IAMCR 2011: A Knowledge Festival

mc_rasminM C Rasmin (Sri Lanka), one of the nine young scholars to be awarded an IAMCR scholarship to attend this year’s IAMCR conference in Istanbul tells us about his experience at the Istanbul conference: "[the 2011 IAMCR Conference] was not only a media conference but also a knowledge festival which I believe everyone enjoyed."

Conference Report

It was fabulous exposure and valuable experience I gained from the IAMCR 2011 conference held in Kadir Has University, Istanbul. From the first impression I realized the distinction of IAMCR 2011 from all other international conferences I have attended so far. It was not only a media conference but also a knowledge festival which I believe everyone enjoyed.

I am Rasmin, Director/CEO of the Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum (SDJF), which is the national platform and the representative body for journalists who believe that the community empowerment and positive social changes can be achieved through strategic use of media. SDJF deeply concentrates on the gap between media and community and facilitates quality improvement of media outputs to uplift the life standards of the disadvantaged. We encourage a media culture in which media could lead and facilitate the community towards development and empowerment. Community media, citizen journalism, broadcasting for development, training & research and monitoring & evaluation are the core programme components of SDJF. For further details please visit www.ldjf.org.

My media context

Before expressing the benefits I attained from the IAMCR conference, I would like to make you all aware about the context that I come from. Sri Lanka is a known name for most of you, for many reasons. Three decades of continued war between the government and the LTTE is one of the major reasons amongst them. This conflict has severely affected the positive growth of media, especially on media independence, media education, media research, establishment of news broadcasting policies, development of community participation mechanisms, awareness of media diversity, media pluralism and other important aspects which define the successful growth of media industry.

At the same time, media economy in Sri Lanka was also seriously damaged. Most of the journalists had to compromise with the basic ethical codes mostly for survival - Most of them were either supporting or only reporting the conflict. Before terrorism was wiped out in the latter part of 2009, conflict reporting was a big income source for many of the media institutions. On the other hand, media freedom and the freedom of expression were challenged on many occasions. Media education was at risk and not much attention was paid to it. This has caused a wide generation gap between senior media personnel and the younger generation and between academia and media as well. Meanwhile, the community media that was booming in Sri Lanka from 1979 was intentionally given up. Even though Sri Lanka was a role model for most Asian countries, especially in community media, but the spirit had dropped out. Now in Sri Lanka peace has been achieved. SDJF starts its journey in such a context.

How I benefited from this conference?

I found that IAMCR 2011 was a wider platform for me to explore my knowledge, perception and critical thinking on the diverse aspects of media – especially digital media platform, citizen participation, media literacy, gender and media, diaspora communication, media, politics and religion as well as some other important fields. I had very little access only to the text knowledge in this field and was lucky enough to digest what is exactly going on around the world in relation with these themes. Even though I have written some research articles about these themes in my local language, I think what I was lacking is international perception and update of the modern trends in those themes. IAMCR 2011 really helped me to explore this knowledge.

In many occasions, I was really struggling to conceptualize some of the prevailing themes such as media diversity, pluralistic media, media literacy, conflict and media, etc. in relation to the Sri Lankan context. Beyond the news journalism, developing radio program models and connecting diversity was my prime motivation and need. IAMCR 2011 enabled me to meet relevant international experts and made me learn more about what I needed.

When it comes to media professionalism, this was a threatening challenge for Sri Lanka. I have learnt that a leading association of professional organizations has refused to accommodate Sri Lankan media organizations as professional movements.  In fact, In Colombo we have only one or two dedicated libraries for the use of the journalists where less than 1% of the journalists are members. SDJF is looking for ways to improve the professional status of the entire Sri Lankan media. IAMCR made me realize the immediate precautions in this regards.

When it comes to media and development, we have very limited opportunity to meet media and development specialists in Colombo. IAMCR enabled me to meet hundreds of DevCom specialists as well.

Attending this kind of conference and presenting a research paper is seen as a wonder for many of the emerging media scholars. It has been an obvious truth that such opportunities were directed to the doors of so called media gatekeepers. Even the Sri Lankan media experts who work for international organizations tend to repeat the privilege to the same gatekeepers. A handful of people have been enjoying these wonderful opportunities and yet not importing the knowledge to Sri Lanka. Many times, opportunities were given for irrelevant people as well. It’s a great wonder for me how IAMCR could understand this. For the last three years SDJF puts its efforts to break this tradition and my participation is a trigger for that.

In the meantime, IAMCR 2011 was an immersive forum for networking. Especially people like me, who attended from developing countries, benefited from this. I met some scholars whom I never thought that I would meet. I could discuss many important things and interview a number of people.

I had to lose many important sessions because there were too many options. However, during the last three days I shared what I learnt from IAMCR 2011 with my team and they became so curious to follow up and learn more things in the future. If IAMCR would not have assisted me to attend this conference I could have spent more than four months of my salary to to attend this conference.

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