“The World Service. British Standard Time eight o’clock.” Every morning before school, on Jamaica’s RJR.
So the Brits have come to the realization that they can’t afford to provide free news service in the local languages of many of their former colonies. In Jamaica, there’ll probably be the usual hand-wringing over the loss of an irreplaceble ‘institution’.
An executive at RJR, Jamaica’s oldest radio group, has called for a review of regional capabilities to fill the gap. Why in the world are we just now doing this? It appears that the regional powers-that-be were lulled to sleep as the free product from the BBC continued to flow decade after decade. I would have expected that someone, somewhere, in the Caribbean would have been pressing for investment to improve regional media outlets like CANA.
What Exactly Are We Losing?
I was initially confused about just what the BBC Caribbean Service actually delivered to us islanders. I had thought that the BBC was gathering news in the region and then delivering it to radio stations both here and back in the UK. Apparently, it was quite the opposite: BBC broadcasts worldwide news for delivery in ‘Caribbean English’ to the region’s networks free of charge. Over time, this must have been quite a savings for our Caribbean stations who would not have had to spend on an international news gathering organization. Just where have these savings been invested over the last fifty years?
Do We Need To Replace the BBC Service?
Maybe, but we have to look at it carefully. With the prevalence of the internet, cable and satellite television throughout the region, is there a really demand for international news via radio? One simple test would be to simply charge for the service. Any takers? I think not, especially as news is readily available on over-the-air television stations, such as CVM-TV and TVJ in Jamaica.
Getting an Unfiltered View of the World
I remember the Old People in Jamaica making statements along the lines of ‘the British provide unbiased coverage’. I won’t debate that point, but it does raise a good question. Lots of people wonder about the angles each news outlet has on a situation. Losing the BBC’s radio coverage is certainly a blow in this regard, eliminating one more point for triangulating the truth.
Focusing on the Bigger Picture
We continue to miss the big picture as the world begins to move faster and faster. We are so reliant on the reporting and journalism of others that we’ve failed to invest in our own capabilities. We have the responsibility to develop our own Caribbean worldview. I am not aware of many compelling, must-see regional news programs that address the world through Caribbean eyes. Again, it comes down to basic economics: if we’re truly interested in a regional viewpoint of the world, there would be ready local audience (and advertising market) for such programming. It hasn’t happened, and so it may just be that the BBC Caribbean service will give up the ghost, never to be replaced by a regional equivalent.