How about better propaganda?

When it comes to operating a well-oiled propaganda machinery and an ability to make maximum use of the media, hands down the SLP rules. Their use of new media technology during their most recent election campaign was phenomenal. And it still continues, if only with Jadia fingering her IPad with minute by minute updates of everything, from what she and the PM had for breakfast to visits to Cuba, Calgary and elsewhere.

If only she were as forthcoming with matters important to citizens generally. We are still waiting for the Soufriere MP Harold Dalson to tell the nation how much the government paid for that town and village councils report-review. We still have not heard whether the Prime Minister consulted King before telling overseas reporters his plans for the Privy Council. And the public is still as confused as ever about the problems at the registry and rectification offices.

By the Minister of Information and Broadcasting’s own admission to the STAR, there is still the problem of networking among the ministries so that one need not visit ten departments to fix one problem.  But while this may be a problem that the present government’s fix-it Doc Fletcher has had to tackle, priority had to be given to ensuring the proper alignment of the government’s propaganda machine.

It has not passed us that on every occasion that an SLP government has been elected to office, GIS and RSL are given some sort of priority, at least when it comes to placing key party activists in key departments. This time around the SLP has upped the ante, not only going after GIS and RSL but also placing key party cronies in other government departments to keep an eye on the communique’s going in and out, all in the name of delivering timely and efficient information. You gotta give the guys A for that!

Then there was the hiring and rehiring of the SLP’s super-sleuths: Shelton Daniel, Kirby Allen and Winston Springer (did the Public Service Commission have a say in the matter?) at contract rates which by the government’s own account it cannot afford.

To the best of our very knowledge and contrary to Minister of Information Jimmy Fletcher’s assertion on TV, and in the Government’s Nation-Wide insertion in the Voice newspaper back in March, there was and still is much disquiet and dissent among some of the GIS staff  about some of these positions. Quite apart from the desk jobs offered the well known party supporters at GIS was the news that an amalgamation of the National Television Network (NTN) and Radio St Lucia into a new company called the National Broadcasting Network (NBN) was underway.

For many at GIS they had heard about this either “through the grapevine” or later during a regular TV news broadcast. A rift of sorts ensued between GIS staff and the Ministry of the Public Service and Broadcasting, headed by Jimmy Fletcher, the CSA having to step
in. The GIS staff then asked that twelve issues be addressed, including the presence among them of “four highly paid consultants.”

Since then there has been little by way of public information as to the manner, shape or form of the pending merger and the birth of NBN. The exact nature and status of GIS under the new arrangement also is still being questioned. Does it mean that a privatized NTN will now be able to cover political happenings and attract local advertising, which it has always stayed away from? And is this good for the future of an NTN, which the public has grown to accept as hands-off, when it comes to politics?

Last week, writing on the Media Association’s page, Monroe College’s veteran broadcaster and journalism lecturer Jerry George had his take on the matter in a short piece entitled National Broadcasting Network Taking Shape?: “NTN was a creation of GIS. Its purpose, a TV arm of GIS to broadcast only nice news and good news about the government!”

RSL is regarded as national but political practice dictates it’s government’s radio station, with “more wriggle room than GIS for diversity of opinion,” George explained. “With this assumption, NTN will be joined with RSL and the new entity will now fall under the ambit of the board of RSL Co. Ltd.”

According to Jerry George the present GIS structure will be reconfigured. Information officers at GIS will be deployed to different ministries. Effectively, every ministry will have a communications officer, presumably GIS staff, and such deployment has begun if we are to go by what George is saying.

We are also told that a Central Office of Information, a shrunken GIS, in reality, will be fed the information produced by the various ministry communications officers for broadcast on NBN. “The premise is that there will be an increase in government information output and increased public bombardment with the wonderful news of government using the now NTN and RSL.”

But while on paper this may sound good we are fearful about holding our breath about getting timely and useful information from government via any broadcast medium, let alone an NBN. It is hard enough getting information from government personnel without having to be asked to return later or be directed to some other source.

According to an informed Jerry George staff at RSL are to become part of the Public Service under specal contracts. The Act governing RSL will be rescinded and new legislation enacted for NBN. “The perceived public broadcaster role of RSL ends, to the not-so-good days of old when Compton ruled,” George wrote. “What isn’t clear is where the shaded GIS information begins and where the Independence of NBN merger begins?”

Jerry George adds: “The OECS draft Broadcast legislation, which has been on the books for nearly a decade, is being eyed and revived for passage by parliament. The draft legislation has been reviewed by Article 19, the Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression.”

(In this Weekend’s STAR, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Jimmy Fletcher speaks on the draft Broadcast Act)

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