Media watchdogs want Commonwealth to be proactive

October 22nd, 2008 - 10:23 am ICT by IANS  

Kuching (Malaysia), Oct 22 (IANS) The adversity that the West in general is facing as a result of the global meltdown may be the most inappropriate time for anyone to remind them of their past commitments and current defaults. But the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) meeting here through the last week did just that, keeping up with the tribe’s tradition of putting questions, even inconvenient ones, to their traditional sources of funds.

The 8th conference clearly cautioned Commonwealth members like Australia, Canada and New Zealand - the prominent ones among the defaulters - that not just the CJA, but the Commonwealth as a global movement could itself become irrelevant if the watchdogs are starved.

An appeal went out urging the developed among the Commonwealth members to fulfil the commitments made at the Canberra Summit 2003. There was more than just a hint that the 20th century paradigm and thinking needed changing if the body of former British colonies was to stay relevant.

For instance, the Commonwealth has promoted trade among members for whom the English language has been a convenient and capable tool. But the global body of 53 nations has got to be pro-active and display greater empathy and interest in an era when economics drives diplomacy and much else.

Bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) among nations and regions have already reduced the relevance of a body like the Commonwealth. But it has retained its importance in troubled areas where the low level of trust among members has prevented understanding.

Yet, India has done much better business with, say, East Africa or the English-speaking nations elsewhere, compared to other language groups. It has repeatedly displayed its faith in the Commonwealth by making regular contributions.

Ironically, while the governments of the richer nations have been niggardly in making contributions that fund a vast array of training programmes, individual journalists, including Derek Ingram (UK), Pieter Wessels (Australia) and Murray Burt (Canada) have continued to breathe life into the CJA.

Pushing aside economic concerns, the CJA, a body of individual journalists that, by its very nature, would never be rich or all-powerful, discussed better governance and better environment, the two most pressing issues that affect societies irrespective of their economic clout.

They also set aside their perceived national concerns. Nobody went gung-ho and nobody pointed accusing fingers while debating common dangers.

Terrorism, for instance, was to be combated and covered as news, despite the grave dangers to life and limb. No delegate - there were a hundred of them from a score of countries - pointed an accusing finger at others.

Similarly, the climate change that could push parts of Bangladesh and the Maldives under water in the foreseeable future was discussed.

Stressed with equal urgency was the need for coordinated effort to meet natural calamities. The debates showed that the tsunami of 1999 and cyclones that visit Bangladesh, for instance, and the spread of diseases that these calamities cause, have heightened concerns.

Journalists - print, radio, TV, website - can only highlight these issues, delegates emphasised. It is for the governments to tackle the adversities, which is where good governance comes in.

If terrorism by non-state actors is the handiwork of the state in some cases, corruption and undemocratic methods are even more widespread. A communiqué issued by the conference promised to “expose dictators masquerading as politicians”.

The CJA has resolved to protest abuse of power and curbs on media freedom as democracy remains fragile and trade unions are falling to neo-capitalistic tendencies of the governments, putting greater pressures on the media.

Media freedom remained upper most in debate. Hassan Shahriar of Bangladesh, re-elected the CJA president, said the media was by and large free in the Commonwealth. But he emphasised that the freedom needed to be defended.

(Mahendra Ved is Delhi-based journalist and he can be contacted at

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