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Local television enters the Gayelle

By Terry Joseph
January 29, 2004

THOSE who have been hankering for more local television programming, or enough good news to challenge the impact of negative images of Trinidad and Tobago are in for a treat, when Gayelle the Channel comes on air.

Gayelle's test-run is already available on UHF Channel 23 for regular TVs with individual antennae. Cable system operation is set to begin from February 16, bringing with it a number of novel approaches to television programming, most importantly, a local/regional content averaging 90 per cent of on-air time.

Produced by Banyan, Gayelle the Channel takes its call sign from a weekly cultural magazine that ran for six years (1985 – 1991) on Trinidad and Tobago Television (and which was also aired on Identity TV in London and several Caribbean stations).

This larger responsibility, of providing 18 hours of programming daily, remains faithful to the local content philosophy of the 30-minute programme from which the station's name derived.

At Tuesday's launch, which took place on the rooftop of First Citizens Bank (FCB) on Queen's Park East, Port of Spain Mayor Muchisson Brown and Radio Toco general manager Michael Als referred to the need for more local and supportive images of Trinidad and Tobago. Greetings and good wishes also came from Publishers and Broadcasters Association president Dominic Beaubrun and Media Association president Dale Enoch.

Like Radio Toco, Gayelle is a community television station – the first of its kind in a number of ways. Speaking to the Express, CEO Christopher Laird explained that, among the reasons for the station only now coming on air (after a 13 year delay since getting its broadcast licence) was a waning in the novelty of seemingly endless cable-television choices.

"Viewers have discovered that 60 cable channels doesn't necessarily mean that many viable options," he said. "In fact, most people select five or six channels and stay with those but, perhaps more importantly, we are only now able to garner the level of corporate support required, as the Gayelle generation of the 1980's comes of age and now occupy positions of influence or have access to resources they can devote to this initiative.

"The social situation has also helped move Gayelle forward, as the establishment recognizes more clearly that what people watch influences what people do. The general breakdown of law and order cannot be separated from programming that glorifies that kind of behaviour.

People have grown up on a diet of Hollywood murder and mayhem, much of that education now coming home to roost.

"Importantly, the cost of digital video camera technology is now within reach, allowing us high quality recording at relatively low cost, such as happened with audio about ten years ago, so we are now able to put little cameras in people's hands and retrieve great stuff.

"Then we have the hard-won integrity of Banyan and of people like Errol Fabien, who enjoys tremendous credibility in the corporate world and among members of the public. All these factors influenced the decision to launch Gayelle the Channel at this time. Like Lloyd Best says, ‘in Trinidad and Tobago, the prize goes to those who last the course' and I am happy we wer able to," Laird said.

Gayelle is attempting a number of new approaches to television programming, from news to leisure. The station plans to avoid sensationalizing news reports and, by the same opportunity, insert a lot more pleasant happenings into each newscast. It will also present most of its programming live and allow call-in requests for videos, be it a CLR James speech or Astor Johnson.

"People her and in the Caribbean region are doing much more in their daily lives than kidnapping and murder. Just on the numbers, at least 1,299,900 are each day pursuing normal lawful and worthwhile business that occupies very little space on the news as compared to that given to lawbreakers and we want to reflect that balance. Gayelle's news must not make you want to put up more wrought iron or pack up and leave the country," Laird said.

"Our media has also been excluding much of the country, concentrating on issues arising only in the capital city and, while we are a community station, there is avenue for filling that gap. We will assign cameras to interested persons and community or social groups to shoot events and teach them to edit the material and discuss it during presentations on air.

"This format has not been used here before. It allows for highly interactive television based on reality, not contrived reality shows as have become popular on American television. In addition to our crews who bring in planned stuff, regular people will be encouraged to send in one or two-minute films which we will air, allowing them on set to field questions or explain rationale.

"On evenings, there will be a Caribbean connection, comedy, entertainment news, a late-night lime and talk-shows that reflect the town-meeting style, but in between formatted programming, we will come back live for short interludes. In short, we plan to change the jukebox approach to television for one that allows almost total interaction with viewers – real reality television," Laird said.

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