Ahead of the Global Forum for Media Development, Guilherme Canela from UNESCO talks of how similar challenges facing media ecosytems across the world mean different developing regions can learn much from each other.
#mediadev: You are attending the Jakarta World Forum for Media Development being held from September 20-22 in Indonesia. Why?
Guilherme Canela: I think there is a very interesting intentionality within international cooperation, the so-called South-South cooperation. I will attend the forum in this spirit, believing that the different regions in the world can learn a lot from other regions' successes and mistakes. Drawing on the [Latin American consultations with many stakeholders from governance and the media sector] that have taken place already, it's an opportunity to share with stakeholders from Asian countries what has worked well for us in Latin America and where we have failed. Of course, these are countries with different realities. But there are also many similarities in the media ecosystems and the related challenges.
Which aspects will be especially worth stressing in Jakarta?
We want to stress that there are so many possibilities to cooperate. For example, the creation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been central in the defense and promotion of human rights in Latin America. Without doubt, such complex mechanisms are built upon extensive multilateral agreements. It is not a simple process. Still, other regions can draw from the jurisdiction and best practice resulting from these mechanisms even if they haven't implemented the same system institutionally.
Also in the field of journalist security, Latin America has developed interesting mechanisms to protect journalists. The protection mechanisms that work best are built upon a combination of the following pillars: an efficient risk analysis system, quick response in emergencies, the implementation of a multi-stakeholder control system, public policies with a long-term perspective as well as budget allocation. Of course, learning doesn't mean copying; you will always need to adjust these systems to local realities.
You were also involved in the Latin American consultations. What have your learned from the consulations that you will bring to Jakarta?
First, it is fundamental that the consultations be multi-stakeholder, that they involve the most diverse range of people possible in the media sector – from media owners, communicators and civil society to regulators and politicians. The more diverse the stakeholders, the richer the discussions and the clearer we will see each individual's role in the decision-making process. Speaking of content, there are universal topics like digitalization and how it impacts on the way journalism is done. There are also issues that need to be treated differently in each country. But from my point of view, to move forward, more and more issues need to be handled from a global perspective.
And what do you personally expect from the Jakarta forum?
An important aspect, not just for me personally but for the regional UNESCO office for Latin America, is to advance South-South Cooperation. We want to strengthen regional ties through the forum.
You were involved in the consultation involving lawmakers from 11 Latin American countries held in Bogotá in August 2016. What struck you the most about the event?
I was positively surprised that the conference was able to assemble legislators from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. That's a huge demonstration of interest by these legislators. It was a very positive signal that legislators from so many different countries participated.
The Bogotá consultation also identified some positive developments in Latin America's media systems. Can you tell me about some of these?
Twenty years ago, there was only one Latin American country with a law guaranteeing access to information. Today, there are more than twenty. This change is not only important for media but also for society in general. Another very positive development in Latin America is that forty years ago, various countries in the region were still dominated by military dictatorships with explicit censorship of media. Fortunately, that's a thing of the past. The advancement of digital technology has allowed for more diverse voices to be heard in public discussion and important online media outlets have flourished. Also, decades ago, community media was hardly accepted. Today, community media has been legalized in almost every country in the region.
And what are the challenges?
While it is true that important progress has been made in legislation guaranteeing access to information, the challenge of practical implementation persists. Community media may be broadly accepted but the challenge now is a lack of sustainability. Latin America keeps on struggling with media concentration in almost the whole region.
Another important aspect is the regulation of state advertising. In many Latin American countries, state advertising makes up for a significant amount of the overall advertising budget, which impacts in particular, the survival of smaller media and those far from the big cities. This affects freedom of expression since governments can award 'friendly' and 'hostile' media. It's a complex situation. But there are some solutions to regulate this phenomenon such as establishing rules of the game in legislation, enhancing transparency, using objective criteria to award the public budget, an independent regulatory body and refraining from state advertising as a means of subsidy.
How do you hope the cooperation between the different Latin America countries will develop in the future?
Our work was to build bridges, to offer a broader perspective of the challenges. It is our expectation that the legislators participating in the Bogotá consultations will form a network to exchange information and gain different perspectives and angles on these topics. But at the end of the day, the decision making and the process of regulatory changes is a sovereign internal process in each country. Consultations of this type as well as formal and informal networks are essential in order to share knowledge. But after a conference, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of placing these topics on the legislative agenda. And Latin America still has to keep up with significant challenges in the field of freedom of expression.
Guilherme Canela is an Advisor for Communication and Information at UNESCO's office in Montevideo, Uruguay. He is responsible for implementing UNESCO's mandate in the area of the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and related topics such as freedom of the press, media development, journalist security, public media and access to information.
The interview was conducted by Julia Monge Duarte. It has been translated from Spanish into English and edited for clarity and brevity.