Makes sense but...

The SAARC information ministers have concluded their two-day meeting in Kathmandu by deciding to establish a SAARC Media Development Fund, with the member states contributing the seed money of $100,000. The fund will be utilised for the development of the government and private media in the region. This may have its positive results in certain aspects of media development, but the fact remains that most of the SAARC members are not practising democracy at present. So they do not have much of a media freedom. In some of them, the state-controlled media dominate. It will be hard therefore to imagine real media development without a vibrant and free press. This freedom is far more important than hardware or technical paraphernalias. The SAARC ministers have not, as expected, addressed this basic need.

In a welcome development, however, the seven ministers have drawn up a common SAARC position for the World Summit on Information Society to be held in Tunisia in November. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has agreed to hold a meeting of the chiefs of TV, radio stations and news agencies in October this year, besides hosting the SAARC film festival in 2006. The ministers also agreed to complete the production of the documentary ‘SAARC in the Millennium’ this year and to work on their plans to introduce satellite broadcasting in the region in line with the Plan of Action on Information and Media, 2004. Similarly, their agreement to share information on developmental as well as on criminal activities could be somewhat helpful in certain ways in combating the massive poverty, crimes and terrorism in the region.

The agendas agreed upon by the information ministers will be further discussed before being presented at the upcoming 13th SAARC summit in Dhaka in November. These small gestures of cooperation have their merits, but these are far from getting anywhere near the vision set by the founding fathers who launched the regional body in Dhaka in December 1985. In core sectors, SAARC has achieved virtually nothing. A major cause of its non-performance has been the inimical relationship between the two biggest and most powerful members — India and Pakistan. But hopefully, their gradually improving ties will give the regional body a shot in the arm.