Be wary of commercial dominance of media - Kay Osborne
Kay Osborne, former general manager of TVJ, is warning Jamaicans to be on guard against the risk of "economic colonisation" arising from recent super mergers that have radically transformed the local media landscape.
"Foreign-owned and privately controlled Digicel has made it clear that its intention is to become Jamaica's dominant media company. Foreign-owned and controlled C&W, and now Liberty, are on the same pathway towards media dominance in Jamaica. These are very troubling developments that ought not to be allowed to become reality," Osborne declared during Monday's public lecture and panel discussion hosted by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.
"Digicel, Cable and Wireless, and Liberty are special-interest companies, with both Digicel and Cable and Wireless already in control of Jamaica's telecommunications industry. It can't be in Jamaica's interests for these special-interest companies and persons to also take control of media in Jamaica, thereby having the ability to leverage their power to the benefit of special interests. This dangerous outcome would be tantamount to economic colonisation," she insisted.
The public lecture and panel discussion, which looked at convergence, mergers, and acquisitions taking place in media and their impact on the landscape, the public, and media workers, was part of activities for National Journalist Week, arranged by the PAJ.
Osborne's comments came after addresses by Dr Marcia Forbes, executive chairman of Phase Three Productions and another former general manager of TVJ, as well as Kenisha Malcolm, home page editor at the Washington Post.
Both women were part of the panel, which included Garry Sinclair, managing director of FLOW; Oliver McIntosh, CEO of Digicel/SportsMax; Gary Allen, managing director of the RJR Group; and Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Corporation.
Osborne told The Gleaner afterwards that she supported the proposed Gleaner-RJR merger because of the companies' long-standing and ongoing contribution to nation building, with The Gleaner, which started operations in 1834 and the 65-year-old RJR, being the two oldest media companies in the island.
"I support the RJR-Gleaner merger on the basis that it strengthens the ability of the companies for survival and for growth. To be able to leverage, for example, Gleaner assets, for example its archives, to create video content that is exportable, which is where RJR needs to go. It needs to export content, and so this move, this synergy, allows it to create value that is exportable, earning foreign exchange.
"That is really the big benefit of that and then to keep ownership and the focus local. So when you have these big companies that have been accustomed, to a very great extent, to influencing decisions to their benefit, the country is at risk. The country's nation building agenda is at risk when special interests become influential in media."
Gary Allen used the occasion to address the question of whether the Gleaner-RJR deal was a merger or an acquisition.
"It's both," he said in answer to the question posed by veteran journalist Ben Brodie.
With the RJR Group only having interest in the media operations of The Gleaner and not its real estate or investment portfolio, it is only the subsidiary known as The Gleaner Company (Media) Limited that will be acquired by RJR.
"Now, what happens when we acquire that subsidiary is that it will be merged with the RJR Communications Group, and is being merged because we are not using cash for the acquisition consideration. We are giving them shares for equal value," Allen explained.
"So, we are acquiring, but they are getting a part of us, which is why they are merging because we are giving them half of the shares of RJR in exchange for it. So that's why I say it's both an acquisition and a merger. The structure is acquisition, but the form is merger."