BBC Caribbean Service - post script

Thursday, February 03, 2011    

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Since its establishment in 1932, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service has provided reliable, independent information in countries where, in some cases, the local media is not free, and it has won many friends and influenced even more people for Britain.

One of the most potent tools of British diplomacy is about to be disbanded at a time when drastic cuts in the army and navy elevate the role of soft power in Britain's foreign policy. The BBC whose broadcasts in 32 different languages reach 180 million people across the globe each week, will begin cutting staff by one third.

Given the massive fiscal deficit, it was almost inevitable that there would be reduction in government support for the BBC whose budget is to be slashed by 16 per cent or US$73 million per annum, as part of a 33 per cent cut in expenditure for the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

It is proposed that the BBC takes responsibility for funding the World Service from UK television license fees. The prospects are not propitious.

Unfortunately for the Caribbean, one of the services to be terminated is the closure of the BBC Caribbean Service, a development which is seen as further proof that the region is not considered to be important as a foreign policy concern and is viewed as well served by local and international news media.

The Caribbean will be losing an invaluable, credible service that had regionwide ambit. It was also an important source of information on the Caribbean Diaspora in the UK.

It is also seen as a further winding down of Britain's role in the Caribbean as part of a reconfigured role in world affairs. Britain is no longer willing to bear the expense of providing services to the region and that includes access to the Privy Council.

It is worthy of note that the Caribbean Court of Justice will exhaust its initial endowment in two years.

Its future upkeep is beyond the means of the few extant members with almost no prospect of additional member states. If it is the final court for only some members of Caricom then it is not a genuine regional court.

The dilemma, of course, is how much longer is it reasonable to ask the UK to provide the services of a final court.

But opportunity beckons for regional news services to fill the role which the BBC Caribbean Service performed. Here the issue is the financial viability of such a venture at a time when a PBS/BBC model would be beyond the resources of the financially strapped Caricom governments and private media houses are competing for shrinking advertising revenue.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), formed in June, 2000 out of the merger of the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), is an obvious candidate.

The business of informing ourselves and the world about Caribbean affairs is our responsibility. Enhancing the bonds and functional relations between the globally spread Caribbean peoples is a task that we must do for ourselves.

Every end can be a beginning. So let it be with the BBC Caribbean Service. We are indebted to and will be inspired by those who over the years have purveyed to the Caribbean information and commentary of the highest professional standards. They have been a voice to the Caribbean and a voice for the Caribbean.

It is time for the voice of the Caribbean to emanate from within the mouth of the Caribbean.





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