Sustainability and professionalism of journalism is part of development

For free, pluralistic and independent media to play their full role in development, they need to provide a platform for sustainable, professional and credible journalism.  Private media rely on growth in the market place to exist and expand, and this has been hindered in many places by the economic crisis following the financial crises that began in 2007. 

Public service media, which are more autonomous in regard to market-driven content, are finding that central governments more reluctant to fund them despite their role in development. Community media continues to be particularly important in empowering marginalized groups including indigenous or rural communities, enabling “grassroots participation”  which enables people to set up their own priorities and develop solutions which may be unique to local problems. However, the business basis of community media continues to be precarious in many places, in part due to inadequate regulatory regimes and insufficient recognition amongst donors of their value for development. UNESCO is aware that it is those communities most affected by poverty which are least able to impart and obtain information. As a result, they are excluded from public debate and unable to influence decisions that have a profound effect on their everyday lives. This is clear in relating to basic services: as an example, a healthy society depends on information related to clean water and sanitation, vaccines, environment etc. Without media sustainability across private, public and community media sectors, their marginalized status is likely to persist.

All news media today –  whether public, private or community – are facing challenges about how to deal with new actors who generate news content for the public, such as bloggers, NGOs, private companies and state bodies.  In many cases, the traditional media are wrestling with issues arising from their own entry into online media in general. Their engagement with the public through cellular telephony and online social media has meant overlaps between community media and private and commercial media, as all sectors increasingly enable public participation. Much of the news media also faces challenges to their production and circulation of journalism as they become affected by changes in advertising platforms.  All these factors impact on sustainability and the quality and role of journalism in relating to development.

The professionalism of journalism is exhibited in the observance of standards such as verification of news content, confidentiality of sources, fairness, and public interest. This integrity has come into question in several ways. In many cases, the boundaries between editorial content and advertising are blurring.  The widened ecosystem of contributors to news content includes some who do not understand or adhere to journalistic professionalism, but also where they are not always accorded the same protections as traditional journalists. The rise of Internet intermediaries with the potential to impact on freedom of expression has produced a new set of gatekeepers, many of which are unfamiliar with or unprepared to deal with this role.  Balancing the right to free expression with other rights such as privacy, reputation and security, is an emergent and immature enterprise – particularly in regard to the internet.  Debates around self-regulation versus privatisation of censorship by internet intermediaries are still embryonic. Legal standards for limits on freedom of expression, on all platforms, are still often not fully aligned to international principles which require transparency, proportionality and proper purpose to be legitimate.  The relevance of journalistic ethics, such as verification and fairness, in this sphere is a question. Journalistic literacies in covering complex issues of development, ranging from gender-sensitive reporting through to coverage of climate change, are often inadequate.

Meanwhile, expanded access to media platforms raises questions of broader accessibility issues, such as the broadband divide, and gender, rural and language divides. In a context of expanding information, the integrity of journalism also relies on media and information literacy competencies. Participants in media increasingly need to be equipped to find, evaluate and participate in information about the development debates.
All this has a bearing on the development of media as part of broader development. In summary, the sustainability and professionalism of journalism, and the literacy of its producers and consumers merit attention on World Press Freedom Day 2014.

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