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Family matters

By Terry Joseph
May 06, 2005

The internecine conflict aired Wednesday morning on I-95 FM between Louis Lee Sing, chairman of the station's parent company and its Head of News, Dale Enoch, becomes much more than a family squabble over policy guidelines; given its nexus to ongoing debate over draft broadcast regulations recently released by the Telecommunications Authority (TATT).

Carping over not being allowed to defend I-95FM against recent remarks by Senator Wade Mark, Mr Lee Sing publicly pilloried Mr Enoch's news team, calling it "inept" and "incompetent". In a subsequent interview, he described this approach to conflict resolution as that of a good leader, contrasting his management style with that of Express CEO Craig Reynald and former chairman Ken Gordon.

Of course, the most frequently quoted fundamental of good industrial relations warns employers away from publicly berating workers, touting the merits of confidentiality about performance appraisal and remedies. Mr Lee Sing's on-air upbraiding of Mr Enoch's team is therefore a classic example of what a good leader should never do, as any employee put to such ignominy is almost certain to respond unproductively.

But peculiar to the instant case, is the fact that Mr Enoch's job allows him almost unbridled use of unflattering terms to describe other people's work - and there are those who insist he revels in that facility - so when the tables turn, any demonstration of pique on his part invokes the hook line of calypsonian Brigo's provocative work on the subject: "Do So Don't like So".

Mark you, few topics beat a juicy scandal in which the very media become news but what should be of wider importance to the fraternity is concomitantly exposing the vulnerability of its almost universal objection to TATT's plans for streamlining broadcast media and regulating runaway levels of inflammatory or under-researched statements aired by maverick presenters.

In the I-95FM joust, by calling for adherence to policies albeit developed in-house, as a way of securing a purely journalistic approach to hosting talk-shows, Mr Lee Sing, who has been exhaustively vocal criticising TATT's draft broadcast code was, perhaps unwittingly, already implementing a version of exactly what his adversary is so far only proposing.

Mr Lee Sing, who is not without experience in the crosshairs, was understandably upset at not being given an opportunity to air his company's side of the story, accusing two Senators (for whom he swiftly designed derisive nicknames) of using Parliament to malign and sully people's reputations, naming the media as sometimes willing conspirators in such libel and slander.

What is extraordinary here is that Mr Lee Sing's station is frequently cited in discussions about broadcasting indiscretion, airing un-researched or slanderous statements. Just last week I brought to his attention by telephone a slanderous comment being repeatedly aired during the same morning show on I-95 FM, a situation he evidently rectified immediately and without on-air name-calling.

Not that I-95FM is lonely in this category. Several talk-radio stations, some dedicated to Indian programming exclusively, have been similarly accused of transparency transgressions, ranging from enjoying State-sponsored advertising favours through unauthorised enhancement of transmission power to inciting hatred and other anti-social postures.

Faced with such observations, broadcasters quickly cite constitutionally-supported freedom of expression, Mr Lee Sing himself saying listeners should be exposed to the realities, transferring onus to those in charge of political and racial outcomes; suggesting they repair these conditions at source rather than castigate reporters and commentators.

Contrarily, media pride themselves on ability to influence opinion. The prevailing view of Rastafari, a religious preference, was initially instilled by stories identifying dreadlocked persons as exclusively criminal, until protest from that group led to perpetrators of crimes being described as "men sporting rasta hairstyles".

Similarly, whatever is said on radio is taken as gospel by undiscerning listeners who, from all accounts, comprise the clear majority. And radio appears to be wallowing in the prevalence of semi-literacy, because a lot of what airs across the board seems to be disseminated on precisely that premise.

Talk-show presenters know they can spew unbalanced information without fear of reprisal if their ratings bring the frequency vindicating revenue. Leadership of such stations deliberately turn a deaf ear to insensitive commentary or blatant character assassination. Like we so recently heard said of politics, gain redefines integrity.

If radio station principals wish to avoid the consequences of rising negative sentiment toward much of what is currently carried and resultant public sympathy with the TATT initiative, they must rush to implement more stringent self-imposed restraints and not only when scorched by the dragon they so cheerfully created.

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