a supporter of free enterprise than several developed countries that legislated for local content on radio and television.

"Little T&T is talking about free trade in terms of local content on broadcast media but big countries like Canada, Brazil and Northern Ireland and, nearer home, Jamaica, felt the need to protect their cultural identity," said Phillips, who is also a major music producer and owner of KMP Music Labs.

"Our artistes and youth in general are even talking Jamaican slang like they were born in Trenchtown and they got that from radio. Look at violence in the schools and then listen to the hip-hop and rap music that Government is now officially endorsing for radio and trying to disguise the decision in a cloak of 'free enterprise'."

Phillips added: "They are hoping to convince broadcasters to play more local music by using 'moral suasion' in a country that has lost its morals partly because of the very broadcasters and the music to which our people are being exposed daily. Whatever Cro Cro sings is tame compared to the second-rate sh*t being aired on MTV and BET with messages of violence and sex - and sometimes you can't tell the difference.

"50 Cent telling young people to go and sell cocaine ("do a stunt") and Government saying they can't make rules about that? How come they tell us what side of the road to drive on with our personal cars? Governments make rules all the time."

Phillips continued, "This is a blow to the head, a slap in the face, however you want to call it. Actually, this is madness. At COTT we collected $7 million last year and only had $800,000 to distribute to local composers. Why? Because foreign composers own the copyright to 90 per cent of the music being played every day on radio. The 20/20 Vision Government talks about obviously has no vision for the entertainment industry or this country's culture."

"Apparently, politicians believe the only time there is a recording industry is when they want to make calypsoes for their election campaigns," he remarked.

"Well, pretty soon there won't even be that. I was hoping for a decision that, even if it didn't say 50 per cent airplay, would have secured something for us, however small. The way I see the future unfolding in the face of this, the only thing left for me to do is send my talented son abroad to see if he could make it there."

The country's biggest producer of chutney and calypso music, Moonasar Chankar, was equally disturbed by Government's decision.

"They could have tried to give us some kind of break," Chankar said. "They now force calypsonians to depend on Carnival instead of encouraging them to make local songs right through the year. It doesn't make sense composing or producing a song if it is not going to get airplay.

"They ain't doing much against piracy and now to say radio could play whatever it wants is to send the stations to look for cheap catalogues from American producers and play that whole day and make local composers beg for their bread. They don't know the number of good artistes seeing trouble, otherwise they would have thought a little more before making this decision."

Chankar continued: "Producers are going to get out of the business. Composers will stop writing or just do simple songs, if there is no hope of getting that crucial exposure on radio. Some of them get $89 in royalties last year. What they want artistes to do?"

The country's leading music distributor and himself a producer and retailer, Earl Crosby, said: "I am in shock. This hit me like a bullet. How come other countries can legislate for airplay and we so democratic that they make it sound oppressive to ask influential media to pay a little more attention to local culture?

"They already let pan get away and now calypso, chutney and all the other indigenous music up for grabs and fighting with massive multi-million-dollar marketing by American production companies.

"Well they could come and produce the music for themselves because I am pulling out of that business. We cannot get more exposure for products we invest in, so like we are not private enterprise too, so it doesn't make sense to continue with this business. If that is what they want, I will be like any other business. I will buy American music and sell. Going into the studio just doesn't make sense in light of Government's decision," Crosby said.

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