Caribbean Media Conference to discuss impact of new technology, broadcasting policy and media in ethnically sensitive societies

Stabroek News
March 29, 2000

Arrangements for the "Third Annual Caribbean Media Conference", to take place in Guyana, from May 5th to 7th, 2000 are now in the final stages. A press release issued on Monday by Public Communications Consultants Limited said that the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the conference, Publisher of the Stabroek News, David de Caires, observed that incitement to racial hatred, balance, political bias and offences against taste and decency and the media's role in multi-ethnic societies are some of the issues that will be examined at this year's Conference.

The Conference will be opened by His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana. It takes place at the Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown and will bring together executives from the media, advertising agencies and business as well as programmers, producers, reporters, academics and government policy makers.

The conference will examine "The perils, prospects and potential of Caribbean communications in the era of globalisation." Panellists from the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Mauritius will review the momentous political, economic and social changes caused by globalisation, technology and the impact on the region's information and communications industries.

The foundation for deliberation and discussion by the expected 200-odd participants will be the analysis of three important and ever-changing environments. The first will be the analysis of the Caribbean environment that will be presented by the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur. The second will be an analysis of the phenomenon of globalisation by a senior official from one of the world's leading multinational companies. This analysis will focus specifically on the impact of the new technologies and their evolving applications in the information and communications industries.

An analysis of the environment in multi-ethnic societies will be presented by Mr. Gilbert Ahnee, Editor-in-Chief of Le Mauricien, one of Mauritius' leading daily newspapers. Mr Ahnee will draw lessons from his country's experience as an independent multi-ethnic nation while focusing on the role of the media.

Mr. Ahnee will argue that he most pressing issue for young democratic nations is the need for the rule of law to be sufficiently entrenched in the nation's culture to spare its citizens the disturbing impression that ethnic, socio-cultural or religious networking can favour discrimination. Mr Ahnee considers this a secular request to rulers and opponents. On the other hand, he concludes that some of the world's multi-ethnic societies are not self-confident enough to trust exclusively the enshrined constitutional equality before the law. He notes that, unfortunately, past and sometimes recent history in these societies have left scars that are not yet healed. Consequently the media - newspapers, radio and television stations - cannot be content with supporting a cold, intellectual and impersonal secular policy. For his own newspaper, he says, "news value is no more the rule of the game."

Among the distinguished speakers is Elizabeth Smith, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. She will discuss the problem faced by all Commonwealth countries, including the urgent need for frameworks that define the boundaries of broadcasting in the world of free market conditions, technological change, multiplicity of media and diminishing attention to social and cultural problems.

Ms Smith will discuss the changed conditions for policy makers caused by technological innovation in the digital age that has removed the problem of shortage of frequencies. As a consequence, the role of the regulator has changed fundamentally. Independent and credible regulation, Ms Smith suggests, now demands greater attention to the content of broadcasting, rather than the allocation of scarce frequencies.

Ms Smith draws from Commonwealth experience and finds that a broadcasting framework is essential to the setting of standards, balance and social responsibility. Such a framework must impose fines in cases of breach of guidelines relating to balance, political bias, incitement to racial hatred and offences against taste and decency. She proposes that the absence of standards in the world of globalisation and the Internet is the reason why much of its information cannot be trusted and suggests that the practical difficulties in regulating domestic broadcasting are less daunting than regulating the Internet.

Ms Smith will discuss the contentious issue of government ownership of media in Commonwealth countries as well as the award of licences to 'friends of the government'. She suggests that, on the contrary, licences should be awarded on the basis of agreed criteria such as financial viability, knowledge of the industry, diversity of programmes, reach of signal, suitable content standards and range of target audience by language, ethnic origin, income level, age etc.

The economics of Caribbean information and communications industries will be examined by Gregory McClure, a leading Caribbean advertising agency executive. He will deliver the address "Media, New Media and the Marketplace." Ms. Allison Demas, a leading copyright lawyer will address the question: "Intellectual Property - can copyright be protected?"

The plight of West Indian Cricket and the increasing costs of covering regional and international sporting events is expected to be examined by an official of the West Indian Cricket Board under the topic "Media and Sports Coverage - the state of play."