The world needs responsible, well trained professional journalists more than ever. Balanced reporting, exercised with restraint, is essential in dealing with tough topics from terrorism to tension between nations.
This was the consensus that emerged from the fourth session of the 2016 Eurasian Media Forum. The panel comprised senior journalists from East and West. It was chaired by Mikhail Gusman, First Deputy General Director of TASS, Russia.
The theme of the session was: “The fight for hearts and minds: information wars in the 21st century. The role of the mass media in promoting peace – and fomenting conflict.”
Opening the debate, Todd Baer of Bloomberg Media, USA, emphasized the difficulty for the media in distinguishing between what was true and false in all the available sources of news. “Information wars are a permanent feature of the digital age,” he said.
The media could play an important role in promoting peace, he added, giving an example he had experienced of covering a tense confrontation in Kashmir between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Instead of talking up the tension, his producer had ordered: “Tone it down – tell it in grey, not black and white.”
Sinan Kurun of Turkey’s Directorate General of Press and Information, said there was a danger of the media being manipulated by certain interests. “We are playing information wars all the time in Turkey. We have to cope with disinformation. This was why collaboration between the state and the media was necessary to establish the truth.”
Nurlan Yermekbayev, Secretary of the Security Council of Kazakhstan, said the media had to help in opposing terrorism and agreed that interaction between the media and the law enforcement agencies was essential.
Stressing the problem of information security, he said: “With the advance of technology, cyberspace has become a real battlefield,” he said.
Mariane Pearl, Managing Editor of Chime for Change, France, said the task of the media was to win the trust of the public, to give people the context that could help them to make decisions. Maintaining neutrality was essential. “People are looking for integrity in the face of chaos,” she said.
Several panellists stressed that the media had a strong role in shaping public opinion. This meant that journalists had to take responsibility for their reports. In order to do so, they had to be well trained.
Alexandra Barshevskaya of the Skolkovo Foundation, Russia, said young journalists had to be made aware of the influence they could wield and the need to take responsibility. “It is frightening if the news is not checked,” she said.
Mikhail Gusman, the moderator, summed up with a call for the media to win the trust of the public. “Credibility is our currency,” he declared. “It’s all we have.”