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Prospects for Journalism in the Digital Age

Written by Dr Kiran Hassan |

On 30 June 2022, the Commonwealth Journalists Association (UK) organised a one-day hybrid event for student journalists at the University of Birmingham. The aim was to provide early career guidance from world acclaimed journalists and media practitioners from across the Commonwealth, and to build networking possibilities.

The discussion was detailed and highly informative covering multiple types of reporting techniques and challenges.

Ms Rachel Corp (Editor, ITV Network News) opened the event as a key-note speaker. In her inspirational presentation, she stressed the need for impartiality, journalist teamwork, and the need for original ideas combined with fact checking to back any good/newsworthy story.

Senior journalists from two Commonwealth countries shared their experience on reporting during violence and oppression.  Ms Monideepa Banerji (Senior Journalist/India) praised the resilience of Indian journalists in increasingly difficult times. She argued, even though India is the internet shutdown capital of the world – indeed the Internet is shut down for long periods in Kashmir and other conflict areas - she applauded the courage and dedication of Indian journalists who manage to survive and continue practising their profession with the help of courts. Mike Owuar, editor of the Sunday Nation (Nation Media Group) in Kenya said that violence against journalists reporting conflict has slightly improved in his country, thanks in part to the provision of guidelines to conflict reporters, which has proved to be helpful.

Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Maureen Cornish JP welcoming students of journalism from Delhi, Ibadan, Dalhousie, Glasgow, Warwick, Birmingham, Queens Belfast and University of London

In a separate session, Caroline Scott (Google News Lab) introduced the new Google tool kit which can be extremely useful for fact checking and authentic reporting, in a fast-paced reporting environment or equally, in longer form investigative journalism.

The presentation of the Commonwealth in the media and the perception of its relative enduring value, was debated from three different perspectives: Nigeria, the Caribbean, and Canada. This panel included Professor Eghosa Osaghae (Director- General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs) who praised the Commonwealth as an international platform for the global South for solidified voices on global affairs. According to him, the media within the Commonwealth should accept that value and utilise it to the advantage of Commonwealth media platforms. The second speaker, Sir Ronald Sanders (Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda in the United States) said that the Commonwealth was a very important organisation which had started the global conversation on climate change. Media reporting within the Commonwealth must highlight the dedication that Commonwealth consistently shown for issues around the security of the small island states (SIDS) and continue to press this story. In the same panel, the Director of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Mr Hugh Segal stressed that accountability is of critical importance to the reputation of the Commonwealth as a global organisation. If media freedom is supported, the bench mark for human rights violations and democratic values, this will be invaluable to help keep authoritarian regimes within the Commonwealth in check.

General trends and challenges for media freedom within the Commonwealth was discussed in the last session. Zaffar Abbas (Editor of Dawn, Pakistan’s most important English-language newspaper) talked about the future of media in Pakistan. In his view, despite the rising appetite for social media and their own lack of resources, Pakistani newspapers are likely to survive because of reputable trusted news, editorial control and fact checking. Violet Gonda (President, International Association of Women in Radio and. Television [IAWRT]) shared her experience as a journalist reporting on critical issues in Zimbabwe. She said, ‘I was quickly labelled as a rebel in Zimbabwe because I was critical of the regime in power and trolled on social media, but one must never give up on speaking and writing the truth.

The one-day conference ended with a highly encouraging speech by Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Maureen Cornish JP, who cheered the young students from the Commonwealth to excel in the field of journalism.

The one-day Commonwealth Journalist Association conference was sponsored by Google News Initiative, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, University of Birmingham, the Birmingham Commonwealth Association and the British Council.