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Remarks by CARICOM Secretary-General, 53rd Annual General Assembly of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, 16 August 2022

Dr. Claire Grant, President, Caribbean Broadcasting Union;

Ms. Sonia Gill, Secretary General, Caribbean Broadcasting Union;

Dr. Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director General for Communication and Information, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization;

Mr. Kristian Porter, Chief Executive Officer, Public Media Alliance;

Distinguished Guests;

Representatives of the Media;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is truly a pleasure to address this forum comprised of significant shapers of influence in our Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Your Union, formed when the dream of regional integration was reasserting itself in the relatively early years of CARIFTA, has retained its relevance and importance as an example of the value of integration. Fifty-two years of committed service to the Region is strong evidence of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union’s (CBU) dedication to the cause.

Much print, air-time and social media chatter have been devoted to the role of the media. Its capacity to educate, inform and to disseminate opinion has a major effect on any society. The growth of non-traditional media has been at the heart of social and political change globally for the last two decades: news fed directly into our TVs our computers and our phones.

Unfortunately, misinformation and disinformation move as fast as factual information, resulting in serious and at times, fatal consequences. This was evidenced starkly and sadly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the drive to vaccinate the population. The need for reliable, accurate and timely information is always great. Plainly put, facts matter.

We are inundated on social media platforms with the wide swathe of opinions, the spread of alternative realities by proponents of disparate truths of all stripes who have little regard for truth, accuracy or reality, but have significant following across society.

This underscores the importance of media and information literacy campaign. As the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ High Level-Group Report recognizes: “The constant exposure of populations to media presents an educational challenge, which has increased in the electronic and digital age.”  It is an education that requires critical thinking to evaluate the information, including its sources.

The 2012 Moscow Declaration on Media and Information Literacy identified Media and Information Literacy (MIL), as a “combination of knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practices required to access, analyse, evaluate, use, produce, and communicate information and knowledge in creative, legal and ethical ways that respect human rights.”

In today’s untamed media environment it is not easy to separate fact, fiction and opinion. Reconstructed text and images are easily created making life difficult even for those who are well trained to spot the difference. Logic and critical thinking, which would provide some guidance in evaluating the messages, seem to be absent. Given the all-pervasive nature and influence of social media in particular, there is the case for strengthening the delivery of these two subject areas – logic and critical thinking in our school system to develop a discerning and critical approach to assessing information.  This would have the added benefit of bolstering democracy by helping citizens to make informed judgments and not become echo chambers for disinformation. It could also help to lift the level of debate in our media, as more reliable information begins to permeate through the channels of discussion.

What the foregoing means is that traditional media have the additional task of strengthening their role as the guardian of accurate historical record, as truth becomes a costly casualty in the battle for attracting followers.

Maintaining that record is a task of immense importance, as the archives of your membership and that of your colleagues provide an invaluable resource for researchers and historians. The value to the Caribbean society of the catalogue of our history that lies in your libraries, accumulated over the past 52 years and beyond, is immeasurable.  It is a part of our Caribbean story.

This takes on added significance in the context of sharing information about our Region that would serve to raise consciousness about integration and its benefits to the people of our Community. The sharing of regional content remains a challenge and resolving this is inextricably linked to the furtherance of regional integration. Although there is an abundance of media/social media channels and cheaper means of accessing information, we still face the perennial hurdle of not knowing enough about each other.

There have been numerous attempts to create a consistent flow of information to fill that void and, indeed, the CBU has tried to fill that void. However, the lack of consistency no doubt due to cost factors has hampered those good intentions.

The Secretariat has tried to engage with the Government Information Services to encourage regular and consistent exchanges of programming, but this has not been successful. Three years ago at the instigation of the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Mottley, the Secretariat convened two brainstorming sessions with private and public media and tabled a proposal aimed at providing a 24-hour Caribbean news service to the Region. Those discussions floundered on the rocks of legitimate concerns about intellectual property rights.

There is need for a relook at how this can be facilitated so the Community’s news, views and events are seen as a first option for our citizens, presenting our newsmakers in business, sports, culture and politics.

The CBU is well-placed to re-examine the feasibility of such a product, particularly in an era in which technology is available to make the task that even more doable. Indeed, the CBU must ask itself if the level of content sharing among its members is satisfactory. Can Caribbean people see and hear themselves and each other on regional TV and radio systems? 

There are some present initiatives for content creation and sharing in the Region of which I am sure you are aware. I am also informed that you have pondered on content sharing at many a CBU Annual General Assembly.  This is one of the main reasons why the CARICOM Secretariat ensures it is represented at many of these meetings. I, therefore, want to suggest a coming together again in an environment where our limited resources can be optimised for the benefit of all.

This has been the driving purpose of our regional integration from the Federation through CARIFTA to CARICOM – using our collective resources to benefit all the people of our Community. It is the raison d’etre of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) – collectively harnessing the human and natural resources, and capital of our Member States to maximise the economic opportunities for all our citizens.

You will recall that among the earliest beneficiaries of the Free Movement of Skills regime under the CSME were media workers. It was hoped that this would allow media workers to travel the Region and increase the information flows about and among the countries.

There have been hiccups, particularly at ports of entry. However, despite this, a number of media workers sought to take advantage of the provision with some operating at decision-making levels in their media houses. According to data, between 2012 and 2018 – before COVID hit – there were approximately 60 skills certificates approved for media workers, while in 2018 seven media workers actually moved under the regime.

I think it is fair to say that the expected outcome of this measure has not been fully realised, as in our national media we still see and read more about what is taking place in Washington, London and Ukraine than in Kingstown, Kingston or Belmopan, save for an election or a natural disaster.

There are consequences for this beyond content selection. I cite the regional food import bill as one example. There is an undeniable link between the influence of the messaging of the imagined superiority of foreign products and its appeal to our consumers. Strange as it sounds, regional food which is fresher and more nutritious is seen as inferior.  Succumbing to that influence has contributed to an annual food import bill of more than five billion US dollars, and where imported food is preserved with salt and fats, the negative implications for health are also clear.

Our Community has now embarked on a journey towards ensuring our food security by first reducing the food import bill by 25 percent by 2025. An exciting plan to achieve that objective has been laid out by the Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana. This plan has the support of our Member States, including the private sector, led by the CARICOM Private Sector Organization. To advance this initiative, a successful Agri-Investment Forum and Expo was held in Guyana last May and a second will be staged in Port-of-Spain later this week. The Forum brings together investors and agri-producers to ignite an explosion in food production in the Region. It is the kind of regional initiative that is crying out for support from all sectors of the Community, including the media.

Galvanising support for and the promotion of regional initiatives falls squarely within your commitment to the deepening of the integration process, as it will facilitate discussion and analysis that assist in policy formulation on major integration issues, one of your main goals as stated on your website.

As both CARICOM and the CBU look to the next 50 years of advancing integration, it is clear that we will have to evolve to meet the changing demands of the population and to maintain our relevance.

We live in new times, exciting times, but in a time that demands more of us. The Region’s media has much to contribute to the development of the Region, and we must seek ways to enhance the relationship between the Caricom Secretariat and the CBU to assist in that quest for development. 

For our part at the CARICOM Secretariat, we have begun a restructuring process to make us more efficient and effective in the conduct of our business, including increased use of technology.  We are seeking to strengthen our communication processes, develop our capabilities and deliveries using the broader range of media that is increasingly available.

For you at the CBU, you are no doubt aware that the digital age brings with it rapidly changing technology and the need to cater to the equally rapidly changing consumer demand. It requires not only an improvement in the quality and accessibility of your product, but the development of your human resources to service this new requirement.

This reality has been recognised at the regional level with the CARICOM Human Resource Development (HRD) 2030 Strategy, which, among other things, targets the use of technology within the learning environment as one of the skills required to function effectively in the 21st century economy and society.

Regardless of the tools developed and the technology that emerges, it is the ability of our human resources not only to master the operation, but also to use it to create value that will benefit our Region.

The Regional Digital Development Strategy which is currently being rolled out, envisions the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to provide a supportive environment for learning, working and social development; to create an education and lifelong learning environment to support use of ICTs at all levels of community, business and government; and to promote the creative use of ICT to encourage innovation.

Given the challenges which we face in pursuing the various initiatives designed to improve the lives of our citizens, the inculcation of media and information literacy must be a focus of our work. The ability to access and assess the information available is an important factor in gaining support for the regional project. We are all too aware of the misinformation and in many cases the lack of information which has hindered our progress.

To this day, the fallacy that the Heads of Government put the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) on pause persists and is stated as fact, despite several attempts to correct the false impression.

I quote from the statement issued by the Leaders following their retreat in Guyana in 2011: “As regards the Single Economy, they recognised that the process towards full implementation would take longer than anticipated and agreed it may be best to pause and consolidate the gains of the Single Market before taking any further action on certain specific elements of the Single Economy, such as the creation of a single currency.”

This surely underlines the case for pursuing media and information literacy.

I know you will be discussing all of these issues in your upcoming sessions as well as those raised in our breakfast session earlier. As I indicated I am willing to continue those discussions and the Secretariat is committed to work with you in going forward.

I wish you all success.

I thank you.

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