Promoting Media Pluralism and The Diversity of Cultural Expressions: UNESCO Trains Senegalese Journalists on the 2005 Convention

The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions allocates an important place to the role of media. Whether it be through highlighting the importance of media as essential advocates of the Convention, or the central role given to freedom of expression, media diversity, and media development in the elaboration of the Convention’s Quadrennial Report, media professionals remain essential stakeholders in ensuring participatory monitoring and reporting of the implementation of this international standard setting instrument.

In the framework of ongoing capacity building initiatives on periodic reporting for the 2005 Convention funded by the Swedish Government, the UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa in Dakar held a training on March 4th with 20 journalists from online and print press, radio, and television specialized in reporting on cultural issues from different regions in Senegal to further underline synergies between capacity building initiatives on the Convention, Senegal’s current process to elaborate their quadrennial report, and media professionals.

Writing about the Convention

Underlining the advantageous media landscape in Senegal, advocacy during the training was undertaken to argue for why media coverage of the Convention is in the interest of media and cultural practitioners at large, highlighting resources available including recent UNESCO statistics that argue for the important role of culture in the development of the Sahel Region. Journalists discussed several advantages to ensuring media coverage of the Convention, including encouraging the Government to respect commitments within the framework of the Convention, sensitizing the public on the advantages of the Convention, ensuring access to information and international markets and exposure for Senegalese artists, and further supporting the ongoing elaborations of the establishment of “the status of the artist” in Senegal and existing legislation regarding tax exemption for cultural goods.

In order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the Convention, an introduction to the Convention was provided to participating journalists, along with Regional Representatives of Cultural Centers from across Senegal. Underlining that one of the biggest barriers to reporting on the Convention is the lack of understanding of what the standard setting instrument encompasses, journalists were trained on the different aspects of the creation, production, dissemination, and enjoyment of culture included in the Convention and the legal frameworks associated with the cultural value chain. In partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Communication of Senegal, and based on existing good practices of reporting on the 2005 Convention, UNESCO facilitated the contextualization of the cultural value chain to the Senegalese environment, emphasizing existing initiatives that can be localized within the framework of the Convention, including public, state, and private initiatives on local, interregional, and international levels.

In light of the rise in digital production, the national transition to digital, and recent legislation in Senegal, an additional emphasis was placed on ongoing commitments of UNESCO to monitor the development and impact of digital technologies on the promotion and access to the diversity of cultural expressions. Like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, smart phones, social media and the world of ever-growing digital technologies are revolutionizing the way Senegalese create, share and access cultural goods and services. In Senegal, the rise of digital cinematography is encouraging creators and media professionals to collaborate across geographical boundaries. Large-scale projects are being ‘crowdfunded’ over the Internet and creators are able to directly reach their audiences at the touch of a button. Now, more than ever, Senegalese are able to voice and express themselves easily.

The rise in digital media production and cultural goods has led to important innovation in Senegal, positioning the country as a leader in digital creative industries. Journalists underlined the recent launch of MusikBi, Africa’s first endogenous platform for legal music downloads whose mission is to promote African artists, ensure remuneration, and combat Internet piracy. Adapted to the local mobile-drive market to allow payment purchases by SMS, journalists emphasized the important role the media can play in highlighting the entrepreneurial opportunities and example set by Senegal and facilitated by the Convention.

Media in the Quadrennial Report

In the second part of the training, UNESCO introduced the Media Development Indicators, which provide an aspirational picture of the media ecology to be constructed in order to ensure media freedom, pluralism and independence. The MDIs are an important diagnostic tool to evaluate national media landscapes, determine the areas in which intervention is most needed, and help determine communication development strategies within the overall context of national development. As such, they assist both state and non-state actors working in the area of media development to target their interventions and guide the formulation of media-related policies. The MDIs’ are extremely comprehensive, covering all aspects of media development including legal and regulatory frameworks governing media, media diversity and pluralism, and professional and technical capacities.

Following this introduction, UNESCO underlined the important role the media sector and media professionals play in the Quadrennial Reporting Process of the Convention for Senegal. Highlighting synergies in analysis of data, consolidation of indicators, and advocacy in the areas of media diversity, freedom of expression, and the diversity of cultural expressions, UNESCO further invited media professionals and experts to be involved in the consultation, training, and public presentation of the periodic report currently being elaborated in Senegal. UNESCO highlighted the central role the media development indicators play in the elaboration of the report, and the need to further share expertise between media professionals and the Senegalese National Team responsible for the Report in areas of media diversity, freedom of expression and the diversity of cultural expressions.

In closing, UNESCO highlighted important synergies to be further encouraged in Senegal between ensuring legislative and policy frameworks conducive to freedom of expression, regulatory systems for broadcasting, and media pluralism, diversity, and transparency. Only then, UNESCO emphasized, can media fully serve as a platform for democratic discourse through the public service broadcasting model and the availability of professional media training.

To encourage such synergies and in discussion with UNESCO, journalists underlined the specific need for ongoing capacity building initiatives and trainings of media professionals on the work of UNESCO in the domain of Culture, due largely due to the lack of knowledge of the more recent Conventions such as the 2005 Convention. Further emphasis was placed on the need to translate this standard setting instrument into journalistic and accessible terms through the possible elaboration of a manual and curriculum for reporting on the diversity of cultural expressions, while localizing its relevance in the national context.