Days ahead of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, journalists from several participating countries joined a virtual event to discuss several issues pertaining to the news media, to remind G20 leaders that “press freedom also matters”.
Among speakers at the inaugural Media 20 conference were the Hindu Publishing Group’s director N Ram, James Lemont of British outlet Financial Times, Edwy Plenel of France’s Mediapart, and Alan Rusbridger of The Prospect Magazine in the UK. The participants also included journalists from Italy, Canada, Indonesia, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Myanmar, Lebanon and Turkey.
The , an ad hoc body with 10 editors from India and former Supreme Court judge Justice (retired) Madan Lokur as its members, had decided to host the event online because of the “restrictive” policies of the government of India – with conference visas and journalist visas “subjected to prohibitive levels of scrutiny”.
Speaking about the condition of press freedom in India, N Ram pointed to the recent over their report on the media coverage of Manipur violence, the arrests of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, the takeover of “independent” news channel NDTV, and the closure of online portal Kashmir Walla. He said the situation is “difficult”, if not “serious”.
Ram reiterated that amendments to the Information Technology Act and digital media guidelines may give the government overwhelming powers to block any content it wants.
Speaking about the official search at the and union ministers’ recent remarks against , Ram said smear campaigns are often launched by the government with “the support of some TV news channels”. “Couple of news channels are notorious…they do hit jobs on independent news organisations.”
The online conference was hosted by Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of the Wire, who said the event was an attempt to address common problems faced by journalists and that none of the problems G20 leaders hope to handle can be solved if the media is not free.
Several speakers pointed to the challenge of misinformation.
Woosuk Ken Choi, editor of the South Korean outlet Chosun Ilbo, said YouTubers often peddle fake news, which is then picked by sections of the mainstream media. He said several journalists in his country were being probed for false reports against a presidential candidate.
FT’s James Lemont said collaborative efforts by the media can be a good solution, citing the example of BBC’s Trusted News Initiative where many news organisations, including FT and the Hindu, are collectively tackling misinformation in real time. He also talked about cyber attacks as another major threat.
Lemont pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of artificial intelligence. He said FT has its own principles for using AI while ensuring that reports are written by humans.
Wahyu Dhyatmika, editor of Indonesia’s Tempo Media Group, said independent media should use technology for several goals, such as audience engagement.
Meanwhile, South African journalists Rochelle De Kock, the editor of the Weekend Post, and Makhudu Sefara of Times Live, said mob violence has been growing in the country against journalists. While the government doesn’t directly suppress the press through arrests, there has been a rise in litigation against journalists, they added.
Swe Win from Myanmar Now and Kareem Sakka of Raseef22 in Lebanon also pointed to deteriorating press freedoms in the two countries.
Ipek Yezdani, an independent journalist from Turkey, highlighted the growing control of the government in mainstream media. Ninety percent of mainstream media in Turkey is either directly or indirectly controlled by the government, she said.
Most journalists from independent media organisations expressed concerns about sustaining their business model. While some professed the idea to push big tech giants to share the revenue pie, others pointed out that dependence on tech giants for content distribution could lead to an imbalance in the allocation of financial resources.
Press freedom in G20
Similar concerns have been raised before other G20 summits before.
In 2020, ahead of the G20 summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Reporters Without Borders had called for public support urging G20 capitals to obtain concrete press freedom improvements in Saudi Arabia – starting with the release of the country’s 34 jailed journalists.
In Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked at 165 of the 180 countries evaluated. That makes it the third-worst performer among the G-20 nations, after Saudi Arabia, which is at 170, and China, which is at 179. Russia is just one spot above Turkey.
The United States, which is at spot 45, ranks fifth among G-20 nations, behind Germany, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
India, meanwhile, is ranked worse than even countries such as Afghanistan, slipping 11 ranks this year to take the 161th spot.
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