June 1, 2001
Mr Ralph Maraj, Minister of Communications and Technology in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago had some interesting things to say on the future of state-owned media in the recently concluded fourth annual Caribbean media conference in Grenada.
Mr Maraj started by saying that Caribbean countries are small, developing countries that sometimes lack self confidence and are not fully mature as democracies. The older countries had developed deeper traditions and built stronger institutions with time and experience. Caribbean countries lack experience and are not yet fully capable of facing the challenge of democracy. "Democracy lets loose competing interests, all striving sometimes fiercely, to overcome one another in the pursuit of profit, position and influence. Small, developing societies without strong tradition and institutions, find it challenging to withstand the creative turbulence, which is absolutely necessary for gaining experience and furthering the maturing process".
The minister argued that a sign of our immaturity was that politics dominate our lives. "Sports provide a little escape from this overpowering pressure and presence of politics, but neither community nor culture, is strong enough to provide us with an alternative to politics, as an interpretation or definition of ourselves. In other words, we are still being led. I have no doubt that experience will eventually teach us to lead ourselves".
Mr Maraj asked if the media understood the maturing process and the role they needed to play, namely to help people to lead themselves.
Turning to state-owned media, he felt that within that context they had a role to play. He noted that they could in practice easily come under the influence of government and that in a competitive situation government found a need to have media to present their views. However, he said, "I long for the time when discernment would prevail over entrenched tribal loyalties and prejudices. I long for the time when governments would not need state-controlled media to get across their message".
Outside of the political arena, he said, the role of state-owned media is less controversial. Societal objectives like cultural development, environmental protection and healthy lifestyles and issues like globalisation, AIDS and drug trafficking could be explored without accusations of propagandist intent. The Minister suggested that through exploring these issues outside the political arena the state-owned media could develop a strength and an individuality that could form the basis for its own eventual independence.
He concluded "The state media shall be independent in the Caribbean. It should in fact be even more independent than private owned media, which is also vulnerable to subjective influences.
My own view is that in a mature, enlightened, evolved and discerning society, the state media could be so independent that any politician who dares interfere with it could earn the wrath of the people. That would only happen when we lead ourselves".
There is certainly a role for public broadcasting in the context that the minister has outlined. Ideally, that would remove the state-owned media from party politics so that, for example, it would not take political positions by way of editorials or opinion pieces. The BBC, for example, does not editorialise on issues of the day, nor do state-owned broadcasting media in other developed countries. Such media can concentrate on cultural and other issues that are not adequately dealt with by commercial media. That would, of course, itself require adequate resources to do the job properly. It is a view that the current dialogue committee on the state-owned media might wish to consider.