News Agencies World Congress: a unique platform for discussing topical media problems

Baku, November 14, AZERTAC

Heads and representatives of more than 100 news agencies, which shape the global information policy, international media experts, UN and UNESCO officials, and representatives of regional media organizations are gathering in Baku. Azerbaijan will host meeting of leading international media organizations on November 16-18 – the 5th News Agencies World Congress, the 16th General Assembly of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA) and the 22nd session of the Council of CIS Heads of News Agencies. 

Why Azerbaijan, why Baku? 

What country and news agency will host the News Agencies World Congress is not defined in accordance with anyone`s wish or request. Under the organization`s statute, the host is elected through ballot.

Three years ago when the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh hosted the 4th Congress AZERTAC decided to try its luck and launched a host agency bid. In a tough competition involving several news agencies, AZERTAC won the majority of votes of members of the News Agencies World Council (NACO) to be elected as the host of the 5th Congress.

Indeed there are certain factors that encouraged us to bring the world`s number one media forum to Azerbaijan. Under President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan has built a reputation of a principled country that enjoys worldwide respect. Some may be unaware, but our foreign colleagues who shape global media policy have a sound understanding of Azerbaijan`s accomplishments.

Modern Azerbaijan is today one of the world`s rapidly developing countries, which set its own model of economic, political, social and humanitarian progress. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of members of space-faring nations. The country is already offering its intellectual products to the world. For example, "ASAN xidmət", a social innovation project.

Azerbaijan established a new format of cooperation, which is also known as "Humanitarian Davos of the world". Phrases such as "Azerbaijani model of development", "Azerbaijani model of multiculturalism and tolerance", "Azerbaijani humanitarian platform", "East-West dialogue originated by Baku process" have become part of the lexicon of politicians and political analysts. Azerbaijan is giving its messages to the world, which win international approval.

They say "He knows most, who travels a lot". Compared with people from other professions, journalists travel and see a lot. Heads of most of the world`s news agencies have visited Azerbaijan and are aware of the country`s development. They approve of our people`s hospitality and the beauty of Baku.

By the way Azerbaijan`s growing influence and accomplishments play a key role in developing AZERTAC`s foreign relations. AZERTAC is an active member of international news alliances, and has bilateral agreements with nearly 45 news agencies. I think this factor played an important role in AZERTAC`s election as the host of the 5th Congress. The Baku Congress of the World News Agencies will definitely be Azerbaijan`s new message to the international community.

The Congress is unofficially called "the world news summit" as it is a high-profile international media organization, which plays a vital role in shaping the global information policy and which brings together more than 100 news agencies. The Congress also features all regional media organizations, including the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA), Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA), Federation of Arab News Agencies (FANA), and Latin American Union of News Agencies (ULAN). Media giants as the Associated Press (USA), Reuters (UK), TASS (Russia), Xinhua (China), ANSA (Italy), Agence France-Presse (France) and others are also represented in the Congress.

The Baku Congress will not merely be a discussion platform. It will feature the signing of several agreements and establishment of new relations and cooperation.

The event will see AZERTAC take over the presidency of this leading media organization for a three year term from 2016 to 2019.

New challenges for news agencies 

President Ilham Aliyev, who made Azerbaijan a global player, and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which prioritized international humanitarian projects in its activities, rendered comprehensive support to the Congress that kicks off on November 16 and whose slogan is "New challenges for news agencies".

News is the breath of life to the modern world. I think this is the best phrase to describe the role and place of information in the life of society.

In general, our age can be characterized as the age of new challenges for news agencies and rapid and dramatic transformation of the traditional media. So the agenda of the Baku Congress is set by requirements of the modern life.

The Congress will feature several sessions, including "The future of news consumption", "News agencies – challenges and opportunities of new technologies and social media", "News agency innovation", "Training journalists for a multi-media future", "Protecting the journalists' mission: freedom, access, safety and conflict zones". It also addresses problems facing journalism, which is now in experiencing rapid transformation, and forms of cooperation between news agencies and different social media platforms.

Each subject on the agenda is the reality of our time. Technology is developing at such a rapid pace that sometimes it is difficult to keep pace with it. Advanced technologies not just changed the way we work, but became an integral part of our lives. This impressive change encouraged rapid transformation of traditional journalism. Our lexicon became enriched with new concepts, such as social media, civil journalism, multimedia, artificial intelligence in the news industry. Technological progress is changing the face of society, the world order and, of course, is stimulating the development of the media. We should not fear innovations. On the contrary, we should keep pace with them.

But are news agencies ready to face these challenges created by the wave of changes? Is it normal that one story is presented in the digital media in several versions? Should relations between news agencies and different social media platforms be based on competition or cooperation? These issues top the agenda of gatherings of leading international ad regional media organizations.

In Baku, presidents of the News Agencies World Congress, OANA, EANA, FANA, managers of Associated Press, Reuters, Xinhua, Anadolu Agency, TASS, Agence France-Press, Press Association, EFE, Yonhap, Kyodo, TT, SPA, BTA, AAP, IRNA, DPA, Notimex, ATPE and other leading news agencies, Los Angeles Times newspaper, Al Arabiya television channel, and experts from Tripod Advisors, News Corp, PwC, Axel Springer, Stibo Accelerator media companies will highlight new development trends of news agencies in the age of digital technologies. 

Fifth Congress. Five continents. Five sessions. 

News Agencies World Council (NACO) has held five preparatory meetings for the 5th News Agencies World Congress so far: two of them in London, and three in Baku. At the last meeting one of the speakers said: What a coincidence! The fifth Congress will feature five sessions, bringing together representatives of news agencies from five continents. In this regard, the Baku Congress was unique not only in terms of the number of sessions and topicality of the issues discussed, but also in terms of the number and geography of the participating agencies.

It is for the first time that all continents are represented with large delegations at the News Agencies World Congress. 77 representatives of 39 agencies from 31 Asian countries, 51 representatives of 30 agencies from 23 European countries, 25 representatives of 16 agencies from 16 African countries, 17 employees of 9 agencies from 7 American countries, as well as 4 delegations representing 3 Australian agencies are coming to Baku. Despite the differences in the level of development and spread of advanced technologies, professional journalists from all continents will jointly discuss the problems of news agencies in the two days of the plenary meeting and five sessions of the Congress.

If we classify the Congress sessions, we will see a rich palette. There is a need to emphasize a particular factor characterizing all of them: using advanced communication technologies in delivering objective news in accordance with the fundamental values and key criteria of professional journalism to consumers, and commitment to accurate, objective and unbiased news reporting is the prime objective of the Baku Congress.

A deeper look at a brief summary of the sessions will provide an insight into the aims and objectives of the Congress. 

The future of news consumption and social media phenomenon 

The first session, which addresses the problems of news consumption, focuses on the proportionality of supply and demand in the information industry. The session highlights the exchange of experience and views about new means of communication technologies and information, ways of delivering news to target and general audience.

The second session mainly focuses on the opportunities created by new technologies and social media in the news industry, as well as the phenomenon of social media with its constantly expanding network. Today, social media is playing the role of a platform not only for distribution, but also for production of news.

I would also like to highlight the use of absolutely new professional tools by our colleagues for addressing new challenges, which is typical of the digital age. These tools allow to look at journalism from a new angle. Today the journalist cannot address the challenges just remaining committed to old habits and myths. The journalist must be ready to build the future at one`s risk.

Among new tools and practices, networked journalism is worth to be singled out. Image of a lone journalist hiding in a newsroom or reporting from a terrorist attack site or any other hot spot has worn out and does not work. A present-day journalist is part of a network, which works to obtain, process and spread information. A new type of journalist – "networked journalist" – is emerging, which is a subject of networked journalism.

What should also be emphasized is the growing role of microblogging. Microblogs allow to exchange small elements of content. Due to the increasing number of microbloggers these platforms are becoming "civil news agencies", which post about topics ranging from the simple to the thematic.

Crowdsourcing can also be singled out as a tool increasingly used in professional journalism. Crowdsourcing expands the borders of civil journalism. Journalists crowdsource information from the crowd, typically fact check the information and then use it in their articles as they see fit.

 Innovation of news agencies: how can traditional and modern media

complement each other? 

The third session of the Congress focuses on issues related to innovations of news agencies and explores how traditional and modern media complement each other in the transmission of appropriate information.

Today, we observe new formats of information supply, including television, radio, print media and the Internet, which divide the audience in accordance with the favorable innovative ways of news consumption.

Discussion related to the formation and prospects for the information society can bring results only if supported by the evolution in the field of new information technologies.

Now video news as a source of visual information are attracting more interest of people and gradually dominate text news. These trends can not be ignored, they must be treated as a new reality. The modern journalist must know the functions of social networks to track the dissemination of information and use new technologies. This raises the issue of professional training of journalists.

Fast and visual form of news reporting: multimedia 

The fourth session will accentuate the role of the media in the production and dissemination of news, consider ways of bringing multimedia products to the consumers as quick and visual form of news reporting.

This includes not only multimedia products, but also a live broadcast on social networks and other platforms on the Internet.

These innovations highlight the trainings for journalists for the effective use of media in production, consumption, commenting on the news and delivering it to the audience. A separate session will address this topic. We should also pay attention to potential opportunities such as obtaining and analyzing data, mapping, visual journalism. As a visual information source, video content is gradually outclassing text-based content. Journalists are more and more using video and audio content to tell their stories. Visual content appears to be more effective in comparison with text-based content. It is becoming increasingly important for journalists to skillfully use visual language, and master the advantages of visual communication.

In digital age, multiple versions of the same incident or event must be admitted ordinarily. People usually use different platforms as news sources as they believe that present-day journalists can hardly be objective and neutral in their interpretation of events. However, no matter how hard it is, news agencies must constantly work and remain committed to the principles of objectivity and impartiality.

The fifth session addresses traditional problems faced by journalists, such as the protection of their mission, search for access to information and work in conflict zones, accentuates such issues as freedom of the press, personal safety of journalists, news reporting from areas of armed conflicts and political instability. You will probably agree that at the time of escalation of ethnic and religious conflicts and the spread of terrorism, this issue is extremely crucial. 

A brief look at history

A brief look at the history of international media organizations can help have a better understanding of what is happening in the global information society.

The first News Agencies World Congress was held in Moscow in September, 2004, at the initiative of Russian news agency TASS. Long before this, regional news organizations were founded. In 1956, the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) was established at an international conference on media technologies in Strasbourg. Five years later, UNESCO initiated the founding of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies. In 1964, the Federation of Arab News Agencies (FANA) was established. Although these regional organizations were doing their utmost to strengthen cooperation and information exchange among member agencies, find ways of tackling common challenges, there was a need for single platform that would group all news agencies of the world. To this end the News Agencies World Congress was established.

The second, third and fourth Congresses were held in Spain, Argentina and Saudi Arabia respectively.

To digress for a moment, I would like to mention one very important point relating to AZERTAC`s presence in international media organizations. I well remember how in 2002 national leader Heydar Aliyev instructed me to improve AZERTAC`s international reputation. And he told me how to achieve this. He said that we must become members of international news organizations and build close cooperation with foreign national news agencies. This is how the history of our international cooperation, our road to EANA, OANA and the News Agencies World Congress began. Thanks to the national leader`s far-sighted advice AZERTAC today chairs the organizations that it once strived to join, and hosts their high-level gatherings.

The main body of the News Agencies World Congress in the Council (NACO). It includes the incumbent, two previous and next presidents of the Congress, secretary general and chairman of the Organizing Committee of the next Congress, as well as heads of regional news agencies, and Associated Press and Reuters news agencies. 

OANA member countries account for two-thirds of the world news flow 

The Organization of Asia Pacific News Agencies (OANA) is the largest regional media organization. Established in 1961 at the initiative of UNESCO, it now unites 44 agencies in 35 countries. These member countries account for the two-thirds of the world's total news flow.

OANA aims to promote the flow of news in regional countries, to eliminate the information gap between the developed and developing countries, and improve the editing, training, communication and technical capabilities of the news agencies.

The supreme body of the organization is the General Assembly which is held every three years. The Assembly discusses the problems and challenges the information agencies face, as well as exchanges views on media innovations. The first OANA General Assembly was held in Thailand, the next ones in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, and other countries. Heads and representatives of 40 agencies will attend the organization's 16th General Assembly to be held on November 18 in Marriott Absheron hotel, Baku.

The General Assembly will feature two plenary sessions and the 40th and 41st Executive Board meetings. The events will hear reports from former and new presidents and secretaries general of OANA, reports of financial, technical and ethics committees. OANA members will also review organizational issues, and define the date and host of the next General Assembly and the 42nd Executive Board meeting.

The event will see AZERTAC assume presidency of OANA for the next three years, during which the agency will be responsible for managing the website of the organization and other organizational issues.

AZERTAC became a member of OANA in September, 2004. The agency was elected as a member of the OANA Executive Board at the organization's 13th General Assembly in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on December 12, 2007.

AZERTAC is one of the active members of OANA as the agency`s contribution to the organization`s website includes around 4,000 news, more than 700 video and over 1,600 photo items on a yearly basis. At the 15th General Assembly held in Moscow in 2013, AZERTAC was elected – by secret ballot – as president of the organization for 2016-2019.

Apart from 5th News Agencies World Congress and the 16th General Assembly of OANA, the 22nd session of the Council of CIS Heads of News Agencies will also be held. The agenda of the session includes a range of issues, including the organization's activities in 2016, implementation of joint projects and expansion of information exchange. 

Information revolution: what is the future of the global media? 

Our century is rightly called the age of information revolution. This revolution is driven by advanced technological innovations that have an unprecedented speed and scale. But we should not forget that this information and technological breakthrough has objective preconditions.

One of the major trends in today's world is globalization, which has left its mark on information and communication sector. Information flows transcend national borders, integrating into the global information space.

The development of information and communication technologies brings about significant changes in the political life of society. For example, draft laws under the development can be put online for review of millions of people. On the other hand, every person receives an opportunity to address an unlimited audience and express his or her opinion regarding various issues, which is the principal innovation.

Under these circumstances, traditional journalism has been experiencing a dramatic transformation. Technology as well as new devices are a driving force of this transformation. Although the benefits of the Internet are obvious, we face its negative aspects in our everyday life.Unfortunately, the Internet can serve as a tool forspreading materials of criminal organizations, recipes of explosives and poisonous substances, weapons, narcotics and psychotropic substances, methods of cracking electronic and other ciphers, and as a platform for terrorist recruitment.

Information infrastructure and its resources are becoming the arena of struggle of countries for global leadership, and individual and mass consciousness is becoming increasingly dependent on the activity of the mass media and communication. We should admit that today the issues of information security have become a major problem impeding the development of global information society.

All these developments are representing new challenges for journalism, which is transforming under the influence of technological progress. We have to co-exist and cooperate with social media on many occasions. However, we also compete with it. This is caused by the absence of perfect legal framework and an effective legal mechanism both at national and international levels. Given the global nature of the Internet, it is possible to cope with this problem only through international cooperation and concerted efforts.

In the next three days the Congress will discuss the present and future of the global information policy, and search for ways of dealing with challenges facing the industry. Azerbaijan`s rich experience of hosting high-profile international events and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation`s support guarantees that the News Agencies World Congress will be excellently organized. We do believe that he media executives from all corners of the world will have three fruitful working days and enjoy their stay in Azerbaijan.

Aslan Aslanov

Director General


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