“Daddy, it is okay to not be smart?” my daughter Jinaki asked me this week. We were on the bed, me reading and she watching a doll video on You Tube.
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The Caribbean Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service comes to an end in less than two months, having been on the air since 1939 in one incarnation or the other. The last edition of the programme started in 1988; 21 years later it goes off the air, perhaps never to return. During its lifetime, the programme has served the region extremely well as a source of information on Caribbean affairs. The span of the programme’s content has reached across the widest possible geographic and political space of the Caribbean, taking in North America, Britain and wherever the Diaspora has spread.
As a part of the BBC, the oldest and most respected of international broadcasters, the Caribbean Service inherited the editorial values and quality of that organisation and its programmes benefited from it. But in addition to performing the role of informing the Caribbean, the service has been an outlet to the world for generations of Caribbean writers going back to the likes of Errol John, Vidia Naipaul, Martin Carter, Derek Walcott, Michael Anthony, Sam Selvon, George Lamming, Andrew Salkey and entertainers such as Kitchener, Beginner and Miss Lou.
Some of the most renowned Caribbean journalists, including Sir Trevor McDonald, Jones P Madeira, Canute James and Guardian columnist Tony Fraser have worked for or been trained by the BBC Caribbean. Many others like Alfred Aguiton, Hugh Cholmondeley and Ronald Sanders were trained at the BBC and went on to distinguish themselves in other fields. In recent times, the likes of Hugh Crosskill and Debbie Ransome have distinguished themselves at the World Service and demonstrated that regional journalists lack for nothing when operating in an international environment. While the region must be forever grateful for the opportunities created by the BBC, there is nevertheless sadness that this quality service will soon come to an end. Lamentably, and perhaps this is the saddest aspect of the end to the Caribbean Service, no equal radio broadcast programme has arisen in the Caribbean on a sustained basis. For a decade or so, CANA Radio News provided a window to the Caribbean, but alas it did not last. What this means is there will now be no Caribbean radio news programme. Significantly, the only other Caribbean-wide radio news programme was the now defunct Radio Antilles, which was established and run by the German broadcast company Deutsche Welle.
The reader could therefore conclude that it is only when such communication vehicles are established, funded by and with the assistance of outside governments and broadcasters can there be a quality radio service which links the people of the region. It is incomprehensible that there could be a Caribbean Community seeking to link the economies, societies and peoples of the region without a functioning daily radio service conveying news, opinion and providing a platform for cultural and artistic expression.
Therefore, the closure of the BBC Caribbean Service must be seen as a real challenge for the governments, peoples, institutions and business community of the Caribbean. We cannot on the one hand urge against colonial hangovers and then the next day call for the British Government and people to continue organising, funding and operationalising the radio service informing us about ourselves. The region must learn to survive based on its own resources and effort; the time for waiting for others to do what we should do for ourselves has gone and if the Caribbean is to ever fully emerge as an independent nation in the family of nations, a regional broadcast service is absolutely essential.
Given the importance of communication to the establishment of a regional community, we recommend that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago takes the lead in immediately commissioning an assessment of the feasibility of establishing a regional radio network, based in Port-of-Spain, whose aim would be to ensure that Caribbean people are kept informed about what’s happening in the region.
In propagating this idea, the Government must seek to engage all Caricom states in the effort and should be prepared to take the lead, as well, in sponsoring the start-up of this noble venture—perhaps using the model of the Caribbean Court of Justice Trust Fund as a means of insulating the network from the possibility of political interference or financial deprivation.