I made an attempt at responding to a comment made over at Mediawatch, an interesting initiative from anonymous media observers commenting on the state of the media in Trinidad. Well, who tell me do dat! It’s turned into:
“It is often said that you know someone by their writings, but sometimes some writers manage to give their readers the perception they want them to have of them. That proved true in Attillah’s biting response to what I am sure would be a concern to many.”
“Is attilah’s mask falling off? I used to read her columns. Won’t be anymore. Her interview style is not great to say the least. I watch gayelle all the time. Their programming is great for the most part. Her show is the weak link.
This is by far, some of the best hate mail I’ve received in a while! I wait with baited breath to see how long they’ll be sending in their comments…Still I wish we could get on with the business of discussing the direction of media in the country instead of focusing on who has a right to be on tv. But as I said in my last email to the media watch people, this is the way we do things here and i guess we like it so…
here’s the part of the conversation that wasn’t published, for unknown reasons by Media Watch. But then again the person who writes the blog has chosen an interesting nom de plume – Martine Dennis – and i am at pains to believe that a well known BBC World anchor of Sudanese ancestry gives two shakes of a rat’s arse about the state of Trinidad’s media:
I don’t have a problem with you using my comments, but I’m concerned about the editing bit! I will probably also post this conversation to my own blog. this is giving me a chance to clarify my thoughts on things, so thanks! (sorry, this is long because I’m a writer…)
I don’t think that we should confuse technical problems with content issues. even the so-called great stations have problems. every night there is some kind of problem with the teleprompter on CNC3, the CG screen they use for the Jaye Q show is constantly blinking in and out. just imagine what it would be like if they too were attempting to do all day programming!
we have always had a lowest common denominator approach to broadcasting in t&t and unfortunately this becomes even more painfully obvious when you try to run all day programming.
i have limited knowledge of the tech stuff so I want to address some of the concerns you have about content.
Firstly, I get very nervous when people start talking about ‘vernacular’, because linguists will tell you that what we speak is a Trinidad English or Tobago English. Let’s remember that standard English is itself a dialect of the Old English language developed by the Anglo Saxons and that less than 20 per cent of the population of the British isles speaks standard English – the Welsh and the Scots and the Irish speak varieties of English that up to a couple years ago you would not have heard on mainstream BBC news…
Oh and BBC in Britain is a public broadcaster with no commercial commitments to distract from the main mission, which is to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. Its internal broadcasting is funded by a levy paid by everyone who owns a television. This has been in place since 1949. the BBC now has a budget of a few billion pounds and a staff of thousands. Paying for a TV licence means that everyone who has a TV has an investment in what is being presented to them. It also means I believe, that the BBC has been able to develop a very distinct sense of English television and radio (but this was also aided by long established literary and thespian traditions) – which is why British humour and audio-visual representations are so radically different to what you get on American television. basic things like the soap operas which are popular there are soap operas like East Enders, coronation street, that tell the stories of regular working and middle class people as opposed to the more fantasy based lifestyles of the rich and famous type soaps that have characterised American television. But I digress…
TE is a structurally distinct creole that happens to use a Standard English lexicon, but is syntactically a callaloo of French, Asian and West African languages that reflect the diverse ingredients that went into its creation. why should we deny this? standard English is the language of power in Trinidad, and as such you will not hear Trinidad English being used in the news, for example. I do not agree with your analysis that all of the programming of Gayelle is in ‘vernacular’…Magella on a morning I know speaks SE and does not show her belly at all!! Marcia uses SE sans ‘green verbs’ (unlike many in the news -print and electronic-who wouldn’t know how to get a subject and verb to agree if their lives depended on it and this is because of a problem known as hyper correction because they were never taught English as a language distinct to the one they spoke but were still told that the way they spoke was ‘bad’), as does Reagan on Dreevay, as does Paolo on Skews – which is undoubtedly one of the most important shows we have ever had on television in Trinidad. The only shows that have a majority of TE are Snacks, Rosie, Sunset Strip. Macajuel Time has been on re-runs since the unfortunate passing of Jason Daly who also delivered his show mostly in SE with the occasional use, like myself and many other Trinbagonians, Trinidad English for emphasis because this is our natural first language of communication. I dare to argue that if television is a means of communication then it needs to be done in a language that can be understood by the audience. there are great examples of this in haiti with radio stations using kréyol as opposed to the language of power French to communicate things to their listening audience that they simply would not have absorbed or identified with had it been delivered in French.
on the question of niches…different people watch TV at different times of the day. i think you are making an incorrect assumption that only people over 40 are interested in local programming. dreevay is geared towards a younger audience, as is new voices, whereas Marcia’s style of delivery would appeal to a 35 and over crowd and Verna St. Rose is another audience again.
i believe that gayelle’s niche is a trinbagonian who is bored of being fed American bullshit. as far as I know Gayelle is a community television station -your street as your community, your town as your community, your country as your community, the region as your community, the human race – ever expanding circles. This ethos is based on a grassroots media model (a la indymedia or adbusters) a politics that is people centred and driven – this is my understanding based on my own politics and based on the work I have been doing going into communities with New Voices. It is a politics of inclusion, in an industry where everyone else practices a politics of exclusion (for example i have friends who have been threatened with dismissal from TV6 for having natural hair).
Unfortunately this society is mired in several things including an obscene classism, and an obsession with seeming modern while abandoning everything that makes us unique. I personally don’t want to watch every show and see an imitation Katie Couric, or Jon Stewart or Jerry Springer. But I also don’t want to become an exoticized ’empress’ skinning my teeth and performing for the camera. Gayelle has had four years with very limited resources, contending in a market that does not see the value of having local programming all day every day. I don’t think the mission needs to be refined at all, but definitely the execution needs a lot of work. And money!! It is also a question as I think George Lamming has said of decolonizing our palates. This applies as much to our food choices as our taste in televsion. And I also feel impatient, but I’m trying hard every day to do something about it. Too many people are gunning for it to fail. I am trying to fight the good fight and prove that we can in fact value ourselves and invest in ourselves to see ourselves inside our own TV.