Regulators could change local television broadcast service

Determination to be made whether licensees should be obliged to provide a local television service

The future of local television is up in the air after Cayman’s television networks pressured industry regulators to better define broadcast requirements.

In December, WestStar said industry regulations were not clearly defined for broadcast licensees and, as a result, the future of Cayman27 was under threat.

The Information Communications and Technology Authority, the local regulator, on Tuesday released a call for input, seeking submissions to help define local television broadcasting in the Cayman Islands.

The Authority wants feedback on whether television service licensees should be obliged to provide a local television service, whether there should be a quality standard for local content, and how local content should be defined.

There is currently an obligation on the five existing licensees – Infinity, Digicel, LIME, WestTel (Logic), and WestStar – to provide a “public television service” where they also provide a subscription television service.

The local television obligation in all those licenses – excluding WestStar’s – provides a definition of what the service is, defines how it should be provided, what should be broadcast, and when it would be shown. The original obligation was placed on licenses almost 10 years ago.

“The Authority considers that it is appropriate to consider whether the local television service obligation on those licenses is still fit for purpose,” ICTA’s call for input stated.

WestStar CEO Bob Taylor said the company had not deviated from its original licensee requirements and was disadvantaged because of that.

“We are at a disadvantage because we are spending millions to broadcast and produce Cayman27, and the others don’t have to spend anything. And, in at least one instance, government is subsidizing one of the other cable operators,” Mr. Taylor said. “Cayman27 has lost money every year of its existence, this is a cost that WestStar has incurred since its inception.”

Under the license requirements, broadcasters must show an average of four hours of local content a day.

Mr. Taylor said current regulations leave room for a scenario where the only television news media would be a “government-run propaganda station,” referring to CIGTV.

“The government initially required a local TV station because nobody would have done one. It’s not a money-making business,” Mr. Taylor said. “Journalism is critical to any successful economy. The counter to this is an economy like Iran, North Korea, Cuba, where there is only state government-run media.”

LIME Chief Operating Officer Eugene Nolan said the company is delighted that ICTA was taking this course of action.

“LIME will be submitting a full and detailed submission, which you will be able to see on the ICTA website after 12th May,” Mr. Nolan said.

The calls for input paper will also determine how many hours per day a licensee should provide local content, how it should be funded and provided to customers, and whether licensees should be obliged to commission a certain percentage of their local content to local producers.

Members of the public interested in submitting input should write to ICTA no later than 5 p.m. on May 7.

The paper can be found at www.icta.ky or email [email protected]

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