04.05.2002 -

Press Freedom to Remain Focus of Caribbean Media

Media owners and practitioners meeting last month in the Antigua and Barbudan capital under the umbrella of the Caribbean Media Conference have established a mechanism to promote the interests of the media industries across the region and implement conference decisions.



Participants of the meting that was held from 16 to 18 May in Antigua agreed to establish a seven-member Standing Committee of the newly renamed Annual Conference of Caribbean Media (ACCM) as "the principal instrument for guiding the development" of the annual conference, including setting agendas and determining priorities. Core membership of the Committee will be drawn from the leadership of the Caribbean Media Corporation, (CMC), the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), the Caribbean Editors'Forum, immediate and past Chair of the Annual Conference of Caribbean Media, and the UNESCO Adviser for Communication and Information in the Caribbean.


This year's conference—the 5th in a series that began in Jamaica in 1998—was organised around thetheme " Press Freedom: Access, Content and Technology". The series has been co-sponsored by UNESCO in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, May 3.


In her remarks, Helene Gosselin, Director, UNESCO Cluster Office in Kingston, urged the delegates to seize these opportunities of successful reflection and introspection to go beyond the level of dialogue and into the realm of concrete action for the growth and professional development of the media in the Caribbean. She also put forward a UNESCO-commissioned study on the Impact of the Caribbean Media Conference as a guide in the present deliberation.


The UNESCO Adviser for Communication and Information, Jocelyne Josiah pledged to continue to facilitate actions that will promote the high ideals of freedom of the press through professionalisation of the media, networking using the new communication and information technologies and mechanisms for providing equitable access for the unreached in the region.


The main objectives of the Annual Conference, which has met previously in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Grenada were:


· Protecting and strengthening freedom of the press.

· Promoting the professional development of media workers.

· Increasing awareness of technological innovation that offer opportunities or pose threats to the development and growth of the media industries in the Caribbean.


One of the tasks of the Standing Committee is to ensure that the Annual Conference transforms itself into a truly multi-cultural multi-lingual forum in which at least Spanish, French and English are represented. This goal takes on added significance, as the 6th conference will be held in Guadeloupe—the first gathering in a non-English speaking country.


Starting with the next meeting in Guadeloupe, it was agreed that a feature of the conferences will be a country-by-country report on the state of press freedom throughout the region.


The meeting in Antigua and Barbuda was hosted by the Antigua Observer Group headed by Samuel Derrick. It was organised around several panel discussions. In the first panel, on "Accessibility, Legislation and Media Responsibility" Peter Richards of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, ACM struck the issue of press freedom, noting that while the media was concerned about freedom "Caribbean governments think the press is too free".


Urging media leaders to press governments to amend their libel laws, Oliver Clarke, publisher of the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica said, "We need desperately to get the laws of libel revised especially to include the wire service defence. We are doing a pretty lousy job in trying to advance and protect our interest".


Some delegates expressed concern that the Conference focussed too much on the English-speaking countries. Jose Martin of the Cuban Journalists Association said Cuba, for example, did not subscribe to the definition of press freedom used at the conference or contained in the Declaration of Chapultepec.


"There is a difference of ideology and political system thatmust be respected", he said, noting that the situation in Cuba could not be understood without taking account of the US economic embargo.


And the Haitian delegation complained that there had not been enough discussion on the conditions under which journalists were forced to work in that country. "We are living a very difficult situation", said one delegate noting that some Haitian journalists had been killed in recent years.


The Conference also heard an update on efforts to get heads of governmentin the Americas to sign the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec. The 10-point Declaration is based on the concept that "no law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium".


In addition to freedom of the press and other issues of immediate concern to publishers, broadcasters and journalists, the Conference also heard papers on wider Caribbean issues. In one such paper, Antiguan Attorney, Bernice Lake QC, gave a well-researched perspective on the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice, which, among other things, is slated to become the region's final appellate court replacing the British Privy Council.


She questioned whether Caribbean judges were sufficiently independent of the political directorate to make independent judgements especially in cases involving rights and freedoms—an issue that she said should be of particular significance to the media.


Case Studies on two video productions provided insight and inspiration on the challenges and opportunities inthe regional and global markets. The first was 'The Sweetest Mango', Antigua and Barbuda's first feature film produced by the young wife and husband team of (Mitzi and Howard Allen), who completed the project on a shoe-string budget of 100,000 United States dollars.


The second is the soap opera 'Woodward Park', produced by Earth TV of Trinidad and Tobago for CCN-TV, and sold to other stations in the region including Barbados and Jamaica as well as the USA diaspora.


The Meeting also welcomed the official launch of a website and on-line forum for journalists entitled "Caribbean Media Network" that developed and managed by the Gleaner Go-Jamaica staff, which evoked significant interest as a useful tool for the promotion of journalism and media development in the region.

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