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Taking Talk To New Depths

January 12, 2003
By Raffique Shah

AS a radio talk-show host I am painfully aware of the depths to which such programmes could descend, taken to the latrine level mainly by callers with diehard political allegiances and people with sick minds. Worse that this faceless lot, though, are hosts who operate from the bottom of the latrine pit. They spew their skunk-like stink on those who bother to listen to them, and encourage their callers to hurl abuse at people in public life as well as promote divisiveness in an already fractured society.

That some of these shows have been allowed to degenerate into "audio mudfests" begs the questions: what is the role of the Ministry of Information and/or the Director of Telecommunications with respect to programme content in radio? Who is ensuring that the public is protected from people who are clearly bent on destroying the peace and harmony we have always enjoyed in this country? From the bile I listen to almost every day (and night) on certain stations, I guess the ministry and the Director have abdicated their responsibilities, if ever they had any, and that there is now a free-for-all on radio.

This is not to invite censorship in radio, merely to call for certain standards to be met. One would think that the more radio station that mushroomed after the NAR government opened up the media, the merrier it would have been for the population. Instead, what we have today are close to 20 radio stations, and hardly more than 20 announcers who meet even the basic standard required to be "on air". Gone are the days when perfection-or close to it-ruled the roost on radio, with the only two stations existing then having a surfeit of talented announcers and hosts. Today, we thrive on counterfeit rather than surfeit.

That, however, is the least of the problems that came with the opening up of the airwaves. It's tolerable, I suppose, to have one's ears assaulted by green verbs and pink adjectives aplenty. Even woeful diction can be excused, since, in the mad rush to expand radio, good announcers were not easy to by. When, however, talk shows descend into the gutter, taking audiences that include children into the netherworld of racism, or bitter partisan politics, there is cause for grave concern. There are people on radio preaching pure hate-and yet we wonder why this society appears to be descending into a hellhole that, if allowed to continue, would take us all to...well, Hell.

There are shows that are openly political, certainly on I95.5FM, in which the hosts are from the main parties. They promote their parties, and even though one may disagree with many things they say or dispute what they insist are facts, at least they operate at a level of decency that's commendable. And really, there is nothing wrong with political parties being given radio time or space in newspapers to promote their views. That's all part of a healthy democracy, once the parties ensure they have responsible people represent them.

In my programmes I try my best to encourage sober discussions on the topic of the night, and I insist that callers respect my guests, whoever they may be, and however much listeners may disagree with them. In fact, the moment I discern that a caller is about to abuse my guest, or get into grey areas that could lead to mudslinging, I cut him or her off. While guests on such shows must come in for some flak-hell, that's why they are on the programme-the vulgarity that some callers want to inflict on the populace is wholly unacceptable.

But many hosts have no such self-restraints. A few nights ago a caller to one programme on an Indian station referred to members of the present government as "swines (sic), hogs and jackasses". The hosts responded, almost in harmony, "Short and sweet, boy!" Another caller dubbed President Arthur Robinson "the biggest criminal in the country". That, too, was not only allowed, but was defended by the hosts when other callers voiced their disgust with such terms. On the same programme, nightly, callers say the most degrading things about Afro-Trinis, however much it is disguised by the use of "them" and "we".

And in response to the illiterate or insensitive hosts and callers, many on the opposing side call in warning, "you see allyuh people", clearly meaning Indo-Trinis. Hey, I'm Indo-Trini, so am I included among "allyuh people"? Because I, and mercifully for the country, tens of thousands of Indo-Trinis like me, will have no part of this "we" and "dem" divisiveness. Nor would a large body of Afro-Trinis engage in Indo-bashing, even when they are talking privately. Yet, nightly we are exposed to an equally large number of people who can see only as far as the texture of their hair.

There is another show on another station where the main host is equally disgusting. I hardly listen to him since I cannot sip my morning coffee laced with "tatah". He, too, being on the other side of the racial fence and presumably the political divide, gets away with murder. On the few occasions I've listened to the show, I wondered how anyone can stomach such quarrelsome bile that early in the morning. These are just two of several talk shows that go beyond the boundaries of decency, of what the public should be subjected to via the airwaves.

Regular callers to these programmes are a breed apart. How they get into every programme, since some of them run simultaneously, is anybody's guess. Worse, they repeat the same point or points over and over, day after day. Maybe these people have nothing else to do than listen to every radio station and speed-dial the shows to spew their venom or more often display their stupidity. Still, they turn many people away from talk radio to stations that play only music. The truth be told, these latter stations really rescue you when you are trapped in your vehicle.

Except for during the Carnival season, that is. Why radio DJs need to assault our ears with the worst ditties (hell, those aren't calypsoes!) "sung" by artistes whose voices are worse than mine (and that's bad, eh, really bad), and with noises that pass for music, beats me. It's not as if there aren't good calypsoes in every category, including party songs. But they choose the worst to inflict upon their audiences.

Between the rabid talkers and the mindless DJs, they have really taken radio to new depths. Save us, please, someone-minister, director, programme managers, owners. Help!