THE TRAGEDY OF CNMG
By SUNITY MAHARAJ
Whether as state enterprise, or state broadcaster, CNMG is a contradiction that defies both business and broadcasting logic.
With the re-christened state enterprise approaching fifty years in the broadcasting business, the time is long overdue for reviewing its performance, its validity and its very reason for being. No amount of creative accounting that treats transfers and subsidies as income, can hide the red ink in which this enterprise continues to sink. Nor do first anniversary propaganda productions qualify as a useful public purpose. Neither as a commercial enterprise, as it is mandated to be, nor as a strategic investment, as it should be, does CNMG qualify for existence.
As a state enterprise, CNMG is such an anomaly one wonders why privately-owned media houses remain so quiet on the issue. Perhaps they do not understand the commercial conundrum of being taxed to finance the competition. Or the distortions in the labour, advertising and programme purchasing markets that result from state-financed unfair competition. Or perhaps, they are simply afraid of running afoul of the single largest source of advertising income: the State.
Without the safety net of taxpayers money, CNMG would not survive its low revenue-high overhead condition. Like any other business, it would have to pay the price of commercial failure. Access to the Treasury, however, means that CNMG can enjoy the best of all worlds while being free to fail in all.
But commercial issues aside, the real tragedy of CNMG is the sheer waste of the critical resources that it possesses in the name of taxpayers.
CNMG was launched in 2006 as the successor to debt-ridden Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) with a major investment in new property, facilities, technology and re-branding and a mandate to operate as a commercial, profit-making enterprise, independent of the Treasury.
In pursuing its mandate, CNMG has employed a programming mix of local and foreign programming, similar to that of market leader TV6 but significantly less results in the market.
Having cleared the debt of the predecessor National Broadcasting Network (which owned Trinidad and Tobago Television and three national radio stations), and made a huge investment to create the most technologically-advanced broadcasting entity in the English-speaking Caribbean, the state broadcasting enterprise continues to serve no strategic national purpose while draining the national Treasury. And it does so while a large community of creative entities, with the potential for generating an industry and promoting economic diversification, are being starved into submission and/or extinction.
To date, no government has understood the power of this enterprise, caught as they all are in the myopic preoccupation with propaganda and jobs for the boys.
With a change of perspective, however, CNMG could be transformed into a nationally strategic and potentially financially viable enterprise. To achieve this, it would have to be located as a strategic component of a National Policy for the Creative Industries where it could function as:
1) The national distribution platform (multi-media) for original content for the domestic, regional and international markets
2) The agency for organizing the national community of largely small Independent Producers
3) The entity responsible for setting national standards for quality of content and production by example
4) A medium that connects institutions of higher learning (UWI, UTT) to the wider public by converting intellectual output into programmes for mass audiences
5) The medium for building national cultural confidence by legitimising and validating the cultural expressions of Tobagonians and Trinidadians, in particular, and the wider Caribbean in general.
6) The global promotion of Brand T&T
Cast in this role, CNMG has the potential to:
a) Dynamise the Creative Industries Sector as a new area of economic diversification, growth, wealth creation and employment
b) Transform the national Information landscape by lifting standards and triggering change
c) Create conditions for the growth, expansion and professionalization of the content production industry
d) Boost Education, The Arts, Culture, Health and other areas of national life by providing the critical link between these and their respective publics
e) Foster a deeper sense of national identity and pride
f) Break down walls between alienated communities by bringing them and their stories onto the national stage
Supported by a coherent and integrated fiscal framework for the development of the domestic creative sector, CNMG could become financially self-sustaining by:
1) Delivering a more competitive product
2) Adopting a more innovative approach to production financing
3) Improved operational efficiency
But all of this can only begin with a national conversation based on an honest review of CNMG, and clarity on its role as a strategic resource. After that, we can talk about a new mandate and everything else that should flow from that. This will have to include a review and rationalization of all the state-owned resources in the creative sector, including the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, the Entertainment Company of Trinidad and Tobago, the National Academy for the Performing Arts (North and South) and the Government Informational Services Limited among others.
Along with this will have to be explored the re-tooling of the private media industry to take into the Age of the Internet, and the re-organization of entities in the creative, cultural and entertainment sector including the community of independent producers, steelbands, mas producers, cultural academies and so on.
Harnessed properly, the creative sector can become a strike force to lead us out of the dependence on the energy sector.