The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 10-08-2002

















Talk radio accused of inciting race hate

PORT OF SPAIN (IPS)—Authorities are listening intently to radio talk show hosts they say are pushing the limit of free speech concerning politics and race in this ethnically divided land.

One local newspaper says talk shows have become so popular that "with the number of radio stations growing, the media competition is stiffest among this group and the attitude appears to be that he who makes the loudest, most outrageous noise gets the most listeners."

But while these talk shows allow for a proliferation of views on various national issues, in recent times they have taken on a racial and political bias that has now forced the authorities to sit up and take note.

Acting Director of Telecommunications Mala Guinness has warned that radio stations that incite racial or political hatred may have their licenses revoked for breaching the terms and conditions of those licenses. She referred particularly to a clause in the licenses that "prohibit(s) the promotion of racial discrimination or character defamation."

"We have been getting a number of complaints regarding a number of radio stations that have been accused of the promotion of violence and racism and we have been investigating," Ms. Guinness said.

Various groups back the government. The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) has condemned the "tone" adopted by various talk show hosts in recent months, saying it found some programs "quite distasteful."

"In fact, MATT believes that some of the comments border on slander, may incite racial hatred and breach the conditions of the license which governs radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago," MATT President Dale Enoch said.

The situation has become a greater concern now that Trinidad and Tobago is into a campaign for a third general election in as many years. The 1.3 million inhabitants of this oil-rich Caribbean country are almost equally divided between two major races, which is reflected in the leading political parties.

The ruling Peoples National Movement (PNM) draws its support mainly from the Afro-Trinidadian communities while the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) is rooted within the Indo-Trinidadian community.

The Advertising Agencies Association of Trinidad and Tobago (AAATT) has threatened to have its clients stop advertising with any media outlet that shows "outright political or racial bias."

In a circular to members, the AAATT said it was "strongly" encouraging them to encourage clients "to withdraw advertising support from any medium whose representatives on the airwaves are found to be blatantly displaying, encouraging, inciting and or promoting political bias and disharmony."

But Andy Johnson, program manager at Power 102, a station that has been severely criticized for the views of one of its talk show hosts, dismisses the notion of inciting racial and political bias. He says elections in Trinidad and Tobago have always been about race.

"The fact is the election results reflect racism in how people vote, that is how people line up in Trinidad and Tobago and some of the sentiments expressed on that program speak to that. And we just want to keep burying our heads in the sand," he said.

"It is not inciting anything; people only think so," he added.

But the chairperson of the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence and former legislator Diana Mahabir-Wyatt says some talk show programs permit treasonous attacks on the national fabric.

In a letter to a local newspaper, Mahabir-Wyatt said one particular program by a host calling himself "the Gladiator," included remarks that were "the filthiest incitement to racial violence that I have ever heard personally."

She compared the statements to the propaganda distributed by the Nazis before the Second World War, adding, "his intention, to encourage racial violence, is as obvious as the Nazi’s was."

"The speaker used the familiar technique of saying a few words and then pausing for effect, except that this man filled the pauses with the deliberate sound of one knife blade being sharpened against the other, an unmistakable sound that any housewife or farmer is familiar with, and cannot mistake the meaning of," she wrote.

But like Johnson, many stations defend talk radio.

They say political bias among callers is expected but that they do not encourage racist or divisive speech.

"We like to believe that we have freedom of speech in this country but it is not really so," says Daphney Nicole Gyan, program manager at Radio Masala 101.1, a station that programs mainly for the Indian community.

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