World Association of News Publishers

"Standing up Against the Narrative of Fear"

"Standing up Against the Narrative of Fear"

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be with you today, and before I begin with my remarks, I must congratulate the organisers, and our hosts, for what has been an excellent discussion amongst an esteemed set of colleagues.

I am here in a dual capacity – as the Editor-in-Chief of Kristeligt Dagblad, a national daily newspaper in Denmark, and as Vice-President of the World Editors Forum, the global network for editors based within the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

In fulfilling both roles, I am privileged in seeing the issues we have been discussing during this meeting play out on a daily basis: at the newsroom level, at the management level, and on the global stage.  I have been privy to the courageous attempts editors from around the world have made – and continue to make – when it comes to grappling with the many challenges facing their publications. Often, by coming together and attempting to find solutions, solidarity, and greater knowledge through shared experience, we can overcome a great many of these.

I believe, however, that some challenges remain greater than our collective will as a profession to see them off. The safety of our journalists is just one of these.  We count nearly 1200 killed media professionals in the past two decades or so, and sadly, the numbers show no sign of reversing. This is in spite of a renewed global effort from within the media itself, professional associations, civil society, and the United Nations to collectively focus on better protections for journalists.

What we are finding, most unhelpfully, is the absence of the necessary political will to tackle the fundamental issues of justice, law and order, and the rule of law in many countries where the safety of journalists is at its most perilous. Without this engagement, this commitment at the highest of political and institutional levels, our efforts will remain, tragically, in vain. Our colleagues and friends will continue to die in their efforts to deliver the news.

Often, it is these very governments and political systems that are undermining efforts to support journalists by criminalising the profession and jailing reporters, simply for the work they do. The critical inquiries of a free, independent press are too often seen as fair game for administrations with something to hide or, worse still, nothing to loose when it comes to the blatant disregard for fundamental freedoms and human rights.

We must not forget that when a free press is silenced, by whatsoever means, it is society at large that loses. As our Romanian colleagues know better than most, the price to be paid when darkness descends is deeply catastrophic.

We must therefore work extremely hard as media professionals to ensure that the flow of information remains open, and that our societies are equipped to make the necessary, informed choices that shape our world. Maintaining or re-gaining that position as the trusted voice that speaks on behalf of our communities is a regular topic in our global editorial community. There is no easy answer, no quick fix to this especially in our increasingly digitised age, aside from the drive to produce honest, trustworthy, credible journalism that challenges the powerful on behalf of the power-less.

It is indeed a lofty goal; one that comes with great responsibility and that is increasingly challenged by the highly competitive nature of today’s modern media - not to mention the countless obstacles that are placed in our way. But it is nevertheless a goal that is achievable and within our power to deliver - if necessary one story at a time, one page at a time.

How we do this, particularly when our enemies in this endeavour are increasingly faceless, stateless, and often hiding behind a warped ideology, is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing media to-date. It is certainly one that dominates our current thinking.

For a decade and a half now, society – and included, the media - have been battling a dual enemy, one that we try to keep firmly in perspective and prevent our fears from running riot with, but that nevertheless carries out very real and sporadic acts of horrific violence against indiscriminate targets. It is quite possibly the very worst of nightmares: the illusive ‘Bogeyman’ – ‘bussemanden’ in Danish, we all have our own version - only instead of hiding under the bed, he is on our streets and armed to the teeth with Kalashnikov and suicide vest, with every intention of putting them to use.

The result of this struggle has seen immeasurable fear spread into the form of an omnipresent, omnipotent ‘ism’, an abstract concept that has the very real danger of destroying society from within. At least, this is the intended goal behind much of the ‘terrorism’ we face.

Media have needed to tread a careful line to avoid stoking hysteria, yet ensure they report on what have been some of the biggest stories of our time. Some media have had more success at keeping this balance than others. But as a result, acts of terror have filled our news coverage and the concept of terrorism has dominated our editorials - and our collective consciousness - to such an extent that, once again, many parts of the world have fallen dark due to the lack of independent media coverage. They are simply inaccessible to most – because of physical dangers, because of perceived dangers. Ultimately, because people are fearful of what they will encounter, all as a result of a small minority of criminals acting with tragically far-reaching, nightmarish consequences.

This lack of knowledge can be just as damaging. Allowed to fester and grow, it feeds off our fears, shapes our misconceptions, and perpetuates a climate of mistrust and misunderstanding. It harmfully reinforces the mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them’ - the very essence of the ingredients of ‘terror’ on all sides.

And whether this ‘terror’ manifests itself in the killing of tens of thousands by criminal gangs, drug lords and complicit state actors in Mexico; failed wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; violent extremists taking advantage of a political vacuum; or so-called religious ideologues who self-proclaim to exact divine retribution on the infidels among us; we are nonetheless all victims within a global society. We can no longer afford to turn our backs and be thankful the latest atrocity did not occur in our own backyard - recent events have undermined this rather privileged sense of security.

Equally, attacks against Western newsrooms have made us painfully aware of what colleagues around the world have been facing for many years. In France, the murders at Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 began a year of tragedy for Paris.

But how our societies respond to such acts is just as important. Laws designed to protect must not be used to prosecute and discriminate, but frequently we are seeing sophisticated legislation being disproportionately used against journalists. The distortion of anti-terrorism legislation designed to keep society safe, yet deliberately misapplied to prevent journalists and civil society actors from uncovering uncomfortable truths, is common practice in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Egypt, Turkey, China, Iran, Ethiopia and many more are guilty of abusing legislation to silence critical voices and stifle a free press. In the United Kingdom, we saw in the last couple of years the intervention of the government and the police against the Guardian newspaper to unsuccessfully prevent publication of the Snowden revelations.

Journalism is therefore being seen as a criminal act even in the hearts of our oldest democracies; over half of the journalists in jail worldwide today are there on anti-state charges. This is no way for us to fight ‘terror’, real or imagined.

The need for solidarity amongst media, for us to work together to find urgent solutions to these common challenges that undermine the profession worldwide is paramount. I believe that Editors have a leading role in leading the charge against the reduction of our freedoms in society. We should be seen standing up against the narrative of fear, speaking out when our fundamental rights are threatened, and galvanising the common interest when it comes to protecting freedom of expression in the communities we serve.

Alone, it is an impossible task.  All of us must therefore do what is in our power to safeguard our societies, advance the principles of peace and human understanding, and preserve the values we universally stand for. A safe, strong and independent media is one of our best hopes for seeing this become reality.

Thank you.


Hedvig Lundstrom's picture

Hedvig Lundstrom


2016-04-05 15:53

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...