The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, has told journalists that the demands of the digital age require ever-higher standards in their profession.
Opening the Commonwealth Journalists Association international conference in London, just days into her new job, she said the immediacy of the digital age enabled social media users to filter their own news, and interact far more directly at all levels, including with public institutions.
“Such accessibility should encourage greater transparency and accountability, and yet trust in public institutions is declining,” said Baroness Scotland.
“I know that the accessibility and immediacy of social media can seem to threaten or endanger the future of your profession. And yet quality journalism is more important than ever in ensuring the public is equipped with factual and accurate information.”
“We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.”
And she told delegates, who’d travelled from many parts of the Commonwealth: “You are the voice of our citizens. Your eyes are their eyes, and your ears are their ears. You see their needs, you tell their news, you understand their hopes and dreams, speak for them and make their story known.”
The theme of this year’s conference is Media in the Digital Age, with sessions on social media and legal challenges, digital tools for journalists, why the Commonwealth isn’t more newsworthy and how its profile can be elevated, journalists’ safety, media freedom and Commonwealth good governance. The conference is being run in partnership with the Open University, where the sessions are being held.
Baroness Scotland was welcomed to the conference by the outgoing CJA President, Rita Payne.
She said the conference was taking place against a background of journalists being harassed, assaulted, and sometimes even killed for doing their jobs.
“There are instances of journalists being arrested, abducted and tortured for criticism of police or exposing government malpractice. Senior editors have been dismissed or arrested for refusing to reveal their sources. In some countries repressive laws are being introduced to silence the media. The victimisation and even the criminalisation of journalists is sadly becoming all too common in countries inside and outside the Commonwealth,” said Ms Payne.