“Any modern democracy places great emphasis on an independent media.” St James South MP Donville Inniss, February 27, 2018.
The $9 million which the Barbados Government will draw down from the Consolidated Fund to pump into the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) perhaps provides further irrefutable evidence that the time to divest that state-owned entity has long passed. That CBC continues to have a broadcast monopoly in Barbados and should be turning over some form of profit also seems to be lost on everyone – especially the Freundel Stuart-led Democratic Labour Party.
In a small economy such as Barbados’, it is bordering on lunacy that taxpayers’ limited dollars should annually be thrown into the bottomless well that is CBC as presently structured and perennially mismanaged by Government. During yesterday’s debate in the House of Assembly St James South MP Donville Inniss persistently hinted at privatization of the media entity without being completely definitive. Then, understandably, he followed the party line by supporting the supplementary to prop up CBC financially. Mr Inniss is to be admired for always speaking his mind but yesterday he missed a golden opportunity to become the principal Government voice agitating for CBC’s privatization.
Mr Inniss had this to say: “The role of the state ought to be more the regulation and the regulatory environment of the media in Barbados, as opposed to becoming more entrenched in the ownership of it.” And he went further. Mr Inniss said Government needed to show a greater sense of urgency in restricting itself more towards providing the best regulatory environment so that television and radio station licences could be granted to various entities. The outspoken politician was spot on in his assessment.
But if he or any of his similarly-minded parliamentary or DLP colleagues expect to find agreement from their political leader in removing the CBC albatross from around taxpayers’ necks, they are tuned into the wrong antenna. This is what Mr Stuart had to say in the House of Assembly in 2011 during debate on a resolution for a $40.6 million lifeline for CBC. “Let the word go forth: the Democratic Labour Party Government established CBC as a state-owned station. The DLP Government will keep CBC as a state-owned station. Let there be no debate over that.” And being the highly adroit politician that he is, Mr Stuart neutered any politicking or contrary opinion that might have come from the Opposition benches when he added: “CBC is not, at this stage under this Government, going to be privatized. Those who wanted to do it had 14 years to do it and did not do it.”
During that debate seven years ago it was revealed that when the Democratic Labour Party took office CBC had been operating with an accumulated deficit that had quadrupled to over BDS$76 million by 2008. Yet, Mr Stuart said then that was not the time to remodel the operational structure of CBC. And between 1994 and 2008 the Barbados Labour Party did not see it as necessary to remodel the operational and management structure of the corporation. The truth is that between 2011 and yesterday CBC has sponged off more than $50 million in taxpayers’ dollars and seems no closer to emerging from their eternal red. Not only does the corporation have a broadcast monopoly, but if the money that disappears into that gaping well at the Pine is to be taken into account, the corporation also has a monopoly on ineffective and futile management.
Last year it was publicly revealed that there were 254 entities that owed CBC about $2 million. That is a small amount compared to what taxpayers pump into the corporation but it gives an indication of the ineffectiveness of those with the responsibility for the financial management of the state-owned facility. That CBC was owed thousands of dollars by entities such as the National Cultural Foundation and the two main political parties themselves, demonstrated just how the corporation was viewed by those state and political entities. It was almost natural that private entities would also treat CBC with indifference when it came to settling debts.
Politicians like the idea of having their tentacles on a television station. They defend the status quo when in Government, and promote and promise privatization when in Opposition. But the time is ripe for decisions to be made in the interests of taxpayers and especially in the interest of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation itself. The golden age of CBC is gone. We are no longer living in the 1960s. This is the age of technology where CBC runs the risk of becoming obsolete through their public sponsored incompetence. CBC can be a viable, private sector managed entity with a model geared towards commercial success and not simply a place to get a job.
Mr Inniss suggested yesterday that pumping money into CBC would never stop under its current structure. “I think the time has come when perhaps we as a Parliament have to wrap our minds around what CBC is about and how will it be adequately financed. Unless they are able to get the financial resources to invest in the latest in technology, they are going to find themselves struggling to maintain followings,” he noted.
And after yesterday’s umpteenth bailout, we wait with bated breath for the next supplementary for CBC.