Mon, 17 Oct 1994

How words fly from the APEC summit

By Irawan Abidin

JAKARTA (JP): When the leaders of 18 Pacific rim nations gather in Bogor next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, they will be tackling, principally, trade and economic issues. The most important activity, however, will be communication: Consultations among leaders, negotiations on key points among sides and reports to the world about what the issues mean and what the forum has achieved.

Whether these reports take the form of written communiques, individual position papers, joint statements or news conferences, the success of the meeting will undoubtedly hinge as much on what is said as on what is done. The communication professionals from all 18 countries will, therefore, be playing an essential role.

One measure of the importance of the communicative role is the interest among the world's media in the APEC Forum. More than 2,400 journalists covered the 1993 APEC Forum in Seattle, and we expect a similar number to turn up here.

No communication activity of this magnitude can occur without planning. With the help of communication specialists from the member countries and a team of volunteers, the host country fields the questions of thousands of reporters and assists them in getting the information they need to file stories to send back home.

The APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting (AELM) represents a significant opportunity for Asia-Pacific leaders to improve their understanding of the economic challenges and to encourage cooperation among their nations. This can only be achieved if they succeed in communicating in a way that breaks through language and cultural barriers, and if the resulting messages are disseminated properly in each society.

The APEC summit represents a mixture of communication methods. Each country writes its own messages and disseminates them to its own news organization as well as international news organizations. This may involve distributing written statements to the assembled media. It may also be accomplished by meeting with journalists at summit venues or in the delegation's hotel for one-on-one interviews or news conferences. Or it may involve a formal news conference to which all the media are invited.

All these communication forms, whether issued individually or jointly, require elaborate coordination by the communication professionals involved in organizing the communication function at the AELM, as well as extensive planning to effect the smooth dissemination to the assembled media.

Coordinating this effort requires a clear understanding of how information flows throughout the region.

Indonesia, as host of the November 1994 APEC summit, began planning its communication support operations almost immediately following the 1993 summit, when President Soeharto invited the APEC leaders to convene the next summit in Indonesia. Preparations are under way to provide credentials and work space to more than 2,000 journalists. To accommodate these members of the working media, we are designing an International Media Center, which will provide a wide range of support services, including:

* 30,000 square meters of workspace and briefing areas;

* Phone lines for voice and data;

* Daily delivery of local, national and international newspapers;

* Booths for vended services, including postal service, express couriers, photocopying and automatic banking teller machines;

* Two dozen audio and video broadcast studios;

* Facilities for off-line and on-line video editing;

* Electricity, furniture rental, local transportation services and other basic supports.

Because of the variety of communication facilities among the APEC members the above services must allow for different approaches by media organizations from the various countries.

A key element in supporting the international media at the APEC summit is a sophisticated telecommunications and satellite communication system. In this, and other preparations, Indonesia analyzed facilities provided at previous multilateral summit meetings sponsored by APEC and other international groups, and designed a system best suited for the countries and media organizations involved.

Each journalist covering the summit requires access to a wealth of background information about the summit, the participating countries, the leaders representing those countries and the history and facts about APEC itself. Such a formidable body of information is assembled by teams of specialists from the APEC Secretariat and will be provided to reporters in the International Media Center. This clearinghouse role is extremely important, and represents a major logistical challenge in itself.

This effort is just one example of many undertaken by the APEC members to ensure productive relations with the media in order to enhance the journalists' ability to present a fair, balanced and accurate picture of the APEC meeting as well as the economic and political situation in the region.

The writer is Director of Foreign Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.