The Third Caribbean Media Conference--
Facing up to the challenges
By Rickey Singh
May 5, 2000
THE THIRD Caribbean Media Conference begins this morning at Le Meridien Pegasus at a time of critical challenges for the local and regional media.
President Bharrat Jagdeo is to formally declare open the conference, which will be held over three days, and the Prime Minister of Barbados Mr Owen Arthur is to deliver the keynote address on "The Caribbean Environment".
Arthur, as the head of government of CARICOM with lead responsibility for arrangements for the Community's single market and economy, has been making some incisive analyses in recent major presentations at regional fora on the way forward for the Caribbean in the 21st century.
It would, therefore, be interesting to learn what new ideas or suggestions he has to offer in helping to shape policy not just for CARICOM governments, but also for the region's media, in his discourse today on the prevailing Caribbean environment.
The organisers and sponsors have put together a programme that addresses a range of very challenging issues under the central theme: "Caribbean Communications and Globalisation - Perils, Potential and Prospects".
The threats and opportunities facing the Caribbean in the era of globalisation, the hope and despair of
multi-ethnic or plural societies, and the technological and other challenges to be confronted in the global environment are some of the major areas for deliberations.
Both the chairman of the organising committee, David de Caires, Editor-in-Chief of the `Stabroek News', and communications specialist, Hugh Cholmondeley, who has been integrally involved in helping to arrange the programme, think that this year's caucus could be the largest gathering ever of media professionals and decision makers in the Caribbean.
However, while the topics to be covered will undoubtedly prove stimulating and could, hopefully,
influence attitudinal and policy changes, there may be a problem of continuity in the pursuit of set objectives from the two previous regional conferences of this nature, held first in Jamaica in 1998 and last year in Trinidad and Tobago.
If they should reflect on the issues and decisions of the first and second media conferences, the region's media owners, managers, editors and other decision makers would realise the yawning gaps in ideas generated and decisions unfulfilled.
A cynical view may place them in the company of the region's political directorates that the media so often criticise for failing to implement their own unanimous decisions on economic integration and common services.
There needs to be a critical review of why there has been failure to give substance to a number of promising ideas that were embraced at the previous two conferences so as to avoid the `Caribbean Media Conference' becoming yet another regional forum for "good talk" that's not matched by
It must be of concern to all practitioners of the region's journalism profession that the Caribbean
media - print and electronic - reflect, by the quality of coverage of events and developments, that they are indeed integral to the process of change and can be partners in the development process without sacrificing ethical principles and professional dignity. Or, even profits.
Having mechanisms in place, such as national and regional press councils as we grapple with our respective national or subregional environments, would appear to have a direct relationship to concerns for professional ethics and the fulfillment of social responsibility functions.
The reality is that this Third Annual Caribbean Media Conference is taking place this week with still no serious effort to establish effective mechanisms at the national and regional levels, that could deal with complaints against the media as well as address legitimate grievances of the media.
There is still no indication of a new regional body to take the place of either the long defunct Caribbean Publishers and Broadcasters Association (CPBA) or the Caribbean Press Council. And organisations representing journalists at the local and regional levels, such as the Caribbean Association of Media Workers (CAMWORK), have, unfortunately, become inactive and ineffective.
The idea of an in-house Ombudsman in every established media enterprise across the region, was one of the recommendations of the First Caribbean Media Conference. It apparently fell off the agenda by the time of the Second Conference.
We should soon know what this Third Conference will bring forth in terms of relevant recommendations in response to the challenges for change.
There are also concerns of a different nature by the consumers of information. Growing privatisation of the region's electronic media with a multiplicity of radio and television stations, has not resulted in more but less public broadcasting services. Only recently, Dr Aggrey Brown of CARIMAC also alluded to this situation.
The way forward for the Caribbean media in the era of globalisation can hardly be seriously discussed
without any kind of reporting by the key decision makers on the future of the region's two leading news
organisations - Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
Information, however basic, on the merger of these two enterprises into a Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), the mission statement of this new entity and how it intends to better serve the region, seem appropriate for a forum like the Caribbean Media Conference.
In this context, it is also relevant to observe that neither CBU nor CANA had a presence in Havana last month for the momentous first-ever South Summit of the developing world, hosted by a Caribbean nation right in CARICOM's backyard. More than money may have been the problem.
Whatever is true, the reality is that what eventually becomes of the CBU and CANA, as the major vehicles for regional news coverage, could very well impact on some of the fundamental issues that this week's Caribbean Media Conference will address.