Broadcasting Commission 25 years and Going Strong

Even though he worked for six years in one of the most controversial newsrooms in the history of Jamaican journalism, Hopeton Dunn’s tenure as chairman of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) rivals his heady years at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC).

The BCJ is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a series of events that started in July with a church service. Hopeton Dunn (in photo), who has been chairman since 2006, said there are also plans to launch poster and essay competitions at the primary, high school and university level.

They are part of a BCJ campaign to make local media fully digital by 2015.

Though it has been the official regulator of local broadcast standards since 1986, the BCJ has been largely low-key. It stepped into the spotlight in February 2009 when it ordered radio and television stations to stop playing songs and music videos with lewd content.

The most notorious of those songs was Ramping Shop by deejays Vybz Kartel and Spice. The BCJ stance triggered a fiery national debate, with critics casting Dunn and his team as hypocrites who were targeting dancehall while ignoring other genres with suggestive lyrics, namely soca music from the Eastern Caribbean.

In March, the BCJ again made news again by taking Nationwide News Network (NNN) radio station to task over its edgy ‘Ragashanti Live show’, hosted by Kingsley Stewart. According to the BCJ, the programme was too salacious for afternoon radio and called on NNN to end its run.

– Second major victory –

After initial opposition, NNN complied, giving the BCJ its second major high-profile victory in two years. Dunn said the organisation has been putting in solid, understated work long before the Ramping Shop and Ragashanti episodes.

“We are the most established of our kind in the Caribbean and we have had a lot of landmark achievements,” he noted. “It’s for people to pay attention.”

Dunn points to the BCJ’s role in the liberalisation of electronic media during the 1990s as one of its biggest accomplishments. Regulating the cable television industry in the last decade is another.

While their involvement has resulted in 20 radio stations, three national television stations and 40 cable stations, Dunn admitted the BCJ is best known for knocking heads with the dancehall community and getting the ribald ‘Raga’ off the air.

– More than talk –

He said its aggressive approach in both cases, showed the BCJ was anything but an organisation of talking heads.

“Those events highlighted the very active hand of the commission in dealing with issues of content as they impact on children,” Dunn said. “The situation was escalating at a pace that required a more broad-based action.”

In addition to its staff, the BCJ has volunteers in the 14 parishes probing the airwaves. They report delinquency but have no powers of determination, Dunn said.

The Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) also supported the BCJ’s surge to purge the airwaves. But last year, its president, Gary Allen, declared the MAJ’s opposition to the BCJ four-year plan for local media to go fully digital.

In an interview with The Gleaner last year, Allen argued that the period was too short for companies to switch from analogue equipment to the more sophisticated and expensive digital format.

“I don’t think the sector is at that place where that can be the position that we agree to. It will be hugely expensive,” Allen said.

The BCJ was formed six years after Hopeton Dunn ended his career as a journalist at the JBC, a government-run radio/television station maligned for its alleged ties to prime minister Michael Manley’s socialist government.

Glen Owen was the first BCJ chairman, followed by Gordon Wells, Frank (check) Francis, Lloyd Vermont, Dwight Whylie and Simon Clarke, who Dunn succeeded five years ago.

During Dunn’s stint at the JBC, talk of payola in local radio was rife. The BCJ has relentlessly attempted to make the practice of pay-to-play music a criminal offence.

Dunn says it is the organisation’s next big step to clean up local airwaves.

“We expect that media managers are attending to those matters but I think what is needed is a change in the law which provides for stringent sanctions,” he said. “We can signal to upcoming artistes and on-air broadcasters that it’s not going to be tolerable.”

Source: Jamaica Gleaner

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