Debate on the future of news journalism at UNESCO
The “Media World After WikiLeaks and News of the World” conference at UNESCO on 16 – 17 February explored how new media institutions are responding to the deepening digital era.
Although there has not been a flood of leaks since Wikileaks release of confidential diplomatic cables, newsrooms are still facing increases in the velocity and volume of data, including a mass of information sent in by the public. In recognising this, conference speakers highlighted the need to maintain verification standards and continue to carefully assess public interest when publishing sensitive information.
Participants also highlighted the necessity to protect sources, including whistleblowers, and the dangers that electronic communications could expose identities.
In the wake of the News of the World scandal, self-regulation was scrutinized, with the point being made that forthcoming decisions in the UK and South Africa could have substantial influence in other areas. Participants stressed the benefits of journalistic self-regulation, including in the online arena. It was argued that where there was state intervention, it should be by judicial, rather than executive, means.
The conference heard that although the internet is still less restricted than traditional media around the world, governments in 40 countries now have restricting measures in place – up from two countries in 2002. Speakers stressed that restrictions which targeted online child pornography or legitimate national security should not be used as excuses for wider censorship, and needed to operate within international standards for freedom of expression.
Delegates further emphasised that the news media should increasingly take note of changes in legal regimes around the world, as well as the actions of “intermediary” bodies like search engines, web-site hosts and online social networks.
There was strong acknowledgement of a complementary relationship between citizen contributors and professional journalists as something that could strengthen press freedom and improve the quality of journalism.