Gary Allen | Climate-proofing media must be a priority for the region
The following is an address from Gary Allen, president of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), delivered at the opening ceremony of the CBU Annual General Assembly on Monday.
The theme of this year's CBU Assembly (held on Tuesday, August 14) [was] 'Building Resilience to Climate Change: Business, Technology and Content Options for Caribbean Media.'
This theme resonates in our Land of Wood and Water, which is often hit by drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.
The CBU expresses thanks to our partner, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs), with whom we have designed sessions in which we hope you will participate tomorrow.
The catastrophic hurricane season of September 2017 was an unwelcome reminder of our vulnerabilities. The public interest media, who are members of our Union, have always recognised and shouldered our responsibility to provide life-saving information to mitigate and assist with recovery from natural and other hazards, which may result in disaster.
But little attention has been paid to the media's own vulnerability to the added risks of climate change. And as we believe you will be convinced during tomorrow's session, climate-proofing our media must be a priority for the region.
I submit to you that in the absence of indigenous media - which we as broadcasters are committed to our peoples' interests. If we fail, the region will suffer serious consequences without us.
We only have to think back to the fact that leaders of their countries had to turn to us broadcasters to speak to their people and to keep them calm before and after catastrophic events.
When it was social to be making fun of people's adversity and confusing populations in distress with incredulous content pulled from elsewhere in the world and labelled as being from one of our Caribbean territories in distress, with the shoe on our foot, we knew it was not funny.
We only have to recall that it was the indigenous, the credible and the reliable public interest broadcasters, that were relied upon to restore credibility.
That is why we at the CBU were pleased last year to work with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC in delivering broadcasting equipment to those affected in Anguilla, Dominica, and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the wake of their hurricane impact - to restore reliable broadcasting.
... Strengthen crucial institutions
Over the past year, the challenges of our industry have affected all of us who are dependent on declining broadcast and print advertising revenues. However, I must take time to note our ongoing concern for the challenges of CaribVision - the regional and Diaspora channel operated by our partially owned subsidiary company, the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
The channel continues to struggle, in spite of it having a strong contribution of regional content and being accessed in more than 30 territories in the region as well as in global Diaspora communities.
After a decade and a half of intensive efforts, it has not been able to find a viable and sustainable business model, largely we believe, because it has been treated as separate from the other regional integration institutions.
In spite of its reach and the value of the Diaspora, the North American and the regional tourism markets, CaribVision still does not get even the rounding errors in the tens of millions of US tourism dollars spent by our governments to woo prospective visitors to our region ... choosing instead to spend heavily with foreign media, ONLY.
It is our view that together, we have to strengthen our crucial institutions if as a region we are to be stronger.
We take note that our leaders of the Caribbean Community have again recommitted themselves to a more progressive and deliberate integration movement.
We remind our leaders, represented here by none other than the current chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, that the disconnect and the challenges between policy determination, implementation and acceptance in the integration movement often have to do with little or no consistent communication being in place and the lack of information on which one has a basis to make proper decisions.
CaribVision is the closest we have to a regional public service broadcaster, and it deserves better support.
We dare say, Prime Minister, that without a healthy, reliable, and credible media environment in the region, there is insufficient information on which our people need to base their decisions and understanding of regional business, education, disaster management, national security, justice, and other imperatives for the region.
... At a time of tremendous change for industry
Chairman, you all know that we are at a time of tremendous change for our industry from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting. Some of our members have started the process, while others are struggling to start.
This will certainly be a matter discussed again in our Assembly. We again call on our regulators and policymakers to collaborate where we can in the region and to take deliberate steps to ensure that indigenous broadcasters are allowed to transition in a manner that retains their viability and competitiveness - one that allows them to enter the full range of media and communications services that the new broadcast technologies allow.
Traditional broadcasters must be allowed to be licensed to use digital formats that will make them players in the Internet, cable, telephony, and television services.
While that is done, we appeal for the authorities to ensure that all countries in our region take steps for the prevention of analogue television waste material being dumped on our markets and that our people are sufficiently informed and educated about the various aspects of this significant set of changes.
If you permit me, Chairman, we must also draw attention to the concern we have had in Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago with draft legislation aimed at putting necessary laws in place for data protection.
We will deliberate upon some of these issues in our conference but must make it clear that we will not yield our editorial independence. We will not reveal sources to any source and we will not accept a law that will fine or imprison publishers for not meeting data protection laws that breach the fundamentals of a free media and the right of the people to hold authorities accountable.