The television and radio stations of St Lucia are on the brink of finalizing plans for collaboration, an education alliance, in order to create a united front against illiteracy and to make education accessible in every home throughout the land.
In the past couple of weeks, representatives from IETV, InTime Education Television, have met with executives of every television station and the majority of radio stations to discuss the possibility of sharing IETV’s programs free of charge. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, only one station was unable to give an immediate positive response; this was not because of any doubts regarding the merits of the proposal, but because the owner of the station was out of state.
The proliferation of radio and television stations in St. Lucia has not really resulted in any noticeable increase in local programming. Many of the stations offer similar fare. Much of the daily content is “borrowed” from abroad. It is hoped that this “sharing” will encourage more local production.
The authorities are considering, it is believed, legislation regulating the licensing and operation of radio and television stations. Matters of concern are many, but the issue of local content is of paramount importance to a majority of legislators; St. Lucians deserve good quality programs created in St. Lucia.
Another thorny problem is that of piracy, the infringement of copyright. A government that knowingly grants a license to broadcast, or re-broadcast, programs without the knowledge or permission of their copyright owners runs the risk of attracting sanctions from other countries, as happened in the Bahamas where TV stations formerly existed on pirated programming until the US authorities stepped in.
Some of our stations exist in special “niches”, but even these stations strive to appeal to as broad a listening and viewing public as possible to attract an ever-widening audience, which, in most cases, results in increased advertising revenue. While the majority of our media houses continue to go head-to-head to compete for listeners and viewers, Winners TV, The Visitors’ Channel and the Catholic Television Network are examples of TV stations that originally appealed to specific audiences but have broadened their viewership immensely.
The new alliance for education, if it indeed does come to fruition as promised, will not mean an end to competition. The may-the-best-team-win mentality is often good for business and good for the consumer; the risk, of course, is that consumers are fed with their favourite goodies, day-in-day-out until they become complaisant, obese, overweight, diabetic and die. Conversely, the win-at-all-costs approach can be non-productive and even destructive. There has to be a middle way.
The education alliance does not mean an end to competition or a blurring of stations’ profiles; it will, however, give each station the opportunity to contribute to education to a degree that the station itself deems suitable.
A day has 24 hours; an hour has 60 minutes; therefore a day is made up of 1,440 minutes. IETV’s proposal to media houses is that they devote 40 of those minutes daily to education by airing, free of charge, IETV’s basic content in English Language, Spelling, Grammar, Vocabulary, Mathematics, Health and Science according to a given schedule.
Once media houses agree to air the basic 40 minutes of educational content, they are given free access to all other available content produced by IETV and to broadcast this content as much and as often as they wish. The key question, the passkey if you wish, is that the basics of education be addressed first for a mere 40 minutes per day per station. After that, stations can expand, limit, re-broadcast as much as they like. The timing of the educational broadcasts will be up to each station, but obviously, it would be a good thing to spread the programs over as wide a period of time as possible, which would be advantageous to stations who perhaps feel that education is not “their thing” – they could even air them at 2 o’clock in the morning if they liked.
Mainstream media will benefit from this educational coalition that heightens the awareness by the general public, the business community and the administration, to the roles that media houses play as responsible corporate citizens.IETV is a not-for-profit registered educational charity, and as such, IETV wishes to extend the availability of its programming as widely as possible. In the past, IETV has accepted occasional advertising, but will no longer do so, as it is felt by some that traditional advertising and education are not compatible.
During the past decade, the InTime Project has produced almost 3,000 programs, usually between five and ten minutes in duration, in many different areas of education. All these locally produced, locally relevant programs will become available to mainstream media houses for airing without charge.
The cost of local production is prohibitive, which is why most stations limit themselves to Talk Shows, which are cheap and easy to produce, or occasional extravaganzas that quickly gobble up the annual production budget.
Obviously, IETV, though a charitable, philanthropic institution, has to cover its costs. In the past, those behind IETV have spent millions of dollars in producing its treasure chest of programs without the benefits that advertising revenue represents. There have, however, been sponsors like LIME, Courts, Sandals and KFC, as well as one or two international agencies, that have assisted through sponsorship in defraying some of the costs.
IETV hopes, naturally, that a wider availability of its educational content will encourage business houses, companies and other financial institutions to examine closely the differences between direct advertising that leads presumably to greater sales, and socially responsible sponsorship that leads to a better society, and find ways of participating in this new alliance to bring education into every home in the country.
As mentioned earlier, coalition partners are expected to play a basic 40-minute package once per day. The 8 five-minute programs may be played in blocks of 40 minutes or in any other way they deem preferable, at times they find most suitable. Some may wish to play one program per hour over an eight-hour period; another may wish to air the programs in 10-minute segments; they have a free hand. If required, IETV will also provide additional programs to extend the 40 minutes to 60 minutes, or even longer.
Partners may place advertising, before, after and between programs, but advertising may not be introduced within the actual 5-minute programs. Advertising must not be confused with sponsorship, i.e. Partners are not allowed to indicate that IETV shows are in any way made possible by the partners’ own advertisers. Such sponsorship announcements are the sole domain of IETV and may not be removed from the programs delivered by IETV. After all, sponsors who are willing to facilitate the production of local educational programs must be afforded the rewards they deserve.
A couple of stations have already indicated that they will require up to two hours of fresh educational content while others are angling for specific programs and trying to by-pass the requirement for the airing of basic educational content. Some are leaning towards playing our basic 40 minutes only once daily; others have chosen to air the programs randomly; some prefer to play our programs in 10-minute segments, while others have chosen to play our programs in 20-minute segments. One likes the idea of playing our programs in 5-minute segments. There is little uniformity, but what is important is that informative, entertaining content in short 5-minute bursts will become a part of our daily fare on radio and television. And if the listeners and viewers want more, they can always tune in to IETV and follow our extended daily 4-hour loop.
We still have a way to go, but if the media houses can initiate a coalition for education in a spirit of collaboration with a common goal to create a better educated, more capable, better informed general public and workforce, we may find that other problems such as crime, unemployment, social unrest, and such like, will not seem as insurmountable.
Local programming, local production might even foster local pride. IETV’s latest offering, soon to be released, is a series of several hundred programs that have already cost upwards of half a million dollars dealing with the historical, sociological, economical, and ecological geography of the country.
Long live competition for the good of all stations!
Long live collaboration for the good of all!