Media, public trust and the crisis of democracy

Media, public trust and the crisis of democracy

By David Young and Nadia Shiyyab

On the second day of the World Press Freedom Celebrtions in Addis Ababa, several discussions were held and one of them was on the issue of public trust when it comes to media and its coverage of the news.

Among the speakers at the panel were Stephen King, CEO of Luminate; Christine Stegling, Exec Director of Frontline AIDS;  Oby Ezekwesili, Public Policy Analyst and Agnes Igoye, Ugandan National Coordinator of Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Founder of the Dream Revival Center. The sesion was moderated by Gwen Lister, Namibia Media Trust.

Oby Ezekwesili acknowledged the phenomenal shifts happenning surrounding media content consumption and production by audiences in the last decade. These shifts are a result of changes in technology and consequences of highly competitive media markets. The challenge arising of the medi's role in balancing the provision of public good and survival as a business. It’s not sufficient for media to demand transparency of all other actors. It must also act in transparency. Oby said adding that for the media to gain trust they also neet to "Get the facts right. It’s time to invest in the simple thing of checking facts and ensuring that you have a track record of being accurate."

Stephen King, whose organisation, Luminate offers grants to organizations that are focused on building stronger societies emphasises that independent media is a critical part of this, adding that  the work we do on combating corruption, requires participation of media. Media is amplifier of those issues". King also mentioned that the Media is not only in flux, but also in crisis. The narrative also needs to change about what we need to do about press freedom. There are efforts to provide global funds to independent media. He adds that, we can’t escape the fact that digital platforms need to be held accountable.

Christine Stegling who works with Frontline Aids posited often times, they are in very constraint environments and the media space is often shrinking. She therefore suggests that; "Changing a public narrative can work, and it has to do with investment. We invested in citizen correspondence, enabling people to tell their own story (especially the most marginalized), and this was important and successful. It’s also led to laziness on us as CSO, because then we don’t work with mainstream media because we’re creating our own narratives.

Agnes Igoye shared an example of a man in Uganda, who was advised by his witch doctor to cut off a penis of a young boy. And if he did this he’d have a successful business. The media was more interested in taking a picture of the young boy. Which is ethically wrong of the media. In media, you have to protect identity of survivors. That is a critical issue, the issue of protection of survivors. Agnes siad, "Sometimes we can support survivors to tell their own stories. It can be a healing process. Involving them but helping them tell their own stories."