Opposition Leader David Granger yesterday condemned state TV NCN’s ban of this year’s calypso competition offerings and the Region Ten administration plans to “seek redress” for those whose songs have been shunned to “ensure it does not happen again,” Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon said.
Solomon told Stabroek News that the fact that the reigning monarch Lester ‘De Professor’ Charles – whose song was among the ten banned and whose lyrics apparently triggered the move – is from Region 10, the region would become involved as it has a duty “to protect our residents and we are prepared to do that.”
While there has been no official word from NCN on the issue, the songs of the ten finalists have not been played since Thursday and up to Friday there were signs posted up around NCN instructing that the songs not be played “by order of management.”
Leader of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Granger yesterday condemned the move by NCN saying that it is a question of cultural liberation and the country has passed the stage of infringing on persons’ right to freedom of expression. He pointed out that calypsonians throughout the Caribbean and others such as cartoonists and journalists have been given a licence so to speak to be “legitimate commentators of social issues and political issues.” By this move, Granger said, the state media is once again inhibiting people’s right to freedom of expression and he said that as long as there is nothing vulgar in the lyrics, they should be played.
The Opposition Leader said that once again the country is made to see the danger of having radio and television dominated by the state as the censorship is a political act and that is one of the reasons APNU does not support state-controlled media.
The move by NCN came a day after Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn walked into the NCN studios and instructed an announcer to discontinue playing Lester ‘De Professor’ Charles’ winning calypso. Stabroek News was told that the announcer was asked whether anyone had listened to the lyrics of the song, “God Nah Sleep.”
While the announcer indicated to Benn that he was not in a position to remove anything from the airwaves and that contact should instead be made with his superiors, on Thursday, a decision was taken to remove all the calypsos from the airwaves. Efforts by Stabroek News to reach Benn for a comment yesterday proved futile.
NCN’s acting Chief Executive Officer Michael Gordon yesterday again declined to comment on the issue but said that the network will issue a statement later.
Chairman of NCN’s board Dr. Prem Misir when contacted yesterday said that he has requested from NCN’s management the “protocols” as it relates to the removal of anything from the airwaves and he is yet to receive this. He told Stabroek News that while he has been hearing “general stuff of banning” he has no direct knowledge of what the situation is and said when he receives the information requested he would be in a better position to comment.
A source at the network had questioned the move to ban the songs in light of the fact that NCN had received a consent letter from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport to play all of the finalists’ songs—except for Roger ‘Young Bill Rogers’ Hinds’ since he had not submitted his song. The source said NCN was encouraged to give all the songs equal airtime in an effort to build momentum for the competition. It has since been revealed that the letter-which was requested by the network-was not signed by Minister of Culture, Youth & Sport Dr Frank Anthony but a senior functionary within the ministry.
Solomon yesterday said that the banning of the songs was “very unfortunate” and added that it is in the same vein of people’s right to express themselves freely being trampled on. He expressed the opinion that once again the “region is being victimized” by virtue of the fact that Charles’ song was banned. “It is the government approach of going against that fundamental right of every Guyanese to express themselves. There is nothing in the content of the songs that suggests anything libellous or not accurate,” Solomon said.
He said if one were to read the newspapers they would see the issues raised by the calypsonians are the same that are written in the pages of the newspapers. Solomon said this is the time for all Guyanese to understand that their fundamental right to express themselves is under threat and if the calypsonians are being denied today “the rest of the country should ask themselves who is next.”
Meantime, addressing the issue last Friday during his weekly press conference Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon said he was unaware of the decision by NCN to ban the calypsos, but he noted that the judges in the calypso competition were given criteria and these were breached. “What I am aware of is that a rendition was interrupted and [I] subsequently mounted an inquiry to find out what exactly has happened and I am getting information from my colleague ministers about the sequence of events that took place that interrupted that rendition,” he had said.
Luncheon had said Cabinet reposes “quite a bit of confidence in the judges. There is a code that is given to all of the calypsonians to which one would expect them to adhere. The judges are there to ensure that adherence takes place. It would be insidious of me to second-guess the judges, who apparently allowed these renditions to become part of the calypso competition and the one [to which you are referring] might be that of the calypso monarch,” he added.
However, one of the judges at the finals of the competition, broadcaster/talk show host Basil Bradshaw yesterday said when Dr Luncheon referred to judges he must have been referring to those who would have judged at the audition and who would have sent them through to the quarter finals. He pointed out that the judges in the quarter finals and finals would have only adjudicated on the songs and how they were presented and as such, if there was any blame it would have to be on those who judged the auditions. He said that it is unfortunate that the calypsos were banned. “Anyone would think that to have a competition then you have to ban the songs at the final stage, makes a fool of the competition and a fool of the calypso fraternity,” he told Stabroek News.
Bradshaw said attention is already not being paid to the art form and the administration has been talking about upgrading to prevent it from dying and now this ban. He called on the calypso association to take “a stand against such an oppressive move.” It is not the first time calypsonians have been “lampooning Government officials” as it happened in the previous administrations and former Presidents Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte were targeted and they took it in good faith, he said.
Another judge at the finals, who preferred not to be named, expressed the hope that the decision to ban the songs would be revisited. The judge said that the lyrics would have been examined from the start and it is very sad that the authorities have now banned the songs including that of the winner. “It is not fair to artiste [Charles], he was very good in his presentation… they should examine the process. The calypsonians have poured money into their presentation and this year they lifted the standard, their lyrics and musical compositions were very good this year. It is sad that this has happened…” the judge said.
Not the first time
It is not the first time that NCN has banned calypsos from its airwaves and the well-known Mighty Rebel
has borne the brunt of this move in the past. Stabroek News was unable to make contact with the calypsonian but reports are that he is
the president of the calypso association which is expected to be revived. Mighty Rebel retired from competition at the starting of 2011 because of what he termed then as shabby treatment by the state-controlled television station.
Then the reigning calypso monarch, Mighty Rebel had said in an interview that he was leaving on top of the art form and after decades of campaigning for a crown he had won six times. Rebel had explained that he felt “bad” when he stumbled on a DVD he said was produced by NCN titled, ‘The Best of Mash 2010’ and discovered that many performers who won various competitions during Mashramani that year were featured, except for him.
The DVD captured the performances of the reigning junior calypso monarch; the reigning soca monarch; the road march winner and various other persons who triumphed in other competitions including the steel pan. But there was no sign of Rebel’s winning performance when he snatched the calypso crown that year with the riveting, “All Ah We Know De Man”.
At the time he had said that the DVD was the “final straw” even as he had pointed out that NCN had for years refused to play any of his songs, even when he was crowned monarch, and 2010 was no different. “They never play my songs… but this DVD really got to me because you feature everyone else except Rebel. The junior calypso monarch is there, but not the senior monarch,” he had said and added that it was a signal for him to quit competing. The DVD was circulated at the launch of Mashramani 2011.