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JUST LIKE IT IS: Sold short by media

Peter Simmons

JUST LIKE IT IS: Sold short by media

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Once again this year Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, the region’s premiere cultural festival, has come and gone, the major events largely ignored by the regional and Barbadian electronic media.
For me, Sunday night’s Dimanche Gras, including the calypso monarch segment, is the centrepiece of “the greatest show on earth”. This year there was a sea change. The younger generation of calypsonians took the top prizes with splendid social commentaries.
Duane O’Connor, Kirk Allen, Karene Asche, Devon Seale swept aside long-standing shareholders Chalkdust, Sugar Aloes, Singing Sandra and Cro Cro who dominated the show for years, gaining themselves national and international recognition and popularizing the art form as worthy successors to Sparrow and Kitchener, pre-eminent masters of the genre.  
As happened last year, the Bridgetown-based electronic media houses sold listeners and viewers short. None of the major events was carried live on any of our numerous radio stations, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) TV or the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). The Advocate did not print a single word.
I must confess particular disappointment, however, in Voice Of Barbados (VOB). Our leading local broadcaster is part of the One Caribbean Media empire headquartered in Port of Spain which, including the Caribbean Super Station, stretches across the Caribbean Sea.
Surely with multiple roots in the 34 FM stations operating in Trinidad and Tobago, it should have been possible to tap into the major shows and broadcast them region-wide. With Trinidad and Tobago conglomerates owning such a large swathe of businesses across the region, finding an advertiser should not have been difficult.
Cultural events are invaluable tools for deepening Caribbean unity. It is of significant regret that regional integration is destined to remain an elusive pipe dream when the regional premiere cultural festival continues to be so blatantly ignored by the media.
I was deeply disappointed by the media’s failure (except THE NATION which sent a correspondent) to report what was happening 300 miles across the pond. Furthermore, I was gobsmacked when Carnival Monday afternoon between 5:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Ken Husbands on VOB 92.9 played three sombre-sounding songs by Dolly Parton back to back.
Did nobody at the station tell him what was happening in Port of Spain? Or record any of the new hits for listeners? It was sweet music to my ears hearing CBC 94.7 playing one of the monarch’s hits. Even an old Sparrow, Kitchener or Chalkdust calypso would have been more in keeping with the mood of the day than a weird surfeit of country and western songs by an American.  
Equally alarming, CMC’s major newscast at 6:30 p.m. on Monday made no mention whatsoever of Trinidad’s Carnival events. Its only coverage was a two-minute report from the road at the very end of Tuesday’s newscast. How could any self-respecting regional broadcasting medium miss the boat so glaringly on a major story of regional interest?
Carnival, calypso and the steel band are deeply engrained in the DNA of Caribbean people. They expect and deserve to be kept abreast of major developments by national and regional media houses, especially when the news is such an attractive mix of news and entertainment.
One excuse proliferating is that it was carried on the Internet. True, but that limited coverage was plagued by numerous interruptions. Fortunately, the location of my house on a Christ Church ridge affords perfect access to many Trinidad and Tobago FM stations.
Widely disseminated cultural festivals will not only highlight the music and colourful masquerades of our neighbours, but also entertain, stimulate interest and promote inter-regional travel. Time was when the Barbados Tourism Authority sent a team to Carnival to promote Crop Over. Surely, it would help if the neighbours could also see some of our festival activities on their TV screens.
Conversely, being able to see and hear the top Carnival performances would also generate reciprocal regional entertainment interest and promote intra-regional travel. Caribbean media cannot expect to win friends and influence our neighbours positively by being persistently delinquent in their regional responsibilities, while filling the airwaves with extra-regional sentimental drivel.
The dangers of cultural penetration and imperialism remain real. Yet we ignore opportunities to promote Caribbean culture. Little wonder that the golden future envisaged by the founding fathers of CARIFTA remains a rapidly fading pipe dream slipping further and further away from a vibrant reality; and CARICOM is palpably in crisis at a time when unity is an international imperative.
Calypso and steel band music are unique art forms adorning world culture. They have brought great joy and entertainment to the world at large and Caribbean people at home and in the diaspora in particular.
It is imperative that Caribbean media decision-makers take stock and understand their critical role and fundamental responsibilities in promoting our culture to enhance regional integration.