Just a curious question on an issue which, naturally, ought to be a matter of public interest and concern, if we are talking about a level playing field where equality and fair play prevails in the context of our democracy in the run-up to the next general election, constitutionally due no later than the second quarter of next year.
Seeing that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who also happens to be the minister responsible for broadcasting, was yesterday given a full hour on the public television service of the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to make a “live” broadcast of his speech to the annual conference of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), will the same opportunity be afforded to Opposition Leader Mia Mottley when she makes a similar address to the annual conference of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) next month?
Though Mr Stuart holds the office of Prime Minister, his address yesterday was not delivered in that capacity. Though the speech did address issues of public importance, like crime and the economy, Mr Stuart spoke in his capacity as president and political leader of the DLP before a largely partisan audience. Many Barbadians previously have expressed concern over Mr Stuart’s seeming preference to speak on matters of public importance at party meetings and other events, instead of following the tradition of making nationally-televised addresses, either from his office or the studios of CBC which are seen as politically neutral ground, as happened to be the case with his predecessors.
The fundamental difference with yesterday’s address was that it was a fully live broadcast. We cannot readily recall if there was a precedent under a previous administration but it is worth noting that since its establishment back in the 1960s, CBC has always faced accusations of being used by whichever political party is in power, as an extension of their external propaganda machinery when, in fact, it should serve the public interest and be open to all shades of expression, opinion and ideas, including the Opposition’s, even when they may be in conflict with positions by the incumbent.
As the DLP’s annual conference was a strictly party event as distinct from a Government event, another pertinent question which arises is whether the DLP actually paid the cash-strapped state broadcaster for the air time. If that was not the case, then it would be interesting to find out who gave authorization for the broadcast. Either way, party spokesmen should set the record straight, lest the accusation is made that it was a case of abuse of public resources for partisan political promotion.
Fair play dictates that since Barbados is moving into election mode, the Opposition BLP should be afforded the same opportunity to get its message out to a national audience in real time so that Barbadians, after having heard the direction the DLP is taking, would be in a position to equally hear about the kinds of policy initiatives the BLP is proposing to address the serious economic, social and political problems facing the country. The smaller parties, such as the United Progressive Party and Solutions Barbados, should have the same privileges extended, albeit on a smaller scale. Such would satisfy the requirements for the existence of a level playing field.
Continuation of the use of CBC for partisan political purposes underscores a need for revisiting the original role of the state broadcaster. Is CBC a Government broadcaster where its main function is giving lopsided emphasis to highlighting issues from the perspective of the Government of the day? Such would qualify CBC as a Government broadcaster. However, if other interests not necessarily supportive of the incumbent are granted the same access to air their views, CBC would qualify to be defined as a public broadcaster, the existence of which is wholesome for democracy.
CBC is at a cross roads where its future is concerned. It is an opportune time for a comprehensive review of the Corporation to be carried out to determine if it should stay and, if so, in what form or alternatively, whether it should be abolished as the Allen Chastenet government did recently in the case of Radio St Lucia. It would be good to cleanse CBC of political influence, and assert its editorial independence so that it can begin to function as a true public broadcaster. And true public broadcasting, which is insulated from undue political or any other influence, is the kind of genuine public broadcasting which makes a real difference.