Media should tell Caribbean story to the world
-- President Jagdeo

by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
May 6, 2000

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo exchanges greetings with Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr Owen Arthur (right) after the opening ceremony of the Third Annual Caribbean Media Conference yesterday at the Meridien Pegasus. Information Minister Mr Moses Nagamootoo is at centre. (Picture by Winston Oudkerk)

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo has urged the use of the awesome powers of the media and the technologies they employ to inspire confidence in the peoples of the Caribbean.

The powers of the media must also be used to present the story of the Caribbean to the rest of the world.

He posited too, that the Caribbean media need a global perspective, not only to prevent isolation and insularity, but to help define the various roles and responsibilities, if they are to charter new directions for the 21st Century.

Delivering the opening address yesterday at the Third Annual Caribbean Media Conference at Le Meridien Pegasus, the Guyanese Head of State observed that the world experiences an excess of sensationalism, but that the Caribbean is too small to produce significant tragedies that would create a shock worldwide and hold global headline attention.

In the circumstances, he said, there is need to replace the desire to seek after the negative with that of a balanced and positive approach, adding "we must consciously carve a niche for the Caribbean".

The Conference, held under the theme "Caribbean Communications and Globalisation: Perils, Potentials and Prospects", is hosted by Guyanese publishers and broadcasters in association with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU).

It is in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day and the International Year for a Culture of Peace.

Persons at yesterday's opening ceremony included Prime Minister Samuel Hinds; Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr Owen Arthur, who gave the keynote address; Leader of the Opposition, Mr Desmond Hoyte; Information Minister, Mr Moses Nagamootoo; members of the diplomatic corps and some 200 local and foreign media practitioners.

President Jagdeo told the gathering that while there has been some amount of change in the Caribbean media, there is much more ahead since the 21st Century is the age of uncertainty.

According to him, the only certainty will be the permanent condition of the change that is expected to open up for access to state-of-the-art technology in the form of digital information and communication systems, increased satellite link-ups, and new forms of combined radio, television and newspaper systems.

But he wondered whether, in the face of all this, the Caribbean can fashion the use of the new instruments to realise its full potential, as he believed it is the only way to avoid the perils which stand as hindrances into the future.

"We must apply these instruments to help transform our societies into modern states, where democracy, stability, growth and development can flourish, and assure our children's children a secure, productive and challenging future."

He said the ideas assist in mapping a route through the challenging present and into the promising future.

Alluding to topics selected for the conference, President Jagdeo said they demonstrate the concern, not only with the potential impact of the new media, but with the possible influence on plural and multi-ethnic societies.

In this context, he said, there is no place for the propagation of hate speech, violence and racism as they cannot constitute freedom of expression.

The President suggested that instead there must be unfettered and continuing debate on race issues with a view to finding solutions to the problems.

He warned against any encouragement of, and protection for, expressions that advocate or exploit racial division and bigotry.

Commenting on the Caribbean media environment, the Guyanese Head of State, said it is an indictment on the Caribbean media that the peoples of the region have little knowledge of happenings in the society.

According to him, their limited knowledge is about gun-crimes, violence, drugs, the annual hurricane season, cricket and rain in Guyana.

He cited as an example, a recent incident where some Trinidadian youths attending a conference here, said they were of the belief that "Guyana was a land of shortages where people walk barefooted".

President Jagdeo opined that this belief may be the reason behind the unfair treatment meted out to many Guyanese when entering or leaving some Caribbean countries.

The President said his understanding of the Caribbean media environment is that of an under-developed advertising industry, with a transnational domination of content, coupled with well-known limitations of skilled personnel, finance, production and programming.

He, however, cautioned against going with the tide and remaining as a net importer of news, views, values, information, culture, entertainment. These make a tempting response, he said.

The President was critical of the performance of the local media. According to him, they have done little to present to the Caribbean community, the reality of Guyana's image.

He remarked that governments must take some blame for the situation. He asked "How can we become a part of the global environment when our capacity to present balanced images to ourselves is limited?"

Mr Jagdeo stated that the time has come for the media to aggressively carry a Caribbean message and a collective public mission. There should be no personal agenda or private role, for that would be a contradiction in the use of public resources, he added.