OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
Last Friday, the Reuters Institute joined us in Wadham College’s Okinaga Theatre for a panel on journalism. Each of our guests brought a unique perspective on today’s media landscape, especially regarding disinformation policy: we heard from Dr Richard Fletcher, Reuters’ Director of Research, Jessica Cecil of the BBC’s Trusted News Initiative, Mpho Raborife, Managing Editor of South Africa’s News24, Thu Thu Aung, Reuters Correspondent, and Radheshyam Jadhav, Deputy Editor of The Hindu Businessline. Our discussion’s starting point was the threat posed by disinformation, especially online. In this context, Jessica Cecil emphasised the importance of collaboration between tech giants and media outlets, which has been facilitated by the Trusted News Initiative since 2019. It acts as an early alert system to weed out impostor content and the most immediately harmful forms of misinformation – defined by her as constituting a threat to a) life or b) democracy. Generative AI became relevant to this talking point, as Mpho Raborife expressed a sense of widespread anxiety in newsrooms around the world concerning the AI’s potential to utterly transform the world of journalism. While Dr Fletcher pointed out that many outlets already use generative AI to varying degrees, the panel generally agreed that tech and media relations would have to become stronger than ever in the face of AI-generated disinformation.
As well as providing general insights into the threats facing contemporary media, the second half of the discussion revolved strongly around geopolitical specifics. Thu Thu Aung, for example, shared the ethical challenges of working with citizen journalists in post-coup Myanmar. Her descriptions of the state of free press in the country were extremely thought-provoking, especially with regard to the immediate safety risks faced by Burmese citizens wishing to share information with the media – her experiences proved that journalism in its most essential form is often a matter of life and death. While this facilitates an understanding of journalism as a form of activism in and of itself, Radheshyam Jadhav’s perspective conceived of journalism as a science which is inherently compromised when it becomes activistic. At its core, he argued, the journalist is a story-teller, not a conveyor of specific values. Aside from the contentious topic of news with views, however, the panel was in agreement that the safety of those in immediate danger must always remain at the forefront of any journalistic effort. The discussion concluded with a sense that the work of journalism can be threatened not only by oppressive outside forces, but also by its own inherent power, and must therefore be regulated by an absolute code of ethics and partnership.