By - Sumathi Vishwanathan (Freelance Writer)
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is a manifestation of the will of the people of this region to pool resources, both manpower and material, to bring tremendous progress in various fields. Collective strength to deal with their common problems in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding has yielded several positive results. The idea of forming a regional grouping was mooted in 1980 by seven countries including India and the first summit took place in Dhaka in December 1985 and adopted the charter formally setting up the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Afghanistan has become its eighth member last year and the other members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan and Maldives.
A South Asian Grouping?
The Heads of State or Government recognised the importance of connectivity which is vital to implement the vision of South Asia community where there will be smooth flow of goods, services, people, technologies, knowledge, capital, culture and ideas in the region. The eight member grouping has common problems like large population, illiteracy, health hazards, unemployment and terrorism. They worked out an effective mechanism, a new weapon to deal with these problems with firm resolve and thus the grouping was born. Connectivity was recognised and communication is an important tool towards it. Tremendous progress in the fields of information and knowledge- based industry has made the world a global village, bringing radical changes in the life of the people of SAARC countries. To bring together the people of this region, priority was given to the dissemination of information about SAARC and its member countries. Several mechanisms like meetings of Information Ministers, Heads of Radio, National Television and News Agencies, Technical Experts and digitalisation of TV and Radio were launched and the SAARC Audio Visual Exchange Committee (SAVE) was formed. These developments took place soon after the first SAARC summit in 1985 and the successive summits had lauded the smooth functioning of the SAVE programme as being a useful medium for promoting a South Asian consciousness among the people in the region. It has already met more than 20 times.
Aim of SAVE
The SAVE Committee aims at increasing awareness about each other, among the people of the region, through disseminating information on the socio-cultural, economic and technical aspects of the member states. This year, 2008, is aptly being observed as “SAARC Media Year” as it has a crucial role to play in getting the people connected. Plan of action adopted in the field of disseminating information to promote information and media for achieving SAARC goals is regularly monitored and necessary changes are introduced for effective implementation of SAARC vision of forming a South Asia Community to get linked to the world as a powerful economic grouping. SAARC goals in media are, to ensure free flow of information, newspapers, periodicals, books and other publications, concessions in postal and telecommunication rates for media transmission and information materials and cooperation in exchange of information between national news agencies of member countries. Annual meetings of the heads of media, special programmes for SAARC designated years, promotion of cultural events and festivals, seminars and conferences are also being pursued.
SAARC Common Position
It works for improving free flow of information among member countries by building adequate communication network and creating legal and institutional systems. It also ensures accessibility of information to everyone besides affordable technology. SAARC encourages public service broadcasting and projection of development activities and other achievements in different fields through media in South Asia. The common position plan aims to develop regional networks and associations among SAARC media organisations. The goals also speak of pursuing plurality of media including promotion of private electronic channels. SAARC will accelerate the steps to strengthen cooperation in institution building and training of media personnel and technological investments will get priority to promote universal access to media. SAARC information ministers in their meeting in Kathmandu in 2005 discussed the establishment of a regulatory framework to balance functioning between the private channels and public service broadcasters in the region.
Media’s Role In Disseminating Information
Developments taking place in a country in various areas are made public by the media only. Their role is significant in creating awareness. In the field of tourism, for instance, the enormous potential in the SAARC region, its old civilisation, rich and unique cultural diversity, exquisite cuisine, extremely diverse and vast array of geography, attractive monuments are projected by the media through different means to the world. Development and proper projection of tourism within South-Asia could bring economic, social and cultural dividends. There is a sense of urgency in strengthening media which alone can inform the people across the country, region and the world the developments taking place around. 2008 is the Year of the Media. SAARC has been giving importance to other areas which contribute towards achieving the goals of SAARC nations. 1989 was the Year of Combating Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking, 1990–SAARC Year of Girl Child, 1991-Year of Shelter, 1992-SAARC Year of Environment, 1993 for the Disabled, 1994 dedicated to the Youth, 1995-Poverty Eradication, 1996 for Literacy, 1997 Participatory Governance, next was for Bio-Diversity, 2002-2003 Contribution of Youth to Environment, followed by HIV/AIDS and South Asia Tourism Year. And then a year of Green South Asia. This year is Media Year. SAARC decades are also observed.1991 to 2000 SAARC decade was of the Girl Child and 2001 to 2010 is the SAARC decade of the Rights of the Child. SAARC is rapidly changing the environment in which the information societies are to be developed to face the new challenges in the knowledge based industries.