Community Media, Media of the Future
The genre of "community media" was hailed as the "new media" of the future at the Commonwealth-Caribbean Media Conference, a three-day activity held last week on the University of the West Indies St Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago to mark World Press Freedom Day 2004.
Impassioned pleas from some panelists and members of the audience called on media owners to play their part in resisting the muting of Caribbean voices and cited community media, especially radio, as 'the one to watch' in ensuring pluralism, diversity, local content and democracy in the Caribbean.
Organized by the Commonwealth Journalists' Association (CJA) and the Conference of Caribbean Media (CCM), an umbrella body for a number of participating media organisations in the region, with support from UNESCO, the Commonwealth-Caribbean Media Conference provided the forum for some fifty journalists and media professionals to share their experiences of working in the Caribbean and other regions of the British Commonwealth.
The Conference was opened by Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago who called for a Code of Ethics for the media, a comment that stirred considerable debate in the days following the opening.
Of major interest to participants was the warning by Zimbabwean editor Nqobile Nyathi of the Zimbabwe Daily News, embattled in a fight for a free press in her country, not to let the government control the media, voiced during an address to Conference participants entitled "Journalism under the Gun". She cautioned Trinidadian citizens and journalists to "appreciate what they have...because, once it's gone, (press freedom)...it is difficult to get it back."
The delegates also heard reports on the state of the media in the Caribbean and various regions of the Commonwealth and explored within panels questions such as reporting under siege, and experiences in withstanding these pressures, convergence, the new technologies and present day journalism, local content development and legislation, ethics and standards and other aspects of editorial policy, and HIVAIDS a major issue of concern to the Caribbean media and in other parts of the Caribbean.
The overriding issue of the conference was the quality of reporting and writing in all fields of the media and the need to take an in-depth look in the entire question of journalism training in the region in view of plans of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine and the Commonwealth Journalists' Association to introduce a long term programme of training in this field at the University.
In the discussion on local content quotas, media owners were cautioned take careful note of the challenges posed by the GATT and ongoing WTO and FTAA negotiations. The region's lack of an audio-visual policy to "preserve and enhance Caribbean diversity, audio-visual heritage and intercultural dialogue and understanding" was also cited as an immediate challenge to be addressed by Governments, media, policy makers and wider civil society.
The Commonwealth-Caribbean Media Conference was situated within the framework of a weeklong programme of activities (3-7 May) to celebrate World Press Freedom Day including the launch of the new CJA headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago, a media exhibition demonstrating the work of the media in Trinidad and Tobago and other Commonwealth countries, and the opportunity for young people thinking of a career in journalism to talk to working journalists from the Caribbean and other regions.