Second Postcard From The Media Wild West

Sometimes here in Guyana it pays to pinch yourself and remind oneself this is not Alice in Wonderland territory. It is. Let’s look at the economics and output of one station broadcasting here – CNS Channel Six. The figurehead is Napoleonic Chandra Narine Sharma, a five foot something former fridge repairer turned Poujadist. ‘Sharma’, as he is known to all, is the People’s Champion appearing each and every day on their screens on their behalf. He and his family have got  very rich in the process.

Writes John Mair…

Let’s take the revenue side first. Much of the advertising income is generated from one source – death announcements. Yes, death announcements! For an hour and more every night scrolling across the screen pictures and dedications to loved ones from relatives far and wide with music to boot. Indian music for the Indo-Guyanese dead, soul music for the African Guyanese dead. Some tributes for dead relatives come from long dead relatives. Death is a gold mine for Sharma.

Then, there is also selling airspace for ‘programmes’. You can buy half an hour of prime-time television on his station for one hundred US dollars to rant and rave at your leisure. One of my acquaintances – a Russian trained lawyer popularly known as ‘The Rambo’ – last week gave the nation the benefit of his views on a hydro electric scheme and Georgetown’s roads inter alia. But this is the TV Wild West. Another of my erstwhile pals, who himself was  a TV station owner, used his half hour of bought fame on Sharma to accuse the head of the Ethnic Relations Commission Bishop Juan Edghill – Guyana’s Trevor Phillips – of being a convicted murderer who had changed his name to hide his past. That matter is now before the Courts. Sharma’s defence for airing it was that his operators put out the wrong version of this ‘Commentary’. That is unlikely to impress the (admittedly weak) Advisory Committee for Broadcasting – the regulator who is investigating this breach.

Sharma himself buys time daily on his station to become ‘The Voice of the People’ in which he travels to communities and takes on their just (or not) causes and calls ‘pon the relevant authorities’ (his words) to act. He is the journalist, judge and jury on the case. It verges close to contempt of court day by day. Inside  the courts, Sharma has been for some five years been facing a serious charge of sex with a minor. Procrastination is his defence there.

But none of this is likely to dent his political ambitions. C.N.Sharma will undoubtedly be standing for President for the fourth time in the General Election later this year. His ‘Justice for All Party’ vote though is likely to as equally derisory as the 0.76% he got in 2006. Telly fame does not equal political power here.

Still there’s always the never ending flow of money made from death to tide him over that disappointment.

See what I mean about Alice in Wonderland?

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He is spending May as a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Guyana-where he was born.

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