On February 16, 2023, Journalists for Human Rights was honoured to co-present a roundtable with Reporters Sans Frontieres on the resilience of journalism against its current challenges. Held at the Gladstone Hotel in downtown Toronto, the event welcomed JHR Board Vice Chair Peter Donolo, Canadian Press’s Andrea Baillie and Gerry Arnold, News Media Canada’s Paul Deegan, Global News’ Ward Smith, CBC’s Brodie Fenlon, among several others.
We kicked off with a presentation by RSF General Secretary Christophe Deloire on his organization’s initiatives for future-proofing the global media industry. These included the Journalism Trust Initiative, an independent tool for media organizations to self-certify as objective and non-partisan. JHR has supported the adoption of the tool in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey and Tunisia, where credible media organizations see it as an opportunity to help local and international communities distinguish between reliable, trustworthy journalism and propaganda outlets and citizen journalism.
A Q&A session followed, during which JHR ED Rachel Pulfer further described the JTI tool as a vital way, “..to reinforce to the general public that journalism is a craft that has rigour and standards and follows a process that communicates the will of the people viz a viz our elected officials.”
Further on, she talked about a three-pronged approach to bolstering the credibility of media with the public, gleaned from JHR’s work in Africa and the Middle East: “What we have diagnosed in other environments is that we need to have a multi-pronged approach: strengthen the media and equip them with rigourous external accreditation like Journalism Trust Initiative, and work with civil society and government to create a broad base for support for journalists so they are champions for media outside the media sector […] We need to make positive, public arguments for journalism: it’s not enough to say we’re trustworthy, it’s not enough to say what we produce is good for you. People need to understand that journalists work for them. The only way we can get to that is through that kind of aggressive PR campaign, paired with less access journalism and more accountability journalism, so we have more people seeing themselves and their issues in the work that journalists do.”
In response to comments about the economic challenges facing the media industry, Pulfer cautioned against Canadian media organizations cutting individual deals with social media platforms. She said compared to the auto sector that has a quarterly profit margin of 7%-10%, social media platforms have a profit margin of 60%-80% – which is possible because unlike the auto industry, social media companies do not do the work to ensure their products are safe, allowing products without ‘brakes or seatbelts’ into the information sphere that are dangerous to public health and democracy. Unfortunately, our sector has been extremely open to being manipulated by these companies in such a way that they make small amount of money while social media companies keep their massive profits, which they don’t leverage to the public good.”