Thursday, May 1, 2008

The abrupt termination of Mr Sharma’s business sets a bad precedent

The abrupt termination of Mr Sharma’s business sets a bad precedent
Stabroek News letter. 30 April 2008

Dear Editor,
I have read in your columns a number of quite articulate arguments pro and con the decision to suspend the operations of TV Channel 6. I deliberately specify the business, in contrast to identifying the person – the owner CN Sharma. I will return to this differential later, after I have groped my way through the decision–making process that led to the imposition of what has been described as an ‘excessive penalty’.
Let me pause to say that I have never really been attracted to the TV Channel 6 package, as I am equally disenchanted with local TV generally. To explain why would lead me to digress – for which there is really insufficient time.
However, captured in my recollection from time to time, are fleeting images of: overseas films, occasional documentaries, death announcements, News, site broadcasts, and the phone - in programme Voice of the People.
Inhospitable living conditions, and disillusioned as might have been the images projected during those site expositions, they did provide a service by trying to sensitise viewers and listeners to some of the ‘realties’ of the social and economic conditions which exist in our society. It was not a ‘Hollywood’ orchestrated ‘reality show’. On the contrary, the images benefited from neither professional production nor direction. Even the camera techniques could have been improved upon. Nevertheless, the defects combined to provide, in the end, a genuine community service – certainly as far as those affected and deprived participants were concerned. They appeared on camera – largely because there was no alternative court of appeal, no visible institution which they could access, and which offered a caring welcome.
But obviously not all viewers saw or heard the same message. Some indeed preferred the ‘virtual reality’ programmes to our local version. Their myopia and deafness were shared at the highest level of the National Administration.
But how, one must wonder, would it be expected that in an uninhibitedly unorganized programme which attracted a significant proportion of deprived, frustrated, angry and not necessarily the best educated contributors, that not so articulate expressions (and indeed colloquialisms) can be deemed so offensive, as to make the conduit of the message guilty of a perceived crime. The ‘caller language’ taken too literally, by a portion of the society known for its amorality, has made the messenger accessory to an allusion, the author of which was not only exculpated, but totally ignored.
For myself, I take exception to the serialized repetition of murders throughout the regular week’s TV, from the standpoint that the message persistently sent to potential wrong-doers is that ‘killing’ is staple entertainment. It is no comfort that a very high percentage of local killings literally become ‘cold cases’.
The declamations and the proclamations surrounding this ban, suspension, closure, of a business, do not necessarily enlighten my appreciation of the decision – making process. The ACB appears to have been the product of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ which ipso facto makes it less to be honoured by the parties involved. ‘Intelligent’ analysis of the broadcast infraction by the A.C.B seemed to have been ignored. The latter appeared to have lapsed in not discharging its presumed mandate to advise the Minister of Information regarding the non - sanctioning of TV Channel 6 for airing the ‘offending’ programme.
Notwithstanding, the Minister of Information whose Ministry is within the Office of the President, took umbrage, on behalf of the President, and imposed a sanction, completely ignoring the ‘ agreeable’ ACB, who presumably, was at least available to be directed as to how to act in the extant circumstances (as has been the pattern in similar scenarios involving other institutions).
The Minister having acted, the sanction having been challenged, his other persona in the Office of the President is then reported to enjoy immunity on behalf of the Minister of Information.
While this ‘personality’ problem is being sorted out, one ponders about the following ‘realities’ coming out of the decision:
a) The brevity of the notice period.
b) The implication of a) above for the employer to provide appropriate notice of termination to the employees.
c) The extent to which the employer is legally accountable for meeting statutory terminal benefits.
d) The eligibility or otherwise of employees for relevant NIS benefits in the foreseeable future.
e) The implications for the human rights of these displaced employees.
f) The role of the Ministry of Labour and Human Services in this human rights situation.
g) The effect on the ability of the disemployed to maintain children at school - implications for the rights of the child.
h) The role of NGOs, including religious organisations, in providing succour to the disenfranchised.
i) The indifference displayed by the Private Sector at the peremptory closure of a business, uncaring of the financial and social implications, and forgetting that they may well be in the queue.
Someone, rightly in my view, argued that only the offending programme needed to be suspended – if only for the reason that it would have had the same desired result of hiding the provocative local images from the rest of the Caribbean until Carifesta X was over.
Yours faithfully,
Eliah Bijay

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