Access to public information is government's responsibility, concludes seminar in Montevideo
The regional seminar, entitled "Freedom of Information: the Right to Know", gathered government representatives, media professionals from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as general public last September in Montevideo. The event was organized by UNESCO's Montevideo Office, in cooperation with the Uruguayan Ministry of Education and Culture, the Argentinean Journalism Forum (FOPEA), the Paraguayan Journalists' Forum (FOPEP) and the Uruguayan Press Association (APU).
The two-day seminar provided a platform for discussion and exchange of experiences. Five round tables covered the following topics:
<li>Freedom of information: challenges and implications for the media,
<li>Media and cultural content,
<li>Freedom of information as a tool for empowerment,
<li>Laws on freedom of access to information and media, and
<li>Strengthening community media.
Despite the difficulty of defining quality of media information and preserving excellence under audience rates pressure, journalists' training and development of critical thinking with high ethical standards were considered essential to ensure the quality of news reporting.
One of the seminar's conclusions was: given that freedom of information is a right of every citizen, it is the government's responsibility to guarantee access to public information and to create transparent communication systems.
According to participants, it is the responsibility of the state to create a regulation system, licensing broadcast services and community media, which would allow citizens' participation and ensure greater diversity of voices. Several presentations showed this need in relation with the respective laws in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Participants discussed equal license shares for public and community media.
They also stressed that media had a key role in the formation of citizenship. To comply with this responsibility, they should be open to those social groups that are less represented in our society. In order to achieve citizens' empowerment, community media, instead of reproducing business models, need to act with professionalism and reflect the identity and culture of communities.