On December 15, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) celebrated 56 years since it began broadcasting as Radio Barbados in 1963.
A year later, it launched its television station and since then, the whole broadcasting industry has seen significant and far-reaching changes.
These include the advent of FM radio in the early 1980s, then cable television, which CBC embarked on in 1987 with its Subscription Television (STV) featuring only four channels at the time, namely the Cable News Network, Lifetime, ESPN and TNT South.
After DirecTV entered Barbados in the mid-1990s, STV upgraded from an analogue to digital format and morphed into Multi-Choice Television, offering viewers many more channels in a variety of packages.
Within that time too, more radio stations began to bombard the airwaves, and to keep up with them, CBC introduced new radio stations or reformatted its existing ones. And there is no doubt CBC’s free-to-air television operation, TV8 has suffered not only with the advent of cable television, but also internet-based operations from the local telecommunications firms and the international players like Netflix, among others
CBC is fortunate in two ways: we do not have a plethora of privately owned indigenous free-to-air television operations in Barbados to give it a “run for its money”, and it is a state-owned company. And recently, the House of Assembly announced that more changes will be coming to the corporation’s management structure, but some of those changes give us pause.
The first is that CBC will now have a Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer to oversee its operations, rather than the traditional post of General Manager that it has had for decades. We ask how will these roles be broken down?
Previously, there was a General Manager, as well as managers for Radio and Television Operations, a Director of News, a Chief Radio Engineer and a Chief Engineer, as well as HR, Common Services, which oversaw drivers, floor staff and other ancillary employees and a Manager of the Multi-Choice Television operations. Will these people report to the Chief Operating Officer or the CEO?
There has often been the complaint that as a state-owned agency, the CBC has become a political football, used for the ruling party’s advantage at the expense of whoever is in opposition at the time.
This has led to allegations that senior managers are hired based on political affiliation, which often results in resignations, as soon as a new political party takes over the country.
Yet, knowing this prevailing belief, why would the updated regulations seek to give the Minister for Broadcasting direct control over all appointments to the station’s management and staff?
The Minister responsible for Broadcasting should ensure CBC hire people based on their merit in the field. When we say “sectoral experience”, we do not necessarily mean that in a past life they worked as a television host or disc jockey for a couple of years, but someone who knows the business ‘inside out’.
Generally speaking, Broadcasting is always a minor portfolio attached to another ministry or assigned to a Minister of State or other junior minister. So if this is going to be the model going forward, the whole broadcasting portfolio will have to be taken more seriously, particularly if we are supposed to be moving towards smart technology and given the role the internet plays in all aspects of our lives now. If not the minister or at least the board that has to report to him or her should have that type of experience under their belt.
Beyond that, there is no doubt CBC TV8 needs a considerable upgrade in the quality of the programmes it offers. In 1987, there was a drive to produce more local programmes and this worked to some degree, but it probably did not go far enough because CBC tried to ‘go it alone’.
Apart from a few plays and game shows, it mainly produced discussion programmes, but CBC did attempt to reach out to the community in those days with a show similar in spirit to the current Baje to the World exercise called Reflecting the Pride back in the late 1980s.
The late Vic Brewster also organised a folk song competition around Independence, where artists were encouraged to submit new material and got a chance to perform it at a televised concert in Queens Park.
Today the world is a lot different, and we had two start-up channels in Trident 10 and the Caribbean Cooking channel, the latter of which seems to have disappeared from the radar of late, but both of which were busy producing indigenous shows.
There is a growing number of film producers and scriptwriters on the island whom CBC could engage to put together television movies and series, whether dramas or situation comedies.
In recognising that television production is costly in terms of equipment and talent, this would require financial or technical support whether via the Cultural Industries Development Authority, corporate Barbados or civil society organisations.
The reality is, with greater access to cable and live streaming, people these days tend mostly to watch only Newsnight or Mornin’ Barbados” on TV8 and then return to the foreign-based channels for more up to date and exciting programming.
It is high time that the ministry for broadcasting commission a comprehensive national survey to determine what Barbadians think about all aspects of the broadcast media.
We are not speaking of the surveys quoted by radio stations in advertisements as they seek ‘one-upmanship’ over the number of listeners they get. Rather, let us find out their views on local broadcasting in general, their levels of satisfaction, what they would like to see or hear, and how they would like to see or hear it, especially given the options available now.
It should encompass not only viewers and listeners of all ages and demographics but advertisers, content producers and other parties with an interest in the sector.
Based on these results, if properly respected and applied by the relevant authorities, CBC will, at last, be truly, to use two of their former slogans, “reflecting the pride” and “in touch with our community”.