THINGS THAT MATTER - Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and Bajan culture

Culture – definition:
1. The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
2. The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society, e.g. ‘Afro-Caribbean culture’. (Oxford English Dictionary)

“In Barbados, there has been a veritable explosion of culture of every form since Independence.” (Explosion of Culture in Barbados by Henry Fraser in 45th Anniversary of Independence Souvenir Magazine, 2011)

The definition of culture, my quotation above and the current performance of the Cabinet Broadcasting Corporation (once called the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in former times) are inextricably linked. In my 40 years ‘back home”, in my multiple roles, I’ve seen some serious problems with our culture (using the first definition of culture above), with a serious decline of behaviour and morality, with
a disturbing increase in many “features of Barbadian life that we need to try and discard as soon as possible because they aren’t doing us any good”. But at the same time, I’ve seen an explosion of important forms of culture (definition number 2) – with visual arts, music, literature, poetry and dance growing exponentially. And here’s where the CBC comes in – or rather no longer comes in, because it’s clearly not fulfilling the role expected of it, as complained by every Tom, Dick and Harry, but lately by none other than my esteemed colleague columnist R.E.Guyson Mayers and the Minister of Industry the Honourable Donville Inniss.

I always look up to Guyson Mayers of “A Guy’s View”, both because his column is above mine here on Page 9 (!) and because it’s a column that’s always thoughtful and relevant. And last Sunday he wrote incisively on “The relevance of CBC”. Then on Tuesday, in another section of the press, Dr. Dan Carter wrote a powerful letter “Not fair to use CBC for Govt PR”. Meanwhile, the Integrity Group Barbados published an incisive article “Media integrity an essential election tool”, in the Sunday Sun of February 18th. And Minister of Commerce, Industry and Business Development Donville Inniss called on February 27 for an end to the monopoly enjoyed by the CBC and an examination of its role as a state-owned entity.

What are all these folk saying?
Guyson Mayers quoted the Might Gabby: “Show me some Castle in my Skin, by George Lamming, for my viewing.” He said: “CBC can play no greater role in this society than to give us a glimpse of ourselves in a sea of foreign faces. Unfortunately, it seems that neither CBC nor those with the ability to influence it have embraced this responsibility.” He spoke of the extraordinary and inexcusable failure of CBC-TV to broadcast the Gold Cup for two consecutive years. This is the single most important sporting event in the Caribbean, and the Garrison Savannah cannot accommodate 280 000 plus Barbadians plus
visitors. So it’s an incontrovertible social responsibility for CBC-TV to broadcast it live. Why does it not?

Dr. Dan Carter wrote reminding us that the CBC-TV broadcasted to the nation the address of the Prime Minister at his party’s annual convention, but refused to broadcast that of the leader of the opposition at her party’s convention, even though she offered to pay for the broadcast. He went on to point out that on the recent evening when he watched the Evening News, he was flabbergasted to see six Ministers’ speeches, two DLP candidates and the campaign manager in the first 15 minutes. I can confirm that on another occasion I have seen five Ministers and two DLP candidates in the first 12 minutes, and most evenings it’s a passing parade of Ministers and DLP candidates. Dr. Carter said: “I do not have to remind the very learned Prime Minister of the role and importance of a free press within a democratic country like Barbados.” I have been urged by many people in the last few days to be even more direct than Dr. Carter – the recent performance of CBC-TV is disgraceful.

The Integrity Group of Barbados has pointed out that media integrity is an essential election tool. The final point of their lucid article in the press on Sunday 18th points out the critical importance of “Equal coverage of political parties and candidates.”

The multiple roles of television were surely at the heart of the efforts of the professional media icons who have managed CBC over the years, such as Alison Leacock and Melba Smith. The key roles obviously include bringing the world closer, educating viewers on both local, regional and global issues, sharing and show-casing the BEST of our culture AND global culture, and general entertainment of all kinds.
How can we explain the dearth of local productions or of genuinely good local and international culture, while continuing to present the repetition ad infinitum of old programmes and the showing hour after hour, day after day, hours of episodes of Q in the Community? What are the 272 (at latest count reported) CBC staff doing? Some of the old classics, such as the history of the Barbados Workers Union, are gems, but where, oh where are the new programmes or continuations of the best of the best?

We see no concerts. We haven’t see the brilliant “Eye on the Arts” programmes presented by Jewel Forde for three years. The beautiful and wide-ranging works of our 300 or more fine artists and sculptors are no longer given any recognition by the sole organ established at great cost for bringing our culture to our people. It is a disgrace.

So let me do my bit for the fine art that CBC thinks is not worth sharing with the country. On Wednesday I visited the Pelican Art Gallery in Pelican Village. As usual, I was blown away by the brilliant photography of Rasheed Boodhoo and Dr. Raymond Maughan, as well as a new painting of the Waterfront shops by Ron Lucas. And I dropped in at the elegant Cin Cin restaurant in Fitts Village to see the photographic exhibition of Bob Kiss, my photographer/collaborator on Barbados Chattel Houses. It’s titled “Things Unseen into Things Known”, and it’s an eye opener into the beauties of nature. The 19th century processing techniques used are especially suited to these singular subjects.

There are just a dozen fine art photographs in the show, but each one is a gem – a lyrical composition. Most are archival quality platinum palladium prints (a process patented in 1873) while several are uranotype prints. This is a rich red-brown uranium-based printing technique, patented in 1858, which is especially effective with the magnificent “Mahogany Nut” – a view of the opened mahogany pod, one of the wonders of local nature. As I have several splendid mahogany trees in my garden, I always have one or more of these brilliant sculptures of nature in my study!

Because I’m a country boy, I was drawn to the beautiful “Crystal Fountain” – in fact a regal cane arrow – just what you see, like armies with waving spears, in parts of Barbados where sugar cane is still permitted to grow! But almost every photo draws you into it … Aria (a folded leaf), Sculptural leaf, Death Star (the dry Lion’s tail seed pod), Curly seed pod (the bread and cheese), Flying (the river tamarind pods) and Black holes (Philodendron, I think). Each one is a precious, almost lyrical composition of “things unseen”, unnoticed, ignored, but beautiful like a lithe and lovely dancer.

Another friend of mine has produced a book called “Hidden Treasures”, with photos of all those little details in nature and things unseen – the patina of a weathered door or wall, coils of rope, textures of tree bark – truly hidden treasures, hidden secrets, and these Bob Kiss photos are a revelation of the beauties around us that we rarely pause to appreciate. Thank you, Bob.

Bouquet: Another thank you to Jenny Marshall of Lower Grey’s, for lending her beautiful house and garden to the National Trust for their Open House fund-raiser on Wednesday last. Jenny’s restoration of
an ancient house – built of rubble stone and Guyanese hardwood – and her creation of a Garden of Eden are splendid works of art, and an inspiration. Our ancestors knew how to build.

Also to the editors of the new issue of UWI Cave Hill’s Journal of Creative Writing, Poui, available on the web. Just Google Poui, UWI Cave Hill.

And finally, to Sir David Seale for his vision and tenacity, to Richard Gill – consultant town planner, and to PS Mr. Timothy Maynard for helping to overcome the gigantic bureaucratic hurdles for night racing at our historic Garrison, to bring more life into our World Heritage site.

Brickbat: to the South coast sewage system, which seems not to accept our current political policy: “Do nothing and it will go away”.

Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website:

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