By A. H. Hotep August 26th,1999

Discrimination in State Media

After listening to Sound-Off yesterday, I felt compelled to give my personal experiences with discrimination from the programs, manager, and hosts in the state media.

It is not surprising that the new host of the Sound-Off program is giving the impression that he believes African culture is Reggae Music, Rap music, and some five-minute segment programs two weeks per year around Emancipation Day. His gross Disrespect is no accident. This host works on an East Indian formatted station where they talk about their version of spirituality; their interpretations of the politics of the day and their idea of culture. They play their version of Indian music whole day. For two days this host has been asking callers what is African programming, but at the same time he is telling the callers that there is enough African programs on the radio. This host has also been deliberately refusing my calls on that program. He is a fool anyway you look at it. If he does not know better, he is a fool, and if he is being dishonest, he is a fool.

Apparently the regular host, Gail Seegobin, and the Program Manager Brenda De Silva, is using this ignorant host to confuse callers, and to try to silence the call for the inclusion of African programs in our state media. I hope people remember that it was the regular host who told callers that they were no longer allowing them to discuss the need for African programs on our state media via the Sound-Off program. Imagine a bunch of people who were always against this appeal, now wants to tell callers what constitutes African programs.

The genesis of this goes way back in our colonial past. The PNM government that led this country to independence never understood the importance of history in bringing people closer together. They, in trying to appease the smaller East Indian community, allowed them limited access to the state media to promote their culture. In the meanwhile we had a political organization, NJAC, trying to instill pride amongst African people and they were calling for Africans and East Indians to unite. The then PNM government felt that this organization was a political threat so they worked at alienating this organization. This PNM party had the support of the masses that were seeing them as the founding fathers of the then newly formed nation. At the height of the NJAC's effort, the country came into oil wealth, and this money opened up more job opportunities for black people. It then became quite easy for the PNM with this wealth to stifle all serious opposition. They were also trying to woe the East Indian people into their party. The PNM did not understand what was being taught as Indian culture, and seeing that the Indian community was a minority group they did not feel threatened by them. All the PNM paid attention to, besides their own greed, was appeasing some Indian leaders who were busy securing more airtime and spreading a very racist idea of culture. Some other East Indian elite's were also patronizing the PNM government for hefty contracts. On the radio they spoke in broken English and Hindi and the majority of Africans did not understand what was being said, so they did not feel threatened.

Anyone familiar with the Caribbean would know that during and after physical slavery most Africans became Europeanized Christians and wanted to hear nothing of Africa. You should understand the effect of the years of brainwashing, telling African people that slavery was their liberating experience from the cursed Africa. African people were not paying attention to the growing East Indian community that were being told that African people were to blame for their troubles. Young East Indians were being taught that African people came about when Ram burned Rawan, and as such they were evil.

I began paying attention to this especially after arming myself with some Hindi books with English translations. I tried to explain to some people the danger in allowing this to continue. Of course few people took me seriously. I read more and more about the various racial groups that made up this country and was surprised that there was so many books and documentaries that were explaining a lot of these racial and cultural issues. I bought books and loaned them to anyone who showed interest. I had meetings with African organizations explaining to them the danger in allowing these negative teachings to go unchallenged. They all claimed to understand but I found they were not interested in doing anything about this issue. I kept asking them why they did not have programs on the radio to teach something better.

My impression was that these African organizations were caught up in seeking political power totally neglecting the mental health of the people. They were most vocal around Emancipation Day and for the rest of the year they were silent. I felt that I had to do something, so I started calling in on a growing number of Radio call-in programs explaining what I observed and what I learnt. This of course, met with much resistance. I started calling for the inclusion of African programs on the radio so that a different point of view could have been expounded.

The station argued that it was for economical reasons that there were Indian -formatted stations within the group of media houses owned by the company ICN. I knew the only way out was to test the validity of that, so I started asking friends and family to help me raise some money to put these alternative programs on the radio. They pooled ten thousand dollars, which I took to the station. The company's programs manager questioned the content of the program that I had in mind and I assured them that the program would be about discussing African history and that I would be willing to Dialogue with anyone about the facts of our history. I would also bring in books by reputable scholars to substantiate these facts. I told them that all we had for now was ten thousand dollars and if people were interested they could contribute towards extending the program. This they agreed to. The money covered twenty programs and a contract was signed up. The program manager said that it was the policy of the station to have a presenter of their choice to host programs, and we agreed. Gail Seegobin said that she was interested and I did not mind. Actually I wanted her to be the host as I heard some of her views in the past, and found her to be either ignorant or dishonest. I felt she would be a great opponent to dialogue with publicly. The program was called DIALOGUE.

I began by explaining the things I felt people did not understand about history, especially the fact that we all share a common ancestry. I addressed some negative labeling that most African people were accepting because of their ignorance. Other peoples both African and Indian were allowed to freely use our program to express their views.

Five programs or so later Mr. Ajodha, (a senior announcer at the station) told me that some rich East Indian businessmen wanted to sponsor the program. I was wary of this because I did not want the program to be aligned with any business or organization, especially in the early stages, or manipulated because of financial support. I decided to test the credibility of these people. I started explaining what East Indians should know about their history especially the fact that the basic concepts in Hinduism have an African heritage, (I was fortunate to have Dr. Ben Jochannan on the program one day to help explain this). This angered a lot of East Indian people. Needless to say I never heard about these rich East Indian businessmen again.

A young businessman contacted me and said that he called the station trying to get in touch with me but he ended up speaking with Gail Seegobin. He said he told her that he wanted to contribute to the programs, she however told him that, "all good things must come to an end sometime", and that he should save his money to sponsor a program when DIALOGUE was over. He told me he was still willing to pay. I immediately began wondering how many other people may have called the station and were turned back. I mentioned this to Gail the next day. She said that she would get back to me. The next day I received a call from her stating that they wanted me to come to a meeting. I felt that the meeting was to discuss that issue. I invited another African businessman to accompany me, as he wanted to pay for more airtime, he said that he would invest thirty six thousand dollars to cover the remainder of the year.

To my surprise, the meeting was with Gail Seegobin and Brenda de Silva. Brenda De Silva told me that they felt the people were not ready for "that kind of information as yet". I asked her when she thought they would be ready, and she said she got calls of complaints from some listeners. Before that no one had ever complain to me about the content of the program. I told her that the people will not be ready without the information, they will be ready when they got it.

The gentleman who accompanied me immediately spoke up and said that he was there prepared to invest thirty six thousand dollars to continue the program. Brenda said that she don't think that was possible.

We immediately contacted a member of the Board of Management. We spoke with Morgan Job who said that he would look into the matter. Needless to say, he never got back in touch with us.

We spoke with several people in ICN about the unwillingness of the Programs' Manager to allow the DIALOGUE program to continue. They all seemed incapable of doing anything about the matter.

The program was ceased. I continued making appeals on the regular call-in programs while I was trying to get a meeting with the senior management. Callers kept asking for the reason the program was terminated, but the hosts kept saying that they could not discuss the issue. After a few weeks with the program being off, I finally got a meeting with Miss. Ingrid Isaac the Acting CEO of ICN and Mr. Surij Rambachan the Chairman of the Board of ICN and I explained the situation. They apologized, then said that the company have these formatted stations and that my type of program was better suited for another of their station. I told them that I had no problem with that, but as they were admitting that the other junior managers handled the matter badly they should do the work to now attract sponsors for the program and that they should advertise the program's return on the other stations. This they agreed to. In brief the agreement was as follows: ICN would seek sponsors for the program during the first four segments, during which time we would not pay. Then if they did not get the sponsors it would be our responsibility to pay. They mentioned that they had to provide a host of their choice. I agreed. The program started again.

There was no advertisements announcing the return of the program as agreed upon; they had problems getting properly working headphones during our segments; we would turn up to find out that the company's host could not be found; and so much other frustrating problems. On the fifth week I was called in to discuss payment. I reminded them of our written agreement about my agreeing to pay if they failed to get sponsors. I asked for the names of the companies they tried. The room went silent, you could have heard a pin dropped. Mr. Clement eventually broke the silence, saying that they really did not try to get sponsors because of the timing. I again reminded them of our agreement then left the station, as I was no longer willing to have a few people continue with their dishonest behavior. I knew I would have to continue stimulating people until more people made the appeal for informative historical programs to be part of general programming in the media. It is only when the ordinary people lobby for this, would they themselves be protective of it.

In the meantime, I assist all those who are interested in becoming better informed.

As each new person awakes, they experience the same pressures of having to deal with the disrespect of others, so they add their voices to this appeal.

I must add that it was very costly for me to become better informed, and most ordinary people do not have the resources to help themselves. They live day to day and complaining while expecting others to do for them what they have the ability to do for themselves. They are unaware of their true Self-respecting abilities. They do not value themselves. They do not know the importance of developing their characters. Their only hope is education that allows them to develop their Self-personality, and by extension themselves. The power of the media must facilitate education, especially the state-owned media houses.

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