Nothing harmful in the Merundoi episode which was taken off the air

Dear Editor,

A significant characteristic of human beings is their ability to communicate effectively. In contemporary times, the advancement of technology has considerably enhanced the ways in which humans communicate. Mass media are constantly being revolutionized with the rapid evolution of information and communication technologies. As these technologies continue their dizzying development, new media have been conceived and are also quickly evolving. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube MySpace and others have given people the ability to communicate in a highly specialized manner never before envisaged.

In Guyana while there is the desire, capital and human resources for the expansion of some sections of the mass media, severe restrictions in the form of predatory legislation stifle in particular the deregulation of a key area in the broadcast sector: radio. Sadly after 19 years of democracy, Guyana is stuck with one radio station that is owned and controlled by the government.

Although some amount of deregulation has occurred in the print and television media, radio has remained firmly grasped in the clutches of government control. This has severely stunted the growth of radio in Guyana, while all other Caricom democracies have made quantum leaps in their development and in the advancement of radio.

While underdevelopment in radio in Guyana might be a reality of myopic, narrow and in most cases partisan political objectives, the inflexible control on content that emanates from the government and its agencies, can most likely be seen as a violation of the peoples’ right to information. This week it was reported in the media that Merundoi was temporarily taken off air because an episode was deemed politically offensive. After listening to the episode in question at (season 2 episode 29) I am still trying to figure out why such a decision was taken. There is absolutely nothing in the episode that appears to exploit traditional voting patterns. This programme follows the radio serial format of continuous dramatic fiction and is presented weekly. This would mean that with every episode the plot thickens and new revelations arise.

While Unique was asking Natasha an honest question on how she should vote, Natasha explains that in her home voting has a traditional pattern that she intends to follow. That is the basis of the voter education section of that troubled episode. The next episode might delve further into the issue on how some young people make their decision on voting. I am very sure listeners would want to hear how Unique decides how she will choose the party for which she will vote. From all indications it seems as if Unique is determined to break the voting tradition in her home.

Where is the harm in this radio fiction? Are some persons scared at the way in which Unique might arrive at her decision? Merundoi is a very powerful series that has gathered a significant following in Guyana. I am very confident that the demography of its listening audience will reflect a generous mix of age, race, gender, location and political affiliation.
I can find absolutely nothing wrong with the content of the episode in question. The preceding episode dealt with Unique asking her grandmother some honest questions about voting. She also expressed her confusion in deciding how she should vote which escalated into a very heated discussion mainly because her granny laid down the traditional voting pattern of the family. That is a Guyanese reality!

The troubled episode in question saw Unique reaching out to her friend – something that most young people do – asking the same questions and getting the same response that she got from her granny. Again I ask where the harm in the script is located. Many Guyanese are eagerly awaiting the development of the story to see how Unique arrives at her decision on how to vote.

I noticed that the management of NCN and Merundoi have come to some agreement and the programme will resume broadcasting next week. Let us hope that the scriptwriting is not altered to reflect Guyanese fantasy as against the realities that exist with regard to voter ignorance. After all, this is an educational programme not a fairy tale.

Let Merundoi air and let honest voter education prevail.

Guyana is in need of urgent deregulation in radio. With the deregulation of radio in Guyana the establishment of sensible codes of practice which should guarantee the increase of quality broadcast standards should become reality.This should hopefully eradicate the triviality that currently passes for content regulation in radio.

Medel & Salomon (2011) have persuasively stated that: “The freedom of expression is a pivotal component of our individual development – as human beings and as “political animals” – and to improve and radicalize democracies.” If Guyana is indeed a democracy as our leaders would have us believe, then radio should be allowed to function democratically. Content regulations and censorship on radio must be done against established codes of practice and not on the basis of misguided fears and political coercion.

Yours faithfully,
Richard Francois

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