I assumed the job I was offered as the second full time Secretary General (SG) of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) in December 1982 after the first SG, Jones Madeira, had left office after less than a year. Ken Corsbie had acted in the post of Secretary General to the CBU from time to time prior to the appointment of Mr Madeira.
I set about to bring some symmetry to the office and the organisation as such. During my stint, I brought to focus major discussion and practicality to the four General Assemblies for which I had responsibility.
The 1983 assembly was held in Grenada and it was to mark the beginning of the demise of the then Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, even though we did not know it at the time. He was to be the guest speaker at the opening, but the then General Manager of Radio Grenada and now a Government Minister, Peter David, brought the news that Bishop had been replaced as Minister responsible for Information and Broadcasting. I must confess I don’t recall the name of the replacement. I am sure that the person now, ironically, heading up the CBU office will know his name for she was there as well.
As SG, I had gone to the Heads of Government meeting in Port of Spain, weeks prior, to see how best a CBU Radio report could be managed from that and ensuing ‘Head’s meetings.’ There, I had the opportunity to interview Prime Minister Bishop. That copy of what was to be his last major interview I gave to the CBC; I don’t know what happened to it.
I should mention that in order to get the interview, Mr Bishop and his four bodyguards and I squeezed into one elevator to go up to his room. Later that evening, I witnessed a complete contrast – there was Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga going out alone through the front entrance to a waiting vehicle – no bodyguard; such were the times in which we lived.
What surprised me at the Head’s meeting was the so-called daily brief from the host government minister tasked to give the briefing. This consisted of “Today’s agenda items were, and tomorrow’s discussions will be the agenda items for that day.” On returning to office, I wrote to the CARICOM officer responsible for communication and information, his first name, as I recall, was Roderick. I pointed out that such briefings, if one could call them that, were unacceptable. His reply indicated there would be no change as that was how it was. Proper briefings were eventually introduced, no doubt at “his suggestion.”
But to return to the Grenada Assembly – with the removal of Bishop as guest speaker, the plans for having staff from his ministry provide secretarial duties broke down and so we had to record the proceedings of the meeting. This was fortuitous as I then had the tapes transcribed on return to Barbados. I say fortuitous as the then General Manager of Trinidad and Tobago Television, who did not attend the meeting, subsequently accused me of making a statement which I did not make. I was able to send him a copy of that portion of the transcript which proved him wrong.
The main discussion item at that meeting was ‘Broadcasting Using Satellite Technology.’ The lead presenter was Dr Curtis White, a Washington based lawyer who had done some work for UNESCO in Belize relating to the topic. He subsequently remained a friend of the CBU for many years after. Indeed, it was he who later introduced me to then then Deputy Head of Intelsat who authorized free space segment time for the early period of news exchange by satellite. We were also able to get reduced rates from Textel Trinidad, Jamintel Jamaica and the Barbados External Telecommunications (BET). Unfortunately, the then General Manager of JBC stymied every attempt to have them join in the trial period – on again, off again. What was interesting was that the UNESCO communications advisor came to me after the Grenada meeting and suggested that we should continue sending video tapes around the region. I demurred. I said that we had the technology and we should use it. The first attempts at news exchange by satellite sputtered. Some years later the German agency, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, took up the mantle to expand news and programme exchange along the lines I had previously outlined to them.
In years subsequent to the Grenada meeting, Dr White invited me to address the Institute of Trade and Development in Washington DC. He also arranged meetings with COMSAT and other ‘long line carriers’ as they were known. He arranged for the CBU Board to meet the Board of the North American Broadcast Association (the correct name of the group eludes me) in St Maarten.
Indeed, it was the same Dr White who, by the next annual meeting, had formed the Caribbean Copyright Center in Washington. That 1984 meeting was held in Aruba under the auspices of Curacao Television, which at the time, had supervision of television in Aruba. Whilst the main topic was Copyright, the meeting also included the inaugural Caribbean Song Festival. The Festival was the brainchild of Jaime Rofina, the general manager of Telecuracao.
I was able to get the then main regional copyright organisation ‘Performing Rights Society (PRS)’ to make the major financial donation towards the prize money for the festival and the Caribbean Copyright Center made up the rest.
Among the participants were two staff members from the US State Department who were anxious to get regional TV stations who were doing so, to stop taking and relaying US programmes without paying copyright fees. From my perspective, which I hold to this day, I told members ‘we should pay because when the time came for us to have programmes for sale, we could rightly demand our copyright fees. In fact, I was subsequently advised that although the members who were “taking and rebroadcasting US television programmes” were claiming their rights during the meeting, they were singing a different tune afterwards to the State Department representatives.
That Aruba meeting was held after the Los Angeles Olympic games but what occurred before those games was also instructive. The CBU sent a team of five to negotiate the broadcast rights – two from TTT, one from Jamaica, the then President of the CBU from Suriname and myself – five people; the European Broadcasting Union sent two people. Our President held up a piece of note paper – the size of a sticky note – cupped in his left hand with which he hoped, no doubt, to ‘colly-fox’ the US team that he had something written pertaining to the negotiations. I am sure they could see that there was nothing written on paper. And so it went.
The third General Assembly for which I had some responsibility was an opportunity for members to bring, for audition, finished radio and television programmes which they could make available for exchange. Previously, members had to rely only on written descriptions by which to determine whether they would wish to receive what was on offer. For the television audition, a major impediment proved to be the different technical systems of the time. This hindrance to the exchange was to be overcome later, through satellite, which as I understand, FES was able to use in its promotion of news and programme exchange. Another main event at the assembly was the second Caribbean Song Festival in which Carolyn and James Leacock excelled.
Then, we came to the fourth assembly when I was still Secretary General. The theme this time was ‘Marketing of Programmes’ in and out of the region. In this, we were ably assisted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s regional marketeer Donna Lee Lyons. Ms Lyons set out the steps for successful marketing to our members. We probably needed people with marketing concepts at that meeting not just media managers.
One of the visions I had for the CBU, shared by the PRS as well, was the creation of a live recording of the song festival (s) which could be reproduced and sold for profit for the performers and the CBU. I don’t know if this has ever happened.
In addition to managing the day-to-day activities of the union, I needed what might be termed pseudo political activity to keep ambitious egos soothed and “misplaced truth” overturned. I was able to produce a newsletter for the CBU even without a budget for such; organise with CARICAD, the first training course for radio and television managers; produce radio programmes for the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC); assist in the planning of the then Pope’s visit to St Lucia and the visit of President Reagan to Grenada and also report on the American intervention in Grenada.
I was also invited to speak at various fora in Miami under the umbrella of the Central American Action in New York; at the invitation of the UN Outer Space Committee and a private enterprise organisation; in Washington, at the invitation of the Caribbean Copyright Centre. I took part in a US International Visitor Programme in which we examined satellite technology, policy in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco and Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska. I also explored with the Mormon communications department the possibility of radio and television training for members. Unfortunately, my members could only see religion not technical training.
Every step along the way I represented the CBU. So, at one stage, I was surprised to hear that I was out of the office too much, and that complaint came from a certain manager who often could not be found by us or his staff while he was promoting his own interests. In fact, it was the same person who, within days of my leaving the organization, could report to the General Assembly meeting being held here in Barbados that I had not prepared a final report while the stack of my final un-posted reports remained in the CBU office.
I was pleased as the second Secretary General to turn the Caribbean Broadcasting Union in a new direction of substantive discussion and action from 1982 to 1987. I am glad to know that unlike quite a number of other regional institutions which have never reached that milestone, the CBU shall be celebrating its 50th anniversary on San Andres Island, Columbia from August 12 to 14, 2019
Bon voyage, buen viaje, goede reis, un bon vuelo – CBU.