Radio station owner Don Seymour, whose company owns three stations and is in the process of purchasing a fourth, said he would fight anyone who tries to force his stations to play local music.
And he’ll take his fight all the way to the Privy Council.
Mr. Seymour was responding to recent media comments made by George Nowak, Cayman Musicians and Entertainers Association’s Broadcast Committee chairman, concerning the draft Memorandum of Understanding that was circulated among broadcasters on the topic of playing the music of local artists over the air.
Mr. Nowak, who is also known as artist Barefoot Man, criticised the fact that the draft MOU had not been sent to CMEA, and likened that fact to having Middle East peace talks without inviting the Israelis.
Disagreeing with the analogy, Mr. Seymour said there was a big difference.
‘Unlike the Middle East, which is a dispute about ownership of private property, this is not a dispute about ownership,’ he said. ‘The broadcasters own the stations and no one disputes that.’
Mr. Seymour maintained that neither CMEA nor anyone else has the right to dictate what music is played on a privately owned radio station.
‘Air play is private property,’ he said. ‘It does not belong to CMEA, and it does not belong to the government either.
‘It costs millions of dollars a year to create air time. No one has a right to that air time except the broadcasters.’
Mr. Seymour criticised CMEA for responding to the draft MOU when it was not even supposed to have received a copy.
‘The process [of broadcasters formally discussing the issue of airplay for local artists] had just begun, and broadcasters had not even had the opportunity to fully review the [MOU]… and CMEA disrupted the whole process,’ he said. ‘It tells me they are not committed to resolving this between us and that they are seeking to go the legislative route.’
Minister of Communications Arden McLean has said in the past that he did not want to enact legislation forcing broadcasters to play the music of local musicians, but Mr. Seymour said he thinks CMEA would like to force the government to take action with legislation.
Should that happen, Mr. Seymour said he would take the matter all the way to the Privy Council on the basis that radio stations are private property.
Mr. Seymour said CMEA’s efforts were fundamentally wrong.
‘However well-intended this effort is, it’s headed down a very dangerous path, and that’s a path where the rights of private enterprises are disrespected,’ he said. ‘It’s undemocratic and its un-Caymanian to seize private property
‘Where would something like this stop? Are we going to take rooms away from the Ritz-Carlton and give them to the National Recovery Fund? Those people have real needs too.’
Mr. Seymour said he hopes the government will not legislate the matter.
‘Personally, I don’t think this will ever become law here; not if this current government continues to pursue the consultative approach it has since it was elected,’ he said. ‘The public would believe in the protection of private property rights and wouldn’t think private property could be confiscated by other individuals without just compensation.’
Mr. Seymour offered an analogy that concerned the output of local farmers.
‘Government would never dream of going into a restaurant and telling them they were required to have two or three dishes using local beef,’ he said.
Mr. Seymour noted that part of the argument by CMEA was moot in any case.
‘At this point [all broadcasters] are playing local music,’ he said. ‘All the broadcasters agree that playing local music is in the best interests of all concerned.
‘But CMEA wants to dictate the terms of how radio stations are operated.’
Mr. Seymour said that even though his stations play the songs of local musicians, CMEA complains that they do not rotate all of the local artists.
‘There’s a disconnect with that and the practices of modern broadcasting,’ he said, explaining that listeners do not want to listen to the same thing over and over.
Mr. Nowak contends there are about 1,000 local recordings available, and that even if half of those were put aside, there would still be 500 recordings for the radio stations to choose from.
Mr. Seymour noted, however, that most of those 500 recordings have not been recorded recently. He said very few songs, unless they’re now considered classics, get airplay after a certain time.
‘[CMEA] wants this music to be rotated continuously, forever,’ he said. ‘That’s not the way modern broadcasting works.
‘It’s a completely unreasonable position.’
Mr. Seymour said his stations rotate the songs of local artists they consider worthy.
‘Someone has to make that choice,’ he said.
‘[Radio broadcasting] is not a public service, it’s a commercial enterprise,’ he said. ‘We play what the public demands, and we play what we thing is good.
‘The question is, who makes that decision. CMEA thinks that decision should be made by them.’
Speaking of the demand aspect, Mr. Seymour said his stations make programming choices based on demand and there had been little demand shown for local music. He said his stations do not get many requests for local music and that they would hear it from listeners if they wanted it played more.
‘We have a highly interactive listening audience,’ he said. ‘We get hundreds of [request] calls a week, and other than the calls from CMEA members, we don’t get any calls requesting local music.’
If his stations did get a lot of calls requesting local music indicating a demand for it, Mr. Seymour said he would ‘absolutely play it’ more.
In any case, he repeated that his stations have been playing local music ‘all the while’.
‘We recognise that there are good local artists out there and we play them,’ he said.
Mr. Seymour said Mr. Nowak’s mentioning of Canadian laws requiring local content on radio stations was not appropriate because of many differences in the situations between Canada and Cayman.
‘Canada has unique situations that might not apply here,’ he said. ‘For instance, the Canadian government does not own radio stations. The Caymanian government owns Radio Cayman, which operates two commercial stations.
Mr. Seymour said the Canadian laws were enacted in a period when there was a lot of fear in Canada that the country would be overrun by United States culture.
Now, however, a majority of artists in Canada think the law has out-served its purpose and is in fact counterproductive, Mr. Seymour noted.
Noting that Radio Cayman does a good job of playing local music, Mr. Seymour said the consumer has a choice of stations to listen to.
In the end, Mr. Seymour said he did not see much room for compromise.
‘I feel as strongly about this as [the members of CMEA] do,’ he said.