The Annual Conference of Caribbean Media in observance of World Press Freedom Day, May 2-3 2006
A conference of Caribbean media and communication professionals in Barbados, May 2-3 has agreed on a wide range of recommendations to policy makers, media houses and media training institutions to advance press freedom and greater use of communication to support regional integration and poverty alleviation.
The recommendations were agreed at the final session of the 6th Conference of Caribbean Media Wednesday (May 3) which was held in conjunction with global observance of World Press Freedom Day organised by UNESCO this year under the theme of Media and Poverty Alleviation. The main international observance was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The Caribbean observance was organised by the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean, based in Kingston, Jamaica; the Caribbean Broadcasting Union with support from the Mona School of Business, UWI, Jamaica; the Caribbean News Agency (CANA); and the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). The event brought together some 60 media owners and managers, journalists, broadcasters, CARICOM officials and heads of media training institutions from CARMAC, UWI and the Barbados Community College.
The Conference was held under the theme, "Freedom of the press and human development in the Caribbean". The opening on May 2 was addressed by the President of the CBU, Mr. Vic Fernandes. At the all-day working session, six papers related to the theme were presented in the morning while, in the afternoon, participants met in workshop sessions where they discussed the issues in detail.
On freedom of the press, the Conference urged professional media organisations to continue efforts being pursued with regional governments since the mid-1990s to reform libel laws. There was particular concern about the continuation of criminal libel on the statutes in some jurisdictions; jury trials in libel cases; excessive awards in some cases especially in Jamaica; and the absence of the ‘wire service' defence in instances where the defamatory material is reproduced from a reputable wire service or news agency. The efforts should continue on a regional, rather than on individual, national basis.
The Conference also agreed that media organisations and professional journalists should establish Codes of Conduct to set and maintain standards for newsroom practice as these would reduce the risk of publication of potentially defamatory material.
The Conference agreed that the present libel laws were not the main deterrent to having more investigative reporting which was described as important to ensure accountability of public officials. Lack of understanding of libel laws, the level of professional skills among reporters and editors and limited resources were identified as the main deterrents to good investigative reporting.
The Conference proposed a number of strategies including training and pooling of resources by media houses to cover complex and time-consuming stories. These strategies should help to improve the standards of investigative reporting in the region.
The Conference proposed that regional media institutions seek to establish a regional prize in investigative reporting as a means of encouraging journalists to undertake such assignments.
The Conference also recommended a number of strategies to improve reporting on Caribbean regional integration and the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals, including poverty alleviation, to which regional governments are committed.
The strategies include development of partnerships and networks between the media and the development community.
The Conference also recommended a number of strategies to encourage citizens to use the opportunities created by new and emerging information and communication technologies to participate more effectively in governance and for the media to use these technologies more in their day-to-day reporting.
To this end the Conference recommended that media should advocate for the full liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in parts of the region where this has not yet been achieved and for more and cheaper broadband services. The Conference agreed that these were essential to enabling greater access by more Caribbean people to the benefits of the ICT revolution.
The Conference also encouraged regional governments to make greater use of the technologies to communicate more effectively with citizens. In this connection, it was noted that at least one Caribbean prime minister used a publicly available e-mail address to receive comments and suggestions from citizens and these ideas were later incorporated in a weekly radio address to the nation.
The Conference also discussed the role of public service broadcasting in relation to both freedom of the press and the use of media to promote human development and poverty alleviation. The Conference agreed that there was a continuing and important role for public broadcasting in a regional media environment that was dominated by the private sector.
The Conference recommended that regional governments consider harmonising policies and the legal and regulatory framework for the development of public service broadcasting which should be independent of direct political control. Public service broadcasting was not the same as government broadcasting.
The Conference recommended that governments provide tax and other economic incentives for the production of public service-type programming by the private media. The Conference also suggested the introduction of regulations to ensure that some of the revenue from the growing cable sector be available for the development of cultural and development programming.
The Conference recommended that governments consider regulations to ensure that harmful material, especially to children, was not freely available on cable.
The Annual Conference of Caribbean Media was launched in Jamaica in 1998. There were subsequent conferences in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Grenada and Antigua—which hosted the 5th Conference in 2002.
Now that the Conference has been re-launched it is anticipated that it will become an annual event as it remains the only regional forum that brings together owners, managers and journalists in traditional print and broadcast media as well as in the emerging digital media to discuss policy and professional issues affecting the capacity of the media to meet their obligations to the people of the Caribbean region.
Over the coming months consultations will be held among all stakeholders regarding follow-up of the recommendations arising from the Barbados Conference and to agree on a date in 2007 and venue for the 7th Annual Conference of Caribbean Media.
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