Date of Meeting: 4 May 2017

Meeting Organizer: United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) Non-governmental Organisations

ISJC Staff Present: Lt-Col. Eirwen Pallant, Joseph Halliday

Reporter: Lt-Col. Eirwen Pallant, Joseph Halliday

Which SDG does this topic cover? 16, 17

Type of meeting: DPI briefing, panel discussion

Brief summary of presentation of information made

Two panels presented at this session.


Margaret Novicki, Officer-in-Charge, DPI introduced the panel and the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2017 (see meeting title), and acted as moderator, making the following points:

  • Press freedom is a fundamental right and is essential to democracy.
  • Press freedom is important to achieving SDG 16.
  • Technology plays an important role in the access of information but also leads to hate speech, division, falsehoods, fake news. Critical thinking is key to combating this.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General spoke via video message, stating that journalists face great dangers for the sake of democracy, and called for greater press freedom because it advances society.

H.E. Sofia Borges, Special Adviser to the President of the General Assembly

  • Paid tribute to workers in the press industry. Current times have seen increased hostility and a lack of freedom towards journalists.
  • Traditional role of journalists is a search for the truth, guided by ethics.
  • Greater accountability and protection is needed for journalists.
  • Media is uniquely positioned to contribute to the SDGs. Well-researched reporting is essential across all of the SDG topics – in raising awareness of hidden issues, holding people to account, flagging SDG success stories, promoting tolerance and dialogue and in aiding transparency.

H.E. Jan Kickert, Permanent Representative of Austria, Chairperson of UNGA Committee on Information

  • Mentioned Four Freedoms Park nearby (Roosevelt Island, NYC) - it is a reminder of Roosevelt’s speech. He refers to freedom of expression first, which is significant.
  • Independent media has an important role in society.
  • A key ruling by the European Court of Human Rights emphasised freedom of expression, including those views that offend. This is seen as being crucial for democracy, but is still unfulfilled. The free and independent media is increasingly under attack in recent times, journalists themselves included. Their work is to the benefit of society, so the freedom to report must be ensured.
  • Attacks and assault, and in the worst cases murder, must be tackled - it is unacceptable. A UN plan of action for the safety of journalists (including freedom from sexual assault) is being developed.

Marie Paule Roudil, UNESCO Representative to the UN, Director of UNESCO’S New York office

  • In time of major change – political, technological, and social
  • Has been a blurring of lines between advertising and reporting
  • Live in times of misinformation. Journalism should be well researched, honest, reflect multiple opinions
  • Press freedom bolsters good governance, acting as an intermediary between the different areas of society.
  • Press freedom currently being restricted in many ways: violence against the media is strong; censorship; effects of ‘post-truth’, ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ - they are new forms of propaganda.
  • A journalist is killed every 4 days. 9 out of 10 perpetrators continue to walk free. Hateful rhetoric increases violence against journalists. Combat this not by restricting speech but by quality, honest coverage of news.
  • A good moral compass is important. The UNESCO constitution promotes the free-flow of ideas e.g. press freedom. UNESCO works with governments to this end. It is working with judges in South America to promote good law enforcement. Other work: UNESCO ambassadors have been appointed, prizes are awarded and the promotion of net neutrality is key. This is all part of an effort to promote good and safe journalism, to defend human rights, to open dialogue.
  • Terrorism aims to divide and increase hate and intolerance - the media is used as a tool for this. UNESCO have produced a handbook on this subject (‘Terrorism and the Media’ by Jean-Paul Marthoz)

Sherwin Bryce-Pease, President of United Nations Correspondents Association

  • Press freedom being undermined - successfully so. Credibility being challenged. Fake news surrounds us - example given of a particular untrue story surrounding the changes to visas for US travel. Responsibility lies with the generators of ‘fake news’ but also the public to be less gullible, test the reliability of a story.
  • Politicians have power over journalists, but not usually the other way round.
  • Global situation: Turkey is the worst for press freedom. US citizens trust the Whitehouse more than the press. Journalists are berated all over the world. Anger is directed at journalists for reporting unsettling news rather than at the news itself. Facts are no longer trusted or do not matter.
  • Free press is important to SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). Deceit is prevalent - so we must all be discerning. Check sources and motivation.
  • Freedom of press closely related to Human rights and freedom and democracy
  • Need not just journalists but all of society to protest that FACTS MATTER
  • Is blurring of line between news(factual reporting) and analysis of the news.
  • Non-traditional journalists include citizen journalists, activists. Also need protection.


Ramu Damodaran, Acting Director of DPI Outreach Division introduced the panel and acted as moderator.

David Scharia, Chief of Branch at UN Counter-terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED)

  • Terrorism has been relentless in recent years. Group use media to spread information and ideas, including the internet.
  • Principles of freedom of expression and of a full range of human rights are important to the CTED and the UN Security Council.
  • A strong stand is required against the incitement of terrorism (freedom of expression is not absolute):
  • Challenging the terrorist narrative;
  • Framework document designed to counter message of terrorists is being produced.
  • Free and independent journalism needed for counter narrative
  • Guidelines for journalists on how to not serve terrorists - e.g. the promotion and glorification of their message and actions.
  • The media landscape is changing. Internet Service Provifders and other outlets, particularly online ones such as social platforms, have a major role to play in countering terrorism - they hold a lot of control.
  • Mention of ICT4Peace initiative - ‘Tech Against Terrorism’ - which seeks to promote co-operation with and between platforms. Aims to identify and remove the terrorist message.

Jay Rosen, Associate Professor at Arthur L Carter Journalism, NYU

  • ‘Alarm’ at decreasing press freedom in the US despite the apparent protection offered by the country’s constitution. There is an organised campaign against the media led by President Trump, who issues ‘hate speech’ against journalists on a daily basis. He is an ‘enemy of the people’ who is ‘dishonest’. His aim is to make the presidency itself the only trusted source of information about the presidency.
  • Speaker sees nine key steps to combatting the problem of a lack of trust in journalism:
    1. Journalists need to acknowledge their angle/context/perspective - claims of neutrality is mistrusted.
    2. Journalists should acknowledge their priorities and focus (do not claim to cover ‘everything’ - e.g. state a priority in financial matters if this is the outlet’s focus).
    3. Journalists should learn how to respond to criticism of good reports with specific detail to the points raised.
    4. Journalists should practice ‘advanced transparency’ i.e. present their data, sources, transcripts etc.
    5. Journalists should acknowledge gaps in their knowledge.
    6. Journalists should ask the question ‘what did we miss?’ and listen to the replies from their audience.
    7. A more collaborative approach is required of journalism, especially with their audience.
    8. Journalists should learn to share the financial expense of their reporting with their audience to educate people on the Value of news reports.
    9. the public should be encouraged to take up membership of a media outlet - i.e. contributing financially and supporting this work.

Sarah L Riley, Investigative and Data Journalist at the Trace

  • Press freedom essential to democracy.
  • Local news has an important role to play. However whilst national newspaper readership has seen large surges in readership, local papers struggle. This is perhaps through a lack of ability to market themselves, to communicate their own importance, and a lack of online subscriptions.
  • Local newspapers have an important role to play in holding local governance to account. An example is given of Detroit local newspaper in years gone by: two papers each offered a distinct perspective and focus but both agreed on the basic facts, standards and ethics.
  • Modern times see local papers closing and thus a lack of alternative views, focus and accountability. This in turn feeds into the national news - there is less local support, grassroots journalism to help the reporting process.
  • Local news reported effect of national policy on local issues. Major opponents are local leaders, mayors, police chiefs to policies eg. Immigration.
  • No local press- no coverage of local elections- decreased turnout of electorate

Bob Garfield, Co-host of radio show ‘On the Media’, MediaPost Columnist, Founder of Media Future Summit

  • World Press Freedom Day this year sees a major focus on the US rather than abroad this year. This is important for several reasons:
    • The press is the guardian of stable democracy - it is the fourth estate.
    • Importance of the first amendment (US constitution). Trump talks of repeal. Lack of understanding of history and context.
    • The press can be cynical, lazy, incompetent and unpleasant but it is key for the truth.

Emma Daly, Director of Communications at Human Rights Watch

  • ‘Words matter.’ Terrorism has no strict definition - so how to prevent extremism? What is meant by the terms?
  • It is critical for the media to cover all attacks equally e.g. not just Islamic attacks but also white Christian supremacist and so on. Often there is a reluctance to do this.
  • It is difficult to be objective, for much can inform the reporting of issues. It is important to not sensationalise terror attacks - do not leap to judgements, for instance. Responsibility to not revictimize the victims.
  • It is important to keep in mind the people in stories, the real lives behind the news.
  • Restrictions by governments, designed to counter terror, can end up having many negative consequences: such as the alienation of people and the creation of grievances. It is important not to scapegoat entire groups of people.

Yoshita Singh, Senior UN and New York Correspondent, Press Trust of India (PTI)

  • Press freedom is one of the four pillars of democratic society. There is an increasing lack of press freedom across the world. Number of countries where situation of press freedom is rated as ‘very grave’ has increased
  • Advent of social media can be a weapon - use of citizen journalists to mobilise support for issues etc.. Role of press is truth and facts. Example given of Delhi bus rape incident, raising awareness and providing information on this.
  • Social media can also introduce the ability to threaten journalists (i.e. through trolling). Online bullying has an impact. This threatens press freedom.
  • Power without accountability is dangerous.
  • Journalists too need to be accountable- eg not sensationalizing news to increase ratings


  • Measures taken to combat terrorism not scrutinized well, is role of journalists to ask why? Are they evidence based?
  • Tendency for ‘patriotic’ reporting
  • Majority of ‘fake news’ on social media
  • Educated media consumer – understand what is news reporting, what is analysis, the effect of bias, understanding social media targets news of same type to a person’s account increasing polarization and information silos.
  • News business model has been destroyed by social media. How can the effects of this be countered eg destruction of local news reporting?
  • Journalists covering national news from local perspective leads to local initiatives to address the issues locally.  Investing in improving lives reduces isolation of targeted youth to extremism.
  • Diversity bias – not just racial but geographical
  • There will only be a free, quality press if society decides that is what it wants, and is prepared to defend it.  

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

  • The Salvation Army is an increasingly active user of social media from an international level right down to local corps (churches). With this role comes a responsibility to post accurate information, to highlight where a piece being linked to has a particular agenda or opinion, and to exercise caution

  • The Salvation Army should be wary of news articles and data that informs its work. Not all news is equal, some is unreliable and some completely false. We should aim to ensure that God remains the motivation and guide behind its actions.

  • Salvationists should be well informed and critical in viewing news stories in order to not be susceptible to making judgements based on ‘fake news’.

  • Improving lives reduces risks of extremism. Reaching out to the isolated and marginalized in our communities promotes a peaceful and inclusive society.

Web links for more information

Tags: United Nations, SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals