The growing influence of the Internet and social media on traditional journalism dominated discussions at the International Summit on Reconstruction of Journalism convened by the New York-based media think-tank, Center for Media & Peace Initiatives.
In a keynote speech, Zambia’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dr. Joseph Katema told delegates to the media summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York that while journalism remained an honorable profession, practitioners should tackle the challenges posed by the so called citizen journalists that degrade the profession.
Said Dr. Katema, “Citizen Journalism, as you may be aware is where a category of journalists, particularly people—not trained journalists—engage in reporting information of community interest via the Internet and other tools of modern technology. This kind of journalism had given rise to defamation of innocent citizens who cannot defend themselves as the sensational stories are often not checked for accuracy”.
The concern, according to the Minister, is that “these publishers hide behind anonymity and remain a secret society without thread of journalism principles”.
The Zambian Spokesman maintained that journalists must work hard to uphold public trust through constantly seeking the truth and providing fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.
As expected the government image maker painted a rosy picture of the state of the media in Southern African country of Zambia contrary to what critics say is the prevalence of censorship in the Zambian press.
In a Twitter post, “Shame on @CMPImedia for hosting the Zambian Minister and not raising issues of censorship. Explain, please?” Center for Media & Peace Initiatives was criticized for hosting the Minister and not asking questions about what Evans Mulenga called “Zambia’s Growing Censorship Problem”.
Writes Mulenga “When Katema went to the U.N., instead of addressing major questions such as the government’s blocking of critical news websites and multiple criminal cases launched against journalists, Katema simply pointed to his party’s alleged support for a dysfunctional Freedom of Information Act, and then went further to elaborate a justification for heavier government intervention and regulation of online news”.
In the question and answer session at the summit, participants notably Maureen Nevin, a New Jersey-based broadcast journalist took turns to grill the minister on freedom of information in Zambia and other African countries.
The Chair UNESCO global e-Learning and Emeritus Professor, University of Tampere, Finland, Professor Tapio Varis told delegates at the summit that journalism was at cross-roads with the huge influence of social media.
He spoke of media literacy and humanism in relation to current advances in information technologies and propagation of new digital media and learning environments.
The summit on the reconstruction of journalism was timely, Dr. Varis stated, arguing that the intersection between new humanism and new media was of great significance in order to deconstruct the depersonalizing effects of mass mediated technology.
Media professionals, in the view of the media scholar, should endeavor to provide a deeper insight into recent trends in the development of media culture and media literacy movement, and to support educational initiatives that could strengthen media education and practice.
In an opening statement, President of Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, Dr. Uchenna Ekwo noted the paradox of contemporary society saying that “we live in an era when mankind has never had so much information available and at the same time so much bad information”. It is a world where everyone is a publisher and no one is an editor, he said.
Dr. Ekwo outlined the litany of problems of contemporary journalism practice including high levels of inaccuracies, sensationalism, media’s short attention span, and inability to report itself as it does other sectors.
He lamented the gradual demise of traditional journalism anchored in responsibility and ethics; who is a journalist or what is journalism as times change and the demands on and of journalism will continue to require urgent and practical answers, Dr. Ekwo said.
In her presentation entitled “The Erosion of Journalism -Threat to Democracy: How the political and commercial aristocracy governs and influences markets through the media”, Australia-based media and public policy analyst, Ms. Carole Marchal explored the changing media landscape in relation to “how the digital revolution changed the power dynamics allowing the economic power to enjoy an unprecedented level of influence and how the lack of safeguards to protect journalism allowed the emergence of an ‘aristocracy’ which has thrived to restrict the freedom of the press and manipulate public opinion to advance their private agenda and interests”.
Ms. Marchal, a former Public Affairs Officer, United Nations in Canberra, Australia provided case studies to underscore the erosion of media credibility in the digital era. In particular, she spoke of the diminution of real news and proliferation of public relations stunts in the social media that are often picked up without proper vetting by the traditional news organizations.
Ukrainian journalist, Mr. Alexander Ostashko, the Editor-in-Chief of Context-Prichemomorie News Agency spoke about the growing misinformation in the media in the region especially those in the Russian media that dish falsehood and propaganda to the audience.
He acknowledged the role of the media in the reduction of hostilities in the crisis prone Ukraine, stressing that the reconstruction of journalism is timely and urged delegates to the summit to commit to changing unprofessional practices in journalism profession.
Mr. Ostashko expressed the hope that social media if properly utilized could help to eliminate censorship in totalitarian regimes around the world such as Russia.
Other speakers at the conference included Mr. Bill Miller, Anchor Global Television, Mr. Jon Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer of Enovative Television, New York, Jay Hauben of Columbia Univeristy Ronda Hauben, a news correspondent at the United Nations, Amelia Moore of UBTV, Ambassador Sire Dione Conde of UNESCO, and Francisco Bozzano-Barnes of CMPI.