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Prime Minister’s address to the AGM of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union August 27th 2003

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Honourable Prime Minister of Saint Lucia

Address to the AGM of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union August 27th 2003

CONVERGING VISION AND VALUES: Media, Communication and Regional Integration


At its very root, regional integration is about the convergence of vision and values: the vision of a collective destiny, and those values we share as Caribbean people determined to be more than a geographic aggregation of independent nation states.

At the very least, our integration is about the peaceful coexistence of divergent perspectives, ideologies and cultures. In short, it is about people understanding other people and choosing to collaborate and cohabit in ever increasing degrees of proximity; physical proximity as well as a certain proximity of thinking.

This is not to value uniformity over plurality; but to acknowledge that despite obvious, possibly superficial differences, we continue to recognize the quintessential similarities which bind us together as a single people in our quest for a unifying Caribbean identity.

In the same way that Karl Marx recognized that popular power and the collective will required a commonality of perspective to be effectively mobilized, the regional integration process requires a similarly shared perspective. Information and Communication are the vehicles by which we arrive at that point; that point where the collective consciousness, despite the isolation of individuality, recognizes the common cause, and rises to a single, larger, unifying purpose.

As caretakers of information and communication, the regional media is at the centre of this process. They share the responsibility of educating the people of this region about the commonality of our circumstances, the similarities that bind rather than divide us, and the common solutions we might apply to our own development.

The issues are many and varied, from the everyday to the esoteric: poverty eradication, adult education, HIV/AIDS, employment generation, economic development, good governance, cultural and community development. These are but a few examples of the common challenges we face, and the media has the responsibility of exploring the problems, as well as showcasing solutions wherever they exist. Throughout this region there are valiant models of success crying out for equal recognition.

On this rock of responsibility, media practitioners must etch their own professional vision; their codes of conduct and standards of excellence; their rights and responsibilities as seekers and traders of information, and as keepers of a fine and delicate science. They must also envisage their unique role in the construction of a Caribbean psyche.
In short, the regional media should be its own movement with an agenda which promotes the convergence of vision and values within the regional constituency that we all serve. In this way, practitioners will be preserving their own economic space; creating market share for indigenous media product; and reinforcing relevance in a highly competitive environment. Thus, the convergence of vision and values can be our new protectionism; our new compact with each other to create expand and diversify our domestic media markets

To be effective, this convergence must occur at several levels simultaneously, but none more important than at grass-root level; in the hearts and minds of Caribbean people where our past, present and future reside. Then might the front line of regionalism advance over fertile ground rather than a wilderness inhabited by fear, ignorance and distrust.

Conceptually, the integration front advances in three very specific cohorts: People, Capital and Goods and Services. Since we began with the fundamentals of human interaction, let us linger for a moment on the relevance of communication to the movement of people. Let me however, preface my remarks with the concern. As recently as July 31, 2003, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers found it necessary to lament the tardy implementation of provisions for the free movement of selected categories of workers. Among them, media personnel.

The provisions in question are enshrined in the logic of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, and are already approved, as confirmed in the communiqué of the 24th meeting of the CARICOM Heads. I have little argument therefore when the Association of Caribbean Media Workers writes as follows:
The ACM views this undertaking as a singularly important measure with implications for the fostering of higher professional standards in the field of journalism, enhancing the flow of news and information within the region and, generally promoting the integration process…”

To turn and old legal phrase around: integration delayed is integration denied. We must therefore move expeditiously to make good our promise regarding the free movement of people. After all, the barriers to movement are largely man-made; constructed by governments in the name of sovereignty and independence. Now, economic forces dictate that interdependence is our inevitable fate. As such, we must dismantle those barriers designed to thwart free movement.

At any rate, goods, capital and people will move; without or without official sanction. Caribbean people are resourceful. We are survivors. We regard Officialdom with healthy scepticism. We will move ourselves, our families, and our possessions if we have to, in response to market forces. So, as a region we have a choice: either we allow human talent to move freely within the region, or face the prospect of our best minds and hands emigrating to greener pastures beyond.

It is in our collective interest to ensure that people have reliable economic information and can move in response to real economic opportunity. Skills deficiencies for one economy should represent employment opportunities for another. Economic opportunities represent training opportunities for yet another sector; and training translates into income enhancement, which translates into a larger, more viable market for us all.

The opposite also holds. Without objective information, labour and capital movement can be spontaneous and speculative. This results in instability and unemployment, with attendant social and political repercussions. Thus, reliable information and efficient communication are indispensable to accelerated growth.
With respect to the movement of capital, a similar logic applies so there is hardly any need to trace the argument again. Suffice it to say, as our economies are increasingly engaged in services, particularly financial services, accurate information and effective communication by the media are directly related to issues of confidence and stability.

Like most economies in the world, stability is critical for growth. Stability is a function of confidence. Confidence sustains our monetary systems, our capital markets, and our investment environment. This is certainly not unique to the Caribbean, but it is of special significance, precisely because our integration process rests on the creation of a single economic space.
That single economic space requires not just information but complete information of the type that inspires confidence and rational economic decision-making. Such processes require more than superficial coverage of issues and must avoid giving credence to media-hungry pundits making irrational, irresponsible or sensational utterances.

Such issues require more than the “he said-she said” approach to news and current events. They require the kind of enlightened and comprehensive debate which the regional media alone the power to deliver and sustain. Let me go further: an informed media has the right - and must exercise that right - to place irrational and irresponsible pronouncements in their deserved context. The media must draw confidence from its convictions, because it has a responsibility to itself and to the public, to ensure that opinion is distinguished from fact, and fact from fiction.

If this requires more systematic - and often expensive - research and analysis, so be it. Our media houses acting individually or collectively have the capacity to develop storehouses of information from which to draw, and there is now a healthy trend towards working with governments to improve information management policies in the public sector.

The implication is that media practitioners must continuously educate their communities as well as themselves. Throughout the regional community, we need specialist skills beyond generic journalism. A healthy media must be competent in matters of international trade, economics, law, art, health, business and finance; to name but a few areas of specialisation. Only with such subject-matter specialists at hand can the media help to sustain objective debate so critical for informed decision making and for the sustenance of our democracy.

The free movement of goods and services is relatively well advanced and manifests itself in various regional trading arrangements. However, the details of those arrangements are sometimes least known to those they are most likely to affect. Regional producers, manufacturers, traders and consumers are less informed than they ought to be on many subjects affecting their livelihoods. There is a role here for the media to act both as catalyst and conduit in the dissemination of trade related information.

Meanwhile, fundamental changes in the complexion of the regional media industry will pose more new challenges. Firstly, rapid technological changes are conspiring to blur distinctions between media formats. For example, digital technology and the Internet are rapidly diversifying sources of information worldwide. Secondly, the consolidation of private media ownership is changing the communication landscape and the balance of power between consumers and producers, and among producers themselves.

The market effects of these phenomena can be accepted as generally healthy. However, as competition brings out the best in individuals it does so at some cost to society. This is very evident in the broadcast sector where, public broadcasting services are being overwhelmed by privately owned stations.

Moreover, the emergence of privately owned media empires changes the balance of power within the industry, between producers and consumers, and between it self and any regulatory system. That change poses for example conscious choices between air-time devoted to pure entertainment vs. broadly public purposes like community education.
We need to keep sight of the developmental and educational roles and responsibilities of the regional media, recognizing a potent and tool, capable of reflecting but also influencing society.

As such, strictly commercial objectives are not always compatible with public objectives. The media, particularly television, represents not just a medium of entertainment but a means of promoting social cohesion, particularly in times of crisis and fragmentation. This role cannot be simply abandoned to market forces.

Public media space must therefore be preserved at select points across the broad spectrum. This can be the result of enlightened programming policies within the industry. It can also be approached via licensing and regulatory policies. At any rate, there must be mechanisms to ensure that content is broadly representative of the community, that access is equitable, and that coverage is as close to universal as practical.

It is in this context that we must view recent pressures to liberalize the audio-visual sector under the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS). Media heavyweights like the US and Japan are eager to get a foothold in new markets. As such, members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are being pressured to make offers in respect of opening up their markets.

While the debate between the giants – the US, EU and Japan - does not affect us directly for the time being, we should recognise the role of our regional media in protecting our cultural diversity.

Our societal values are already under siege from powerful external forces. We must therefore consciously preserve local programme content, and encourage cultural expression and creativity in the media. This affects the livelihoods of our writers, directors, producers and performers, all of whom are engaged in building what has been identified as a major growth sector for the Caribbean.

Besides that, these are the people who permit the media to perform the most important function of reflecting the community back to itself, helping to build that commonality of perception mentioned earlier.

Nevertheless, the consolidation of media ownership raises the important question: whether those who control the medium should also control the message. Within the regional entertainment sector we are already seeing the emergence of media moguls who control both product and multiple media.

It is not good news for the region if the media evolution is biased away from open models toward closed ones. Where in-house content is favoured over other sources, we will be at a disadvantage. We will be losing market-share as well as mind-share, as our children have fewer and fewer options over what to watch, listen to and read.

Even the internet - the great leveller - is subject to ownership consolidation. This is evident in the ownership of the Internet backbone linking major cities in North America. It is evident in the control exerted by a handful of top Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Thus the issue of control over access to users, and user’s access to content is not going to go away. The battle for mind and market share is raging and network operators are eager to gain control over each traffic type: web, email voice and video. Cross-referenced by product, user type, and site address, tremendous potential exists to thwart competition, diversity, dissent and freedom of expression.

The fact remains that new technology can be used to defend powerful commercial interests, or for universal access to open and transparent media spaces. Our regional media is uniquely placed to shape that emerging future. They can defend our collective interests by anticipating the danger of dominance, and help us to avert the media marginalization that threatens.

As Caribbean people, we all share the responsibility of producing and projecting things Caribbean; our vision and values, our products, our culture. The page, the screen, the airways will not remain blank or unfilled. They will be colonized. We can either fill them with wholesome images of ourselves or adopt someone else’s image of what we should be.

If we accept that regional integration is rooted in the convergence of vision and values, then the regional media’s most important role is to help engender this vision of a collective Caribbean. Its most essential role is therefore, to reflect the community back to the community.

This gives more meaning to regional integration than any treaty or protocol can ever do, because it lays the ground for understanding, for the meeting of minds and the laying on of hands. It is by seeing, hearing, reading about each other that we come to greater understanding. We begin to validate not only our own existence, but the existence of others occupying the same landscape. We become conscious of the commonality of our circumstances; the shared challenges and sustainable solutions. We become neighbours in a larger economic, political, and cultural space. We grow in stature and confidence. Then the confluence of perspectives, ideologies and cultures becomes the mainstream the integration process and we begin to believe that our many constituent parts are indeed a single, indivisible and wonderfully diversified whole.

I thank you.


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