Cairo 2006 Highlights
IAMCR's Annual Conference took place in Cairo (Egypt) from 23-28 July 2006. This year's Conference was organized by the Journalism and Mass Communication department of the American University in Cairo. It's theme, Knowledge Societies for All: Media and Communication Strategies, was timely and very important because it signals the need to build a bridge between the emerging knowledge societies of developed and less developed regions.
Read the IAMCR President's report on a remarkable week in Cairo...
The opening …
During the opening ceremony of the conference, chaired by Professor Hussein Amin, Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, American University in Cairo and Chair of the Local Organising Committee, I noted that IAMCR’s mandate is to achieve research excellence and inclusiveness; inclusiveness of countries, regions, cultures, men and women, and researchers, journalists and other media and communications practitioners of all ages. The American University in Cairo’s invitation to IAMCR to hold our conference in Cairo was a testament to this mandate. I thanked the local organising committee for all of its work on IAMCR’s behalf and I welcomed all the participants, especially those coming to the conference for the first time.
Our conference was held this year in a city with a long history and a variegated present. It took place in a time of huge global turmoil. I said that I hoped that discussions during the conference would reveal the central role of media and communications at this time in our collective history; that everyone would enjoy their opportunities to contribute – and that I hoped we would come away with a new comprehension of the many challenges we face in emerging knowledge societies. I think that we did so.
The plenaries …
The challenges presented by ‘knowledge societies’ were taken up by our opening plenary speaker, Fatma Alloo, founder of the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA). She talked about the way Africa has been portrayed in the media as being poor and powerless, and about the importance not only of equity of access to ICTs but of the relevance and value of information to local people. Issues of content, literacy, language and usability are paramount, she said. She also emphasised the importance of local infrastructure and government regulation. In too many instances, governments fail to enable open access to infrastructure or they enable it at unaffordable prices. She offered examples of how the pooling of demand has led to a reduction in costs and of how the active roles of civil society members are enabling a process of empowerment. She emphasised however that ‘e-engagement requires the demystification of the power of knowledge and the technologies used in dissemination of this knowledge through the media’.
Mushira Khattab, Head of Mother and Childhood Council, Egypt talked about the growing role of new ICTs in supporting health and education initiatives throughout the country. She emphasised the need to build greater strength across a wide range of applications and to ensure that these reach the most disadvantaged in the country.
The second plenary on Critical Perspectives on Media and Communications in Development provided an opportunity for Dr. Indrajit Banerjee, Secretary General, Asia Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) Singapore to set out his views on the divides that exist in research and in practice between those concerned with communication and the media in the development context and those concerned with ICTs. He made a passionate plea for a greater exchange between those concerned with issues in this area and for much more attention to be given not only to the benefits of ICTs but to how their implementation creates new issues for individuals and organisations. These need to be tackled if those benefits are to be available to the poor and disadvantaged.
Dr. Marjan de Bruin, Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), University of the West Indies, provided many insights into the way that the media in various parts of the world have dealt with HIV/AIDS. She commented on the problems engendered by the circulation of myths about the disease and the need to find ways of more effectively circulating information that can enable those affected to seek the support they need.
A presentation by the representative the Minister of State for Administrative Development in Egypt, for Dr. Ahmed Darwish, emphasised the attention that is being given to ICT strategies in the country and the growing emphasis on build up a strong knowledge base within the country.
Media Ethics and Religious Models of Communication, the third plenary, offered a place for an exchange of views between Professor John Durham Peters, Communication Studies, University of Iowa and Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Visiting Professor of Postcolonial Studies, City University. Both speakers sought to position issues of religion – Christianity and Islam – in the broader context of debates about the role of religion and secular society both historically and in contemporary times. They commented on how media contribute to and fashion our spaces for public expression by opening or limiting and constraining representations of issues and peoples in various ways.
Dr. Naomi Sakr’s (Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster), contribution to the fourth plenary on Media and Communication in the Arab World: Perspectives on Empires and Communication, provided a detailed assessment of the extent to which today’s media ownership patterns are consistent with the re-creation of media ‘empires’, the extension of existing empires, or a mixed picture in which there are pressures for increasing homogeneity alongside new found opportunities for diversity in the output of the media. Her assessment was that there are signs of the latter, but that we must not be complacent in our efforts to foster media diversity and media coverage from various standpoints. She was joined in this plenary by Professor Hussein Amin, who provided insight into the recent developments in the media in Egypt with respect to journalism freedoms and the changing priorities of different media outlets.
The fifth and final plenary of the conference, Global Governance, Equality and Action after the WSIS, saw Professor Andrew Calabrese, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado; Dr. Hopeton Dunn, Mona Campus, University of the West Indies; Dr. Claudia Padovani, Department of Historical and Political Studies, University of Padova; Professor Marc Raboy, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University; and Professor Hussein Amin, American University in Cairo, discuss the need for continuing inputs into debates in this area. Panellists noted that ambiguity of the outcomes of the WSIS, but highlighted the fact that there are signs of action in some areas. There are new institutional mechanisms through which debates will continue, ranging from those under the auspices of UNCSTD (UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), to those at WIPO concerning IPR as well as under the UNESCO sponsored declaration on cultural diversity. In terms of future contributions, the whole issue of the scale, scope and impact of innovation in global governance needs consideration from numerous angles and IAMCR members are well-placed to contribute. These include examinations of whether the new modes of representation for civil society will in fact foster greater accountability, more equitable representation, greater justice and support for human rights. Even if some of these developments only have symbolic significance, the panel noted the many opportunities for critical research and for active involvement in the ongoing political processes. Such involvement will be essential if there is to be a momentum for ongoing and equitable change in the media and communication (ICT) domain.
The 25th General Assembly of IAMCR
IAMCR’s 25th General Assembly, 26 July began with a moment of silence in memory of George Gerbner, Jim Carey, Michael Traber and, Roger Silverstone who had died on 16 July 2006, all eminent scholars in our field. In my report, I gave particular thanks to the Cairo local organising committee – especially Hussein Amin and Ibrahim Saleh and the students. Thanks also must go to Ralph Berenger for his work on the conference CD ROM and papers publication. Thanks go also to all the section heads and working group chairs, and especially to Beate Josephi for her programme coordination role this year. I also thanked all members who have contributed to IAMCR over the past year. I drew attention to the two reports I have published. And I particularly highlighted the fact that agreement had been reached on the thematic presentation of IAMCR’s sections and working groups around five themes. These currently are:
- Media & Communication Production & Consumption
- Media, Communication, Participation and Community
- Media & Communication Policy & Law
- Media & Communication Education & Journalism
- Cross-Cutting Themes in Media and Communication
These themes are now being used to organise pages at our new website which was launched the week before the conference. I highlighted the work of the WSIS Task Force and its members who had been very active contributors to the Summit in Tunis and who are continuing to be active in WSIS follow-up activities including the new Internet Governance Forum.
On the organisational front, I noted that in the past year, we had commissioned a new website and membership database, agreed its budgets, introduced a new fee structure and journal offer and undertaken various other activities and decisions – all of this had been agreed online very effectively. I also noted that once the new membership database is up and running it will be possible to contact the whole of the IAMCR membership more frequently and to build up a content-rich website. In the coming two years of my term, I hope to be able to give much more emphasis to national and regional membership recruitment and to provide a package of materials that members need in order to encourage people to join. I also intend to support the work of the new IAMCR Task Force on Media and Communications Policy that has been created to build on the work of the WSIS Task Force.
I concluded by observing that there is always much more to do! But I suggested that compared to 12 months ago, IAMCR is now more robust organisationally. We have a fresh way of presenting ourselves through the website and we are well-placed to play an increasing role as the only truly international media and communications association. I look forward to leading us forward with my colleagues on the Executive Board and on the International Council to fulfil the mission of IAMCR. The Cairo conference enabled the Arab world to become more actively involved in media and communication research and I hope we can build on this successful foundation to enable IAMCR to provide a forum for critical debate and discussion online and offline.
I also presented the Treasurer’s report in the absence of Cesar Bolano whose flight from Brazil was cancelled by the carrier at the last moment. I reported that membership income has returned to the level that was the norm when the Treasurer’s office was located in Canada in 2004. We now have a strong base to build on. Our new fee structure for 2006 clearly distinguishes between high and low income countries and provides incentives for low income countries to join as institutional members. We also have a new journal offer with three Sage Publications titles to choose from which was negotiated by Vice President Annabelle Sreberny. We made funds available this year to support the travel by scholars from low income countries and to support travel of some invited plenary speakers. In the future an effort will be made to devise an investment strategy four our income to build up a reserve.
Vice-President Divina Frau-Meigs presented an update on the many liaison activities that she has preformed on our behalf with international organisations and civil society representatives. She stressed the need for more effort in this area. Vice President Annabelle Screberny provided an update on efforts to strengthen our publications profile through edited collections, and a variety of other outputs. Their reports will be captured more fully in the minutes.
The minutes of the General Assembly will be published in due course providing greater detail on the meeting and of the Executive Board and International Council.
During the General Assembly a motion was passed concerning visa problems experienced by some Iranians and Nigerians. IAMCR will be taking the matter up with the Egyptian authorities.
The closing …
The highlight of the closing event of the conference following paper sessions, plenaries, good food, social events, excursions, and much more was a short video – it captured the faces and impromptu comments of numerous participants in this conference. We hope to make it available on line soon – it conveys the enjoyment that I cannot convey here.
The 2007 Conference will be held in celebration of IAMCR’s 50th Anniversary in Paris, 23-25 July.
Good wishes to all.
Professor Robin Mansell
12 August 2006