September 07, 2007

Public service broadcasting in the new dark ages

Having experienced my first international conference with a plethora of bureaucrats, broadcasters, journalists, celebrity presenters and an assortment of hangers-on, it was also fun to get some wind of the shenanigans going on behind the scenes.

The "media dialogue", as it was called, consisted mainly of panel discussions and straightforward speeches, with very little opportunity to contribute from the floor, which was a shame. It would have been more interesting if there had been smaller workshops where people could have related more to each other's experiences with media development (which was one of the aims of the conference: how to allow the poor in the world access to the media), censorship and other political difficulties people faced in their home countries. We were in Europe, in an area where the enlightenment and rationalism was invented, but some delegates and conference organisers had difficulty with concepts such as inclusion and free speech. Two examples:
One, the Taiwanese delegate, who was invited by DW TV as a media partner, was refused entry into the dialogue hall by the head of the AIDB conference organisers. If she did he would have canned the whole three-day meeting. So she obligingly stayed away. She did get to go on the boat trip on he Rhine with all of us, but only via a ruse that she was there in a private capacity.
Two, one of the panel discussions was on that tired old cliche of clash of civilisations, with civilisations this time defined as Christian and Islam, which should have set alarm bells ringing in any rational person. Lots of waffle about how the two Abrahamic religions really have more in common than what sets them apart - true enough, they're both members of the Coalition of the Circumcised - but the whole discussion took place in a vacuum because they never could get to the heart of the matter, since the third member of that dysfunctional religions family, Judaism, was absent. Apparently, the same head of the AIDB, who objected to Taiwan being there, has also always adamantly refused to allow Israel and its media to be part of the AIDB, let alone any media dialogue. So in all rather pointless, fruitless and leaving a bad anti-semitic and brown-nosing-China smell in the conference room, which was actually the rather magnificently modernist former West German Federal Parliament building before all the politicians shifted to Berlin after German reunification.

Coincidentally, if you needed any proof that the Taliban and their culture smashing antics are really only the latest version of a longstanding tradition of iconoclasm by intolerant religions, you should visit the "Sunken Treasures of Egypt" exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. There you can see the finds of underwater archaeologists, who dragged up treasures from the ancient cities of Heracleion and Canopus. Those cities were not only destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis but also by the helping hand of the Coptic Christians, who took power after the Roman period, and were not very enamoured by Canopus's reputation for dissoluteness and debauchery. It must have been the party town - my kinda town - of the Roman empire, and its pagan temples were used as stone quarries by the Christians in an early version of the Bamiyan statue destruction by the Taliban.

It wasn't all negative of course, I met tons of people at the conference involved in the rather arduous and challenging tasks of being a media outlet or a journalist in countries where our NZ freedoms are not taken for granted - despite the assurances by the Iranian former Information minister, who insisted that western media shouldn't be afraid of sending their correspondents to Iran as they would be quite safe. I had to chuckle at his claim, and if I had the opportunity I would have interjected that his country's anti-gay laws would execute me if I was working and living there.

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