The delicate balance between media responsibility and freedom of expression, the social role of media agencies, and the challenges faced by journalists are some of the issues that afflict the media industry on a daily basis. But what happens when a global pandemic comes into play? The virtual panel “Media and Reporting COVID-19”, held on September 16, was the perfect stage for eminent professionals to discuss these topics.
The panel, moderated by Farid Dieck, ICDO Honorary Ambassador, featured Dr. Silvio Waisbord, Director and Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs of The George Washington University; Dr. Bradley Wiggins, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Media and Communications at Webster Vienna Private University; Mr. Scott Griffen, Deputy Director at the International Press Institute; and Mr. Dragan Maga, Sales Consultant at Infobip.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the polarization of the media industry: on the one hand, consumption of media content spiked due to social distancing measures; on the other, the sector has never experienced a similar financial crisis. The pandemic also revealed the weaknesses of the news media among false information, disinformation and misinformation. In this framework, Dr. Waisbord highlighted the need for social media giants to be consistent, transparent, held accountable and to operate according to principles not only related to financial gains.
“If you really sponsor every form of expression, inevitably truth and public safety suffer. It is hard to find truths and sensible policies around the pandemic. Platforms need to think more seriously in conversation with other actors that expression by itself does not mean the truth, does not lead to sensible policies”, Dr. Waisbord affirmed.
Irony is one of the tools people around the world use to cope with difficult situations, and the pandemic is not an exception. Dr. Bradley Wiggins outlined how memes and hashtags can be employed either for aggressive and violent antagonisms, or in a positive way that does not delegitimize other categories.
The COVID-19 crisis also revealed the dark side of the media industry. Mr. Griffen shared alarming data in terms of world press freedom: the International Press Institute tracked over 450 incidents of attacks on press freedom through physical attacks, covering of public health measures, fake news laws, and restrictions on access to information. According to the expert, a helpful way to combat this dramatic challenge is to support independent journalism and media coverage.
The importance of the representation of minorities is a topic very close to ICDO’s values and mission, and therefore the panel also focused on this aspect of the media industry. Both Mr. Griffen and Dr. Maga discussed this issue, and shared significant information on the role the media can play to support marginalized communities.
“We at the International Press Institute are trying to explain to our members the need to ensure that minorities are represented in newsrooms, to ensure that the news is relevant to the audience, which is much diverse in some countries. A key point for the future is to make sure that the content matters and has an impact on the public”, Mr. Griffen stated.
Dr. Maga presented practical actions IT and communications companies such as Infobip can do. The empowerment of local health providers, the creation of platforms to provide remote access to healthcare, information in local languages, and the support of NGOs like ICDO as partners to solve global challenges are some of the positive measures that can be taken by communications giants and agencies to help marginalized segments of society.
All the panelists agreed on the importance of cultural exchange and the need for partnerships with NGOs like ICDO to ensure resources, technical capacity, and to cover intercultural issues. ICDO is pleased to have hosted such an informative and thought provoking panel discussion.