STATEMENT BY HON. LESTER BIRD, PRIME MINISTER OF ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, ON THE CLOSURE OF THE CARIBBEAN MEDIA CORPORATION, TO THE THIRTEENTH INTER-SESSIONAL MEETING OF THE CONFERENCE OF HEADS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY, BELIZE CITY, BELIZE, FEBRUARY 2002

BRIEF ON CARIBBEAN MEDIA SERVICES

 

1. The CARICOM Ministerial meeting in Antigua agreed to recommend the following to CARICOM Heads of Government:

  • CARICOM governments should inject a loan or guarantee of US$1.5 million into CMC which should be converted into equity in the Corporation.
  • CARICOM Governments would immediately have 2 appointees to the Board (Antigua had suggested these should be from high levels of the CDB and ECCB).
  • The board of directors of CMC should remain at the present 8 members. Therefore, Government appointees would be two, and CANA and CBU would have three each reducing their representation by one each.
  • The sum of US$1.5 million would be contributed by governments in accordance with the formula by which member states contribute to the budget of the CARICOM Secretariat.
  • A management audit of the Corporation would be conducted immediately.
  • The management audit would inform the writing of a detailed Business Plan which should be completed by mid-March.
  • The Business Plan should, inter alia, consider ways in which the Corporation could become a public company with shares being offered to the Caribbean private sector and the public by mid-August 2002.
  • Ministers of Information and the Board of CMC should meet again by mid-April to consider the Business Plan including the necessary equity to be raised and the details of selling shares in the Corporation on the public market.

Antigua and Barbuda would like some refinements to these recommendations.

With respect to the management audit, we would like the CARICOM Secretariat, not CMC, to appoint the person to conduct the management audit.

Management Audit

  • The management audit should be concerned with:
  • Strengths and weaknesses in the structure of the organisation;
  • Deficiencies in setting and executing policy decisions;
  • Examining any conflicts of interest that might exist in the composition of the Board of Directors in relation to any common representation there may be with the Board or management of the media houses that purchase the services provided by CMC;
  • The ratio of management staff to journalists and broadcasters employed by CMC.

We believe that the management audit should be commissioned immediately and its report completed within one-month.

BUSINESS PLAN

We believe that the CARICOM Secretariat, not CMC, should select the person to write the Business Plan.

We would also like the CARICOM Secretariat, not CMC, to devise the Terms of Reference for the Business Plan, although there should be full consultation with the Board of CMC on the final Terms of Reference.

The work in appointing someone to write the Business Plan and setting the terms of reference should take place simultaneously with the conduct of the management audit.

AN IMPLMENTING MECHANISM

We would like to establish temporary machinery to oversee these arrangements.

Therefore, we feel CARICOM should retain the services of a Consultant for four months to advise on (1) the selection of someone to conduct the management audit, (2) the selection of an expert to write the Business Plan, and (3) the terms of reference for the Business Plan.

The Consultant should work, through the CARICOM Secretariat, to a small committee of senior government officials drawn from four member states of CARICOM. We propose that these persons be drawn from: Antigua and Barbuda (which hosted the Emergency Meeting of Information Ministers), Barbados (which hosts CMC), Jamaica (which will host the April meeting of Information Ministers) and St Vincent and the Grenadines (as an OECS country that has shown a keen interest in the matter).

The future of CMC

Governments involvement in providing financing for CMC leading to the creation of a public company owned by governments, the media houses, the Caribbean public and the Caribbean private sector, should not merely by a "financial bailout" of a poorly-run company. It must be an investment in a solid company devoted to a regional entity that provides public-service oriented information of an objective and professional quality.

Both governments and the public must have confidence in the quality of CMC's products.

In this regard, CMC should not become an entity without accountability. There should be a mechanism in place that can monitor its performance and investigate complaints.

It is significant that CANA had a Board of Trustees made up of the CARICOM Secretary-General, the Vice Chancellor of UWI and the Chief Justice of Barbados, but the Board of CMC never consulted or informed the Trustees of its decision to close, nor of the problems that led to its closure.

A similar mechanism to the Board of Trustees should be established for the new entity, but it should be empowered to monitor the Corporation, receive regular reports on its activities, and investigate complaints about its operations, and its standards of journalism and broadcasting.

The mechanism should comprise eminent persons in the Caribbean who would enjoy public confidence.

Regional Programming Fund

With regard to the proposal for the establishment of a Regional Programming Fund, we support this idea in principle.

However, while we would welcome a paper from CBU/CANA as proposed, we believe that such a paper would be self-serving and would, therefore, be lacking in the objective analysis that would be necessary for governments to take a fully-informed decision about this matter.

In any event, we would like to judge the performance of a restructured CMC before making any commitment to provide it with funds for regional programming.

We would suggest that CARICOM governments as a whole make a joint approach to UNESCO, through their Permanent Representatives to UNESCO, for the funding of an independent study of the feasibility of a regional programming, its scope and delivery mechanisms, and its costs before we take any measures to implement it.

We recognise the need and importance of a greater volume of regional programmes on radio and television to reinforce Caribbean values, traditions and culture, but we believe that the commitment of scarce funds to such a project should be advised by a scientific and independent study.
 

 
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