On November 5th, 2018, the World Solidarity Forum (WSF) hosted the event ‘100 Years of Covering Conflict’, in cooperation with the podcast Beyond Brussels.
WSF was honored to receive four prestigious speakers: Renate Schröeder, Director of European Federation of Journalists (EFJ); Alice Musabende’s, Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge; Jesse Rosenfeld, former Canadian journalist and currently freelancer based in the Middle East; and Dr. Bojan Savic, a lecturer at the University of Kent. The WSF was also grateful to have Allie Elwell, founder of the Beyond Brussels podcast, as the moderator.
The introduction of the event was a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of modern war reporting during World War I. From the first mass coordinated state propaganda campaigns to the first mass visual documentation through photography and film from the front lines, World War I marked a turning point on this evolution.
Ms. Elwell explained that during this time intense developments occurred due to technological innovations which helped journalists to report about what was happening during the conflict. One major point did not change during this century is the respect of war reporting as a profession and the safety that it entailed. She explained that recently a lot has changed for journalists between the so-called fake news and the murder of Washington Post’s columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi authorities. The latter has raised important questions about freedom of the press, the safety of journalists and role of media in an increasingly complex and fraught global landscape.
Further, Ms. Elwell highlighted that a century later, we are still having similar debates about which stories are covered and at what cost; risks for ethical standards and responsibilities; the importance of a compelling narrative and the role of propaganda; the impact of changing technology; and how information is received, etc. Yet, journalism faces new challenges such as the breathtaking pace of technological threatening business models and increasing reliance on freelance journalists. This is developing alongside the rise of authoritarianism and opaque private actors while changing behaviors/demographics have helped to foster the growth of an anti-media bias worldwide. Phenomena that are not only putting lives at risk but also inhibiting access to accurate information and compelling accounts of human rights violations.
The panel started with the moderator asking what was their first memory of a conflict. This discussion was aimed at understanding how we are all influenced by media in our day-to-day life and how it is important for active citizens to remain aware of developments in conflict areas.
Then, Ms. Elwell asked the panelists about their perception of media and conflict relations at the national level.
Ms. Schröeder highlighted the need to raise awareness about safety and press freedom in Europe. Still today, some journalists do not receive the needed protection, referring to the murder of Maltese anti-corruption journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, in spite of the EFJ requesting the Council of Europe for protection. Ms. Rosenfeld followed up on the previous comment and added that social media has never produced as much information as it does nowadays. According to him, truth matters when the ones in power can easily spread unverified news. Ms. Schröeder concluded by stating that truth always matters. The fact that journalists are under constant danger also highlights in a way the importance of the role they play.
On the other hand, Ms. Musabende highlighted the fact that trust is playing an important part in media. Nowadays, Western news organizations prefer sending their own staff due to the lack of trust in the local media scene. Ms. Schröeder followed up on this by stating that local journalism is key in the fight against corruption in spite of its chronic lack of resources.
The main takeaway from the panel debate was that the fight for the truth keeps developing with journalists being more endangered than ever before, but also with a more important role than in the past. Journalists are key actors in producing the truth and in helping the global citizenry to attain the knowledge needed to react to what happens in the world around them.