Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Island Agenda 2004 +

5 Communication and information

Communicating and linking


Not surprisingly, modern information and communications technologies figure prominently in continuing discussions associated with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and its two summit meetings in Geneva (December 2003) and Tunis (November 2005). UNESCO’s principal concerns during the WSIS process (access to content, cultural diversity, freedom of expression, knowledge societies, investments in science and technology, etc) are all of special interest to small-island nations. In turn, UNESCO provided support to island countries and organizations in regions such as the Pacific, in raising the profile of their regions in the lead-up to the Geneva summit (including the Asia–Pacific preparatory conference held in Tokyo in January 2003). And among the sources of information, Towards Knowledge Societies provides an Action Directory of UNESCO activities related to the WSIS (www.unesco.org/wsisdirectory).

In terms of the Geneva summit itself, some of the small-island states succeeded in using the WSIS as platform to generate visibility for their cultural, socio-economic and geographic specificity, which requires special ICT solutions. For UNESCO and others partners in the island regions, the WSIS offered an opportunity to raise awareness and stress the importance of: 

  • ICT policies and strategies for national development; 

  • Access to relevant content alongside access to technology and infrastructure; 

  • Political will and awareness for under-pinning cultural diversity and locally relevant content in cyberspace, which do not happen by themselves;

  • The free flow of information, and freedom of expression and information, as essential conditions to access;

  • The use of ICTs for teacher education in SIDS. 

In short, some SIDS have made remarkable progress in applying ICTs to development needs. But there is a big gap between the most and least advanced countries. Much remains to be done, notably in terms of affordable and accessible connectivity and local content. 

Information and communication have become major issues for most of the peoples and nations of our planet, not only as they affect development and security but also as they contribute to the construction of a more just society with stronger ties of solidarity. If our present era is indeed one of a revolution in information technology and networks, then communication systems are of special importance to island societies – for informing and educating, for catalysing and monitoring, for generating income and reinforcing self-reliance. Indeed, new information and communication technologies (ICTs), with their potential to break through social and geographic obstacles, have considerably increased people’s capacity to access information and to share experience and practices with others in almost any part of the world.

The potential of new technologies to foster economic growth, facilitate capacity building and knowledge sharing is particularly important to those small-island countries where development is hampered by dispersed populations, lack of resources and isolation. Furthermore, in respect to one of the core problems in many small islands (that of migration and brain drain), these technologies can play a major role in binding the transnational diaspora communities with their countries of origin, facilitating new and efficient economic networks in both host and home countries and increasing the sense of identity and belonging to a greater ‘transnational’ community. However, to use technologies wisely, communication infrastructures must be adapted to the needs and aspirations of the islanders and to the objectives as defined by them.

Within UNESCO, the Information for All Programme provides a platform for international policy discussions and guidelines for action on the preservation of information and universal access to it, and the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) assists the development of communication infrastructure and professional training.


© Arnoldo Choy, UNESCO

Radio Toco is the first community-based radio station in Trinidad & Tobago, and is one of 12 community radio stations supported by the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) to promote independent media and pluralism for democracy in the Caribbean. Radio Toco was established in 1997 under the UNESCO Women-Speaking-to-Women Programme in collaboration with a local NGO (Trinidad & Tobago’s Citizens’ Agenda Network) and the Toco Foundation. It has blossomed into a veritable laboratory for community mobilization and community broadcast training in the fight against poverty and promotion of sustainable human development.

Radio Toco is widely perceived as an outstanding FM medium for information sharing and exchange amongst the rural communities of northeastern Trinidad. It has spearheaded a strong Caribbean grouping of grassroots organizations committed to empowerment through community radio and has positioned itself as the pivot around which sustainable development is taking place in the Toco community. In recognition of these multiple accomplishments, in April 2004, Radio Toco was awarded the IPDC-UNESCO Prize for Rural Communication.

Fostering the free flow of information, knowledge and data

Promoting the "free flow of ideas by word and image" is one of UNESCO’s constitutional responsibilities, and that charge has been reflected in UNESCO’s programmes since the early days of the Organization in the late 1940s. More recent negotiated texts that shape policies on communication and information are the ECOSOC resolution (2000) on the role of information technology in the context of a knowledge-based global economy and the UN Millennium Development Goals, as well as outputs and outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society

Recent and ongoing efforts have sought to uphold the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, including promoting independent and pluralistic media and fostering in cyberspace respect for the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Promoting and extending the public domain of information offers a priceless though still poorly exploited reservoir of data, information, knowledge and documentation resulting from research fi nanced by public funds or made available in the public domain.

As part of the Memory of the World Programme, support has been provided for a number of years to small-island countries in the collection, preservation and dissemination of national and regional documentary heritage. Examples include a regional project for the digitization of audio-visual collections of broadcasting institutions in the Caribbean.

In terms of future activities, efforts will be extended for incorporating information concerning SIDS in the UNESCO knowledge portal, the aims of which include demonstrating how access to a content-rich public domain may be an important asset in the development of knowledge societies. The portal provides a means for awareness raising on ethical, legal and societal challenges of information society issues. It includes a daily news review, ‘in focus’ articles on information society topics and a ‘watch’ data-base with multilingual entries.

Audiovisual archiving and the ‘Vinegar Syndrome’

In most small-island regions, hot and humid climatic conditions severely affect work on the conservation and preservation of audiovisual archives. UNESCO’s actions seek to support the preservation of film, television and sound recordings as an integral part of the cultural heritage, in the same way as textual information has been regarded for years.

An example is in the Caribbean, where the Caribbean Audiovisual Information Network (CAVIN) has been formed as a result of a conference held in Jamaica in November 2003, as a joint initiative of a grouping of national, regional and international institutions, including UNESCO. Its aims include assessment of the possibilities of establishing a formal audiovisual archiving body for the region. Among recent activities, a three-day UNESCO-CAVIN workshop held in Bridgetown (Barbados) in July 2004 focussed on the management of the so-called ‘vinegar syndrome’ -- a term used to describe the autocatalytic deterioration of cellulose acetate, which releases acetic acid, typically smelling like vinegar. In Bridgetown, archivists and other specialists from 11 Caribbean countries explored a range of issues relating to general conservation/preservation -- manufacture, structure and decomposition of audiovisual materials; appropriate handling and storage techniques, occupational health and safety needs in relation to audiovisual archiving.

Preceding the workshop was a mission of a film preservation expert to the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, to propose concrete remedial action as well as medium- and long-term recommendations to preserve and protect the audiovisual archives of the station.



The Pacidic Women’s Television Programme Exchange project has strengthened women’s position as professional journalists. Through this project, female producers have highlighted social issues from women’s perspectives and established lasting links by exchanging television items between media houses in small-island states in the Pacific. Often, IPDC is the only source of support for media development in small-island states. Since the early 1980s, support totalling some US$3.8 million has been made available to over 80 projects in 30 small-island nations, with support to most of the individual projects ranging from about US$10,000 to $90,000. 

Promoting the expression of pluralism and cultural diversity

Activities for encouraging cultural and linguistic pluralism and the vitality of the various forms of cultural expression include support to the production and dissemination of media and information products (including audio-visual materials) at the local, national and regional levels. Other components include media education and promoting the diversity of content in information networks. 

In the Caribbean, for example, support is being provided to a website providing information on the Caribbean film and television industry. A programme on computer networking for women media practitioners seeks to generate awareness about gender issues amongst women media professionals in the region. An initiative to develop an Internet newspaper in the smaller states of the eastern Caribbean is designed to fill the gap in circulation of up-to-the-minute news and information in the region, and includes training in on-line journalism skills and the management and marketing of journalistic and media products and services. A regional project approved by the IPDC Council in 2003 provides in-service training to upgrade the professional skills of practising journalists.

In the Pacific, a project in the Cook Islands has upgraded television broadcasting production capability through the provision of basic equipment and the development of production capacities in the outer islands. Regional activities include an exchange programme for Pacific women television producers and the preparation of teaching materials for media education.

Activities in the Indian Ocean include the development of atoll media production centres in the Maldives. The project involves setting up of three pilot centres (in Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani and Haa Dhaavulu), extending such centres to other atolls over a six-year period, and providing training in community-based radio programme production. A project for the reinforcement of the information services of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation entails improving communication between TV and radio newsrooms and reducing difficulties of working simultaneously in three languages.

And in April 2004, one of the 62 media projects awarded IPDC grants totalling more than US$1.5, is a training programme for community radio in Timor-Leste. The programme will provide training in current affairs reporting and documentary production to 12 radio journalists a year, with the purpose of producing independent and balanced programming.

Extracts from a 50-page cartoon presentation of UNESCO’s programmes and projects, commissioned for an issue of The UNESCO Courier. Cartoons by Alteau, text by Doxuan

Promoting access for all to ICTs

In responding to the challenges of the digital divide, support is being provided for building up institutional and human carrying capacities, including training in ICTs using both the formal school system as well as libraries, community multi-media centres (page 7) and other informal outlets and methods.

A number of studies have focused on ways of addressing obstacles to electronic communication. A world-wide study of e-governance has explored the interaction between access, empowerment and governance in 62 countries. In one of the publications resulting from this study, Jamaica and Mauritius are two among 15 countries with country profiles for e-governance, representing different situations in each of UNESCO’s principal regions. Overall, the on-line study – prepared by the Commonwealth Network of Information Technology for Development – concludes that key features of e-governance are the public pressure for increased accountability and the great opportunity it offers to small states and islands.

At the regional level, a study on electronic connectedness in Pacific Island countries has included a survey on the use of computers, e-mail and the Internet in education, culture and communication. In another study commissioned by UNESCO-Apia, a survey on Internet infrastructure and e-governance in Pacific Islands has identified 11 major barriers inhibiting e-governance (see Box). 

An example of specialized activities includes training on the use of new technologies for museums in the Caribbean, held in Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles) in August 2001, organized jointly by the International Council of Museums and the Museums Association of the Caribbean.

Among future directions of work is support to the creation of a Caribbean Centre of Excellence in ICT training at the University of the West Indies. Initiatives to increase the accessibility to ICTs in small-island countries are also being promoted.

Barriers to e-governance in Pacific island countries*

  • High cost of Internet services

  • Slow Internet connections

  • Unreliable Internet connections

  • Lack of digitized government information

  • Cost of computers and other equipment

  • Ownership and monopoly of telecom services

  • Lack of availability of technical support

  • Insuf. cient training opportunities for government officials

  • Lack of political awareness of the opportunities

  • Poor staff knowledge of equipment

  • Poor staff understanding of the value and use of the Internet

* Source: From a survey on Internet infrastructure and e-governance in Pacifi c Island countries. Commissioned by the UNESCO Offi ce in Apia. Report prepared by Zwimpfer Communications Ltd (March 2002).

UNESCO’s Information Portals#

  • Archives Portal

  • Free Software Portal

  • Libraries Portal

  • Information Society Observatory Portal

# Accessible via www.unesco.org/webworld


Some 20 educators from 16 Pacific island nations met in Nadi (Fiji) in June 2003 to launch Media Education in the Pacific: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers, a joint initiative of UNESCO-Apia and the network of Associated Schools in the Pacific aimed at introducing media education through various school subjects in the countries of the region. Shown here, the introductory page of one of the four principal teaching sections of the 100-page guidebook.

SECTION 2: Media History and Ownership

Where Does the Media Come From?

Since time began, people have always communicated with each other - talking, telling stories, singing, etc.

To communicate people can:

  • be face-to-face with another person

  • send a message through a medium* (e.g. writing, drawings or another person/thing that can speak thier words).

*This is where we get the word "media". It is the plural of "medium".

The history of the media began when people first learned ways to send messages through a medium.

Media Timeline

Ask your students: Can you imagine how the development of the media below changed people's lives?

77 000 years ago

People draw pictures on cave walls.

5 000 years ago  3 500- 3 000 BC
People in Sumer (now Iraq) write by 
using pictures. They use a type of 
plant to make paper.

2 500 years ago 500 BC
A pen is made from the feather of a bird.

1 100 years ago  870
In China, people make a printed book by 
pressing carved wooden blocks onto paper

600 years ago 1400
Gutenberg invents the printing press in Germany.
Books can now be printed quickly and cheaply 

200 years ago 1800
Semaphore is invented.

People use a punch-card loom for weaving. 
Later, the punch-card idea will be part 
of computer development.


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