Saturday, January 20, 2018

TATT’s absurd position

Lo and behold! The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) awoke from its deep slumber last Friday to despatch a coded warning to the media against broadcasting Nermal “Massive” Gosein’s controversial chutney song “Rowlee Mother Count”.

On the record, this newspaper should declare that it belongs to the One Caribbean Media (OCM) group whose radio stations have not been broadcasting this song, not because they consider it a violation of their licences, but because, as with all content, our stations reserve the right to broadcast or not, based on OCM’s standards of good taste.

However, that being said, we are fully prepared to support the right of any broadcaster to air this song.  In a mealy-mouthed statement designed to shift the burden of censorship from TATT to media houses, director Dr John Prince pointed broadcasters to Clause D9 of their licences which states that

“….the concessionaire shall not: (a) Transmit any programme, information or other material which degrades or portrays in a negative manner or discriminates against or encourages discrimination against any person or group by reason of race, origin, class, religion or sex…”

Dr Prince contended that on the basis of this, TATT was of the view that the song’s lyrics “can prove to be inappropriate and derogatory to mother figures who place (sic) an important role in the enrichment and development of our society.” In the “interest of ethical and moral standards”, therefore, he urged broadcasters to “pay due regard to the obligations” of their concessions and the conditions within the Draft Broadcasting Code.

Really, Dr Prince? On the basis of a “Draft” broadcast code of no legal standing, TATT’s wants to just one specific song out of the multitudes of songs, shows and other forms of content that crowd the airspace? If there is a case to be argued for discrimination, it might very well be against TATT in its handling of this matter.

We understand the sense of helplessness that TATT, as a regulatory agency, must feel as this song, so offensive to so many people, filters its way across the airwaves. However, TATT has no basis for trying to exercise moral suasion in this matter. Having failed for decades to implement the Broadcast Code as required by the Telecommunications Act, it takes some gall for TATT to be now citing a “draft” code as if it has any meaning in law.

The fact that the song references the Prime Minister’s mother makes TATT’s action all the more worrying about the possibility of direct or indirect political interference and/or influence in its affairs. Whatever one’s views about this silly song, TATT’s intervention in this issue runs the risk of creating public suspicion that it may be either pre-emptively acting in defence of the Prime Minister or acting on instruction from some representative of the political directorate.

This is the risk that the Robinson administration was warned about decades ago when, in introducing TATT, it rejected the idea of an independent authority in favour of one operating under a government ministry. The result has been a predictable confusion about TATT’s responsibility and authority.