The gala raised money to support The Journalism Foundation’s global projects, including the establishment of a new college of journalism in Tunisia, and also a programme to train young journalists in South Sudan.
Coinciding with the event, we have been compiling the views of figures from across the media spectrum on journalism today and in the future.
The series continues with Marta Cooper, Editorial Researcher at Index on Censorship.
What does good journalism mean to you?
Good journalism is about telling a story accurately. It is about knowing your readers and delivering the truth to them in a concise manner. Good journalism is well-sourced, reliable and honest. I’d add that, in an era where journalism as a trade is facing multiple pressures and changes, good journalism is able to adapt while still serving its readers and delivering the truth.
What are the dangers of press censorship?
If the press is censored it is unable to do its job of holding power to account. If we also consider freedom of expression to include the right to receive information as well as disseminate it, press censorship would obstruct the public’s right to know. Press freedom is the bedrock of democratic society and, to quote Ian Hislop, “if the state regulates the press then the press no longer regulates the state”.
Is this an important time for journalism? If so, how?
Now is a crucial time for journalism. The trade is being challenged on a variety of fronts at a great speed: across different parts of the world, technological advances mean more of us than ever before have the opportunity to take part in and shape the news agenda. This allows journalism to fulfill its democratic function, giving journalists more means of seeking the truth, but there are very real concerns of a viable business model, compounded by the fact that we now have fewer reporters doing more of the work with greater demands. We also have the Leveson Inquiry which is scrutinising British journalism, and we may be seeing tougher press regulation as a result.
What kind of journalism needs to be championed and supported now?
Various types: as foreign correspondents are in shorter supply, citizen journalism needs to be boosted so they can supplement correspondents’ work and continue to them with a wider body of on-the-ground sources. In England, responsible, investigative journalism needs to be protected with a stronger public interest defence so it can continue to expose truth in the public interest. Local journalism needs to championed so its function of serving a community can be preserved as it faces financial and technological pressures.
What can The Journalism Foundation hope to achieve? Why should it be supported?
It is important that, as various countries develop new standards for communication, those involved are supported. Citizens in previously authoritarian regimes are finding more ways of asserting their right to freedom of expression. Tunisia is a great example: last year it rose 30 places in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom Index. But, as the Journalism Foundation has found, training needs to be improved, directed into the right channels and made more efficient — this is where the organisation and others can help.
How is the practice of journalism changing? What are the positives and negatives of these changes?
With the growth of more participatory media, journalism has largely become less of an end product and more of a process. We should embrace these changes, as bringing more voices into the news agenda gives journalists a greater, more accessible pool of sources, and allows journalism to truly serve its democratic purpose. But no news model is perfect, and today’s news agenda is chaotic, more demanding, and financial pressures among the press mean there are fewer people handling more challenges in pursuit of a story.
Do you have worries about the future of journalism?
Absolutely: the financial pressures facing local and national titles in the UK are very real. We’re trying to develop a viable business model as we make sense of a high-speed new media terrain, which continues to raise oft-rehearsed questions about what journalism is for, what its value is to society and who a journalist is. We have fewer foreign correspondents shedding light on the rest of the world. Closer to home, it is also unclear what recommendations Leveson will make in the autumn, and it is important, in my view, that he does not call for regulation with statutory backing that could muzzle a press that is already hemmed in by existing legislation.
But I’m hopeful: It seems there is a greater understanding than before that responsible journalism needs to be protected. The draft defamation bill announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month is an encouraging first step to protecting free speech and ending libel tourism in the UK, for example. In addition, the opportunities presented by Web 2.0 give journalism the chance to live up to its full potential by providing us with a wider pool of sources and on-the-ground voices. There are some fantastic reporters out there who blend good old-fashioned journalism and investigation with the demands and opportunities presented by social media. Journalism now has the chance to seek truth in more diverse and participatory ways than ever before, and become stronger as a result.
To read more about The Journalism Foundation’s gala fundraiser click here
For the rest in this series, click here.
Marta tweets @martaruco