Address to MWAG Awards Ceremony

Address to Annual Awards Ceremony
Media Workers Association of Grenada

National Trade Centre
St George’s
Grenada

11 January 2015

Michael Bascombe
Former President MWAG
President, Caribbean Sports Journalist Association

 

Salutations

It’s an honour to accept this invitation from my colleagues to address the 9th Annual Awards of the Media Workers Association of Grenada, but importantly, recognising the achievements of those who excelled under the year in review. Congratulations to all the awardees this evening.

I want to begin my presentation by honouring two members of the media fraternity who passed away in 2014. Both Allan Palmer and Leslie Pierre made significant contributions to the media in Grenada. Palmer, an engineer by profession, was among a group of talented technical minds in Grenada. Leslie Pierre, as articulated in the many tributes, impacted on the careers of many colleagues in the media. He has taken his place, and rightly so, as a warrior and champion of the free media in Grenada.

This might be an opportunity for MWAG to consider a Media Hall of Fame to include some of these trailblazers. I’m certain this audience will agree that the likes of T. A. Marryshow, York Marryshow, Alister Hughes, Leslie Pierre, Leslie Seon, Thelma Campbell, Hermoine Charles and others deserve a place in this permanent recognition.

I invite you to join me in a moment of silence as a mark of respect… May they rest in peace.

I have been invited to speak on the theme “Complimenting Development, Pioneering Freedom of the Press and Effective Dissemination of Information”. But I can’t complete my presentation without speaking about sports….

Dear colleagues, I will be frank with you – the media is a profession and not a job. For the current media workers and those interested, if you want a quick buck, then change your minds because the media doesn’t pay anyway. But if you want a career and to immerse in its development, to abide by ethical principles and the accompanying qualities of a professional media worker then you could consider this profession.

Colleagues, I made this opening statement with no apologies. In many instances, the media is its own enemy and while there are reasons for us to reflect on the past year and celebrate individual achievements there is also compelling evidence that there is a very long road ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the late 1980s there were a handful of radio and television stations and about two weekly newspapers in Grenada, providing most of the current affairs and programming for Grenadians. Additionally, there were regional media outlets like Radio Antilles, Radio Trinidad and 610 Radio, BBC Caribbean, Voice of America and CANA – the Caribbean News Agency or what was then called the CANA Wire Service.

Local and Regional programming were complimented with the familiar voices of Leslie Seon, Bob Gittens, Jerry Romain, Alva Clarke, June Gonsalves, Dave Elcock, Allister Hughes and Lew Smith among others.

The quality of journalists, broadcasters (not radio personalities), editors, producers, engineers, presenters and other people behind the scenes were encouraging for young people coming out of school, even though there was limited media and opportunities.

Comparatively, we had very little locally owned and operated media outlets but produced top-notched and Caribbean-renowned broadcasters and journalists.

Fast forward to 30 years and we have not seen any comparative successes in recent years even though we have more now than we had then.

Of the many radio stations in Grenada, it’s difficult to make any clear distinction in their programming and their quality of programming – pretty much of the same format.

And that format has taken radio stations away from news, away from current affairs. Yes, it has given or provided an opportunity for people to air their views through the call-in programmes.

But in the context of national development, we may ask – How is the media in Grenada fulfilling its theme of ‘complimenting national development’?

I want to challenge media owners and executives to take a critical look at their programming and accompanying responsibilities to information, to perspectives, to opinions and at the same time widening the conversation beyond the political issues. Sadly missing from the current-day formats are the cultural, (outside of music) historical and even sporting backgrounds and interest of our society.

We have seen the expansion of so many subject areas in the external examinations including Theatre Arts, Information Technology, Clothing & Textiles but not Journalism where High School students could start understanding and developing basic skills of the profession. The banking retail and service sectors can consume so much in a small economy. Fewer people through journalism have an opportunity to be self-employed, to be reporters and correspondents, to participate in the process of enlightenment, growth and nation building.

So the question is, as a country, how much have we taken the whole issue of media and journalism in a serious way and to position it as a pillar in National Development? What’s the litmus test for someone to be an editor, to be a contributing writer? It may push me to invoke the passion of the late Leslie Pierre who took a keen interest in our development as young reporters. He challenged us to be resilient in our career pursuit.

It’s therefore imperative that MWAG takes the lead in challenging our leaders in understanding the importance of journalism and responsible media in the dissemination of information and provoking discourse in a responsible manner, not just on politics and elections. Let’s direct programming on our history and purpose as a nation.

Unfortunately, the only interest in the profession these days appears to be in radio personalities or deejays. I refer to those who just open microphones and phone lines – taking calls, requests and big ups. It’s a troubling concern which needs to be addressed urgently.

As much as I spent long hours around sports commentators Paul Roberts and Ray Roberts while attending High School, even when I made the transition from print to broadcast, it took me some months before I finally went on-air. I had to do voice training with the late Thelma Campbell and Hermoine Charles and still satisfy both news and programming directors that I am ready for on-air duties. So there was a process and I saw many others who also followed that path.

Music makes up more than 90 per cent of radio programming in Grenada, and by the way music that the stations should be paying royalties for copyrighted works. Like many countries around the world, it’s the law. So if the law takes its course, just like license renewal fees, music royalties would have to be paid.

But let me pause and pay tribute to the late Anthony “Jericho” Greenidge and the evergreen Lew Smith for their contribution to the awareness of pan music especially in Grenada. Their programming will be incomplete if they did not play or speak about pan music.

We may well give them some credits for the many young people who now form part and in many instances the majority of the growing movement of pan players throughout the country.

We need to become more involved and creative because the media is powerful, it has the ability to impact on a nation’s thinking and direction. It provides an opportunity to expose truth, which is necessary.

In the United States, the media is often called the fourth branch of government (or “fourth estate”). That’s because it monitors the political process and policy development on a wide scale of issues in order to ensure that decision makers don’t abuse the democratic process.

Others call the media the fourth branch of government because it plays such an important role in the fortunes of political candidates and issues. This is where the role of the media can become controversial. News reporting is supposed to be objective, and a clear distinction must be made between reporting and commentary. Realising that journalists are people, with feelings, opinions and preconceived ideas, maybe the introduction of round tables will be a most appropriate format?

It’s for reasons like these that our media owners and managers need to be challenged about their responsibilities to the development of the media in Grenada, outside of the playing of music. But importantly, civil society must also become part of this conversation and the business community must be prepared, as good corporate citizens, to support, sponsor and contribute to the development of good sound programming that goes beyond the appetite of music lovers.

This brings me to an important element of the development process of the media – A Media Policy!

We must respect the rights of individuals to freely express themselves once it’s done responsibly but we have to set guidelines. We have to set the parameters under which it can be done. It must be seen as no different to regulations that state you drive on the left side of the road here in Grenada. You drive drunk and get caught then you face sanctions based on the regulations, likewise you have building codes which builders must adhere to.

So my question is what do we have as a policy in ensuring that the media plays its rightful role in society? There are so many responsibilities that go with operating a radio or television station or newspaper. But where is the policy which guides this process? What structures are in place to ensure that License agreements are adhered to and implementation and enforcement is guided by institutional actions?

Let me commend the government – former and current – for taking some actions. Firstly, the repealing of the criminal libel law by the former administration must be commended.

Secondly, the current government needs to take a bow for answering the call to remove sections of the electronic crimes bill…. We do understand that the bill is there to protect the nation and everyone has to bear some responsibility in everything they do.

The question is where does one’s right end and where does one’s responsibility as a responsible citizen begins? In other words, how do we define this? What is that junction that your individual rights have to end and the responsibility of a nation begins?

Let me make it clear tonight, that my comments, although provocative, are intended to seek positive change out of it.

Allow me to speak a bit about the Media Workers Association of Grenada.

It will be unwise to challenge, criticise and/or blame all others except my colleagues. My dear Media Workers Association of Grenada, it’s time to reconsider the functioning of the association. Madam President and executive members, MWAG was never intended to be a social club or just a gathering twice a year.

MWAG was once a vibrant media organisation and a conduit for other similar associations around the region. There were those dormant ones and MWAG for some reason became the envy for regrouping in other islands.

MWAG was involved in many activities including the National Schools debate which we started; media career day where colleagues will go to various schools to speak to students about working in the media; MWAG was active in private sector football, cricket, netball; held regular briefings with the Attorney General, DPP, Lawyers, Police, Churches, GCIC, TUC, and more. MWAG was invited to have representatives on various committees. MWAG was busy, MWAG was engaging, and MWAG was a respectable organisation.

How do we see a widening of participation in the media workers activities? How can we engage the stalwarts of journalism still with us, so we can learn from their experiences and knowledge? Outside of the potential for training, how can MWAG attract wider membership and activism among media workers in the functions of the association? What has MWAG done in recent years to support the effort of its members in growth and development?

Is MWAG’s role just to release a statement when the issue of freedom of the press comes to light? What is MWAG’s position on any national issue? Certainly, its’ duty is much more than just organising this annual awards. There must be a change and MWAG has to champion that change. But it must also include a real change for a new style of association that is befitting of MWAG’s position overseeing the media in Grenada.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it was also suggested that I speak on the issue of the sports media in the Caribbean, and particularly in the Grenadian context.

It has been my passion and I make no excuses. But let me state that we, as the media, have failed sports in Grenada. I say we because I feel guilty about my inability to do more, even though I’m a ‘digital resident’ of Grenada.

A vibrant sports media is needed now more than ever for the rapid developments taking place in Grenada with our sportsmen and women both locally and internationally.

Firstly, let’s establish that the marriage between the media and sports has been of immense impact on the economies of many countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, South Africa, Germany, Italy, USA, Brazil, and more. Even in the Caribbean, there are examples in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados.

Today’s sports are made attractive through the instrumentality of the media, and millions of people are glued to their Television, Radio, Internet, even the Newspapers.

Through the media, sports today are presented with electrifying beauty. This makes sports attractive and lucrative. Little wonder too that sports command high followership. Surely, it is a perfect opportunity to invest and advertise, even in collaboration with the athletes themselves.

Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela once said “Sport reaches areas far beyond any sphere of political influence and has probably done more to unify nations than any politician has been capable of”.

Recently, the publicity which sports enjoy is second to none. The media gets people informed of the happenings within their locality and far beyond. Folks can relax in the comfort of their homes, and simply recourse to their media devices for live-streaming and updates of sporting activities throughout the world.

However, let’s roll the dice on Grenada and ask a few questions.

Has the media in Grenada positioned itself to capitalise on these opportunities? How do we ensure that the foreign – regional and international – media do not continue to outnumber the local media at international sporting events in Grenada? The football and athletics stadium is expected to be a showpiece for Grenada’s athletic and football talents. And again, how is the media in Grenada preparing for such a challenge?

Our cricket stadium has afforded us the opportunity to host many international matches. Which one of our national is positioned to compliment the international coverage teams that follow these matches? Let me here single out Pastor Stephenson Worme for his passion and integration into the regional commentary teams.

Ladies and Gentlemen, It can’t be business as usual for the media. We have failed and will continue to fail sports if we don’t get our act together. The public deserves more than just the winners, the scores and the schedules.

For example, what do we know about young Meleni Rodney and Oreoluwa Cherebin away from winning regional and international medals? What is responsible for the domination of cricket in the parishes of St Andrew and St David? Who are the local footballers on the verge of international stardom? What are the schedules for football clubs in Grenada during the off-season?

Who are the budding sportsmen and women from the communities? What is the condition of Rondell Bartholomew, who once rivalled Kirani James? How many media houses have someone assigned to report on sports in a responsible and consistent way? How many radio stations have a regular sports programme? What are the investments in equipment for sports programming, so that there could be coverage of the unknowns in the communities?

Ray Roberts and his Sport Views, Pele Darbeau and Brain of Sports Quiz, Hamlet Mark and YSFM’s Total Coverage were just a few of the regular sporting programmes and the six-hour Saturday Sports Special hosted by Derrick Seon, Irvine Simon, Harold Pysadee and yours truly were just a few of the consistent sporting programmes on radio.

These programmes provided in-depth analysis of sports at home and abroad. They made the real connection between our sportsmen and women and the sporting public. They also fuelled community sporting events. So whether it was a young cricketer in Mama Cannes or a footballer in River Sallee or netballer in River Road – the public was kept informed.

Colleagues, unfortunately, even with more resources and technology available today, we have fallen off pace, even exited the race totally.

Commentary of club football was an instrumental part of programming. Many times we listened to the likes of Paul Roberts and others doing commentary on matches involving Dauntless, Atoms, Carenage and other clubs. But that was done with much less technical assets.

Despite some lingering administrative issues with the West Indies Cricket Board, they have to be complimented for the effort to provide live streaming of the regional competitions. The Grenada Cricket Association also teamed up with the Government Information Service for live broadcast of the semi-finals and final of the Twenty20 Tournament. It’s nothing new and with current technology available, it’s possible to do inexpensively.

I must single out two media entities that treat sports not as appendages of their news presentation, but have tried to make sports integral to what they do. One is CC6 TV that has allotted a sportscaster in Jennel Andrews who has travel the nation and overseas for the sole purpose of sports coverage. We commend CC6 and would like to see a similar effort by other radio and TV stations. In print, over the last two years, Caribupdate has dedicated multiple pages each week to sports coverage, including features on athletes, which is often amply supported by photos. Images – photos and videos – are essential to good sports coverage. So, I also want to specially commend Caribupdate Weekly.

I am confident that others can do an equally good job as CC6 and Caribupdate Weekly. What is needed is the commitment to get it done.

Together and collectively we must effect change, independent of Project Grenada. I think this opportunity presents an ideal opportunity to get greater focus, through critique and recognition.

So, it’s not too late to rope in the stalwarts who have made this possible. Paul Roberts, Ray Roberts, Hamlet Mark, Toro Depradine, Ian Redhead, Alvin Clouden and the many others who could be part of the “fix”.

This is not about any Political Party nor Government…this is about Grenada and it’s national development…PERIOD!!

It is a human condition that we all express ourselves differently and are passionate about different things. But what unifies us, or what should unify us, is the collective struggle to change the status quo.

We don’t need to talk much about what is wrong with the sports media in Grenada, as we all know what’s wrong. We need to fix what’s wrong.

And like I suggested earlier to MWAG, there is no doubt the time has also come for the State to consider a national sports hall of fame and a mechanism to record and archive the island’s achievement in sports.

Roll back to December 4, 1992 at Perth in Australia – West Indies vs Pakistan in the Benson & Hedges World Series, debutants for West Indies Kenny Benjamin and Junior Murray. Murray made 22 from the West Indies’ total of 197 and then returned to take two catches but in a losing effort as Pakistan won by four runs.

Then there were Alleyne Francique winning gold medals at the World Indoor Championships and Kirani James at CARIFTA Games, World Championships, Olympic and Commonwealth Games, to name a few.

These achievements and accomplishments, as well as other recorded by early generations of sportsmen and women, should be part of the national sporting archives and or museum.

In summary, here are some suggestions I want to share with my colleagues

The media maintain that role to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, spiritual, political, social and economic fabric of Grenada….

Encourage the development of Grenadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Grenadian attitudes, opinions, ideals, values and artistic creativity, by providing opportunities for Grenadian talent to be seen by Grenadians and by offering information and analysis from a Grenadian perspective by the utilisation of Grenadian talents…

Adapt to on-going changes in science and technology…

Be varied, balanced and comprehensive and enlightening and entertaining for Grenadians of all ages, interests and tastes…

Provide a reasonable opportunity for the general public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude tonight with some quotes from Australian Peter Greste, one of three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt, after being found guilty of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste penned a letter just before Christmas from his cell and I quote:

“We should never forget that journalism is not a science. It is a human craft as vulnerable to biases and inaccuracies and flaws as any other. And, at its worst, it can be quite destructive. But the reason we still buy newspapers, listen to the radio or switch on the evenings TV news bulletin is to find context and understanding; a sense of perspective.

The best journalism puts a frame around an issue. It helps define it, clarifies it, makes sense of it. And, above all, it challenges authority.

In a functioning democracy, political legitimacy comes from the voters. We, the people, hire politicians. As with any responsible business, it is incumbent on employers to keep an eye on their employees and, as we all know, we tend to work better, more efficiently and more honestly when we know we are being monitored.

I am not talking of a big brother society here. Just good, old-fashioned accountability.

The philosopher and writer Albert Camus was absolutely right when he said the press can, of course, be both good and bad, but without freedom it can never be anything but bad. Unquote!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope my presentation could be viewed as reasonable, specific, and contemporaneous observations on the media in Grenada. It has been a pleasure and thank you!

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