A ONCE famous brand will be resurrected in a few weeks after more than two decades in hibernation. TTT, or Trinidad and Tobago Television, will return come August, according to Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. Undoubtedly, this latest episode of the TTT saga provides an opportunity to support local content. However, TTT’s return comes at a time when the role of state-run media has become more problematic than ever. If it is not handled well, the ratings might be bad.
It is understood the station will return under its original logo: the red triplet of Ts which stamped television into our history just a few days before Independence in 1962. Television became an integral part of our lives then.
Yet, TTT’s past status as the national broadcaster made it vulnerable to toxic politicisation of its content and management. Even its reincarnated form, CNMG, was caught up in the cross-talk. Unfortunately, not much has changed in terms of the legislative and policy framework that saw past allegations of use of a state-owned television station for private party gain.
In this regard, it is worth pointing out the risks of perpetuating the model of state-media in a global environment in which information is more political than ever.
“Media outlets controlled formally or informally by the state have become necessary to the durability of undemocratic governments around the world,” warns analysts Christopher Walker and Robert W. Ottung in a 2014 paper on state-run media. “News of state-controlled media’s demise as a serious political force is decidedly premature.”
One only has to look to societies like those in Nicaragua, Turkey, Ukraine, and Ecuador to understand the role state media plays, notwithstanding the rise of the internet and social media. Outside of specific mobilisation campaigns, the internet is too variegated and its content too diffuse to represent a serious challenge to regimes bent on retaining power.
Even viral content can be a distraction from legitimate public interest issues.
True, Trinidad and Tobago has a strong democracy. But that is no reason for us to be complacent.
Regardless of who is in power, we need to ask: What model will the new TTT adopt? Is it to be nominally owned by the State but programmed according to market dictates? To what extent will it be operationally autonomous? How will TTT compete with the more than half-a-dozen existing stations?
The social and economic costs of this re-brand must also be clearly spelled out. Will there be job losses as a result of CNMG’s closure? What will be the cost of starting afresh? Ultimately, the question that must follow government’s investment in the new entity is a philosophical one. What is the role of TTT in our democracy today?