Mon 13-03-2017 13:57 PM

News today challenges traditional concept of journalism: Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan

DUBAI, 13th March 2017, (WAM) -- On the occasion of the WAN-IFRA Middle East conference which opened today in Dubai, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, in his keynote address, said that he was confident that media personnel and journalist's imagination, creativity, and intelligence will meet the challenges faced in the epic shift from newsprint to digital media, including the new phenomena of 'fake news' and 'viral deception'.

Below is the Minister's speech in full: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted that you have chosen the perfect site for this conference. In 1971, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan innovated the United Arab Emirates and since then, the animating spirit of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates has been innovation. Now, the overwhelming concern of your agenda is innovation.

The traditional world of newspapers, as you know far better than I, faces existential challenges.

You leaders in that world are managing an epic shift from newsprint to digital media. You are innovating at a fast pace, and your days of innovating will not end soon.

I am confident, nonetheless, that your imagination, creativity, and intelligence will eventually meet the challenge. That you have chosen to assemble at this global capital of innovation contributes to my confidence. The spirit of Dubai and the UAE will energise your assessment of the challenges you face and your evaluations of possible responses.

But even after your news is comfortably situated in the digital environment of the twenty-first century, your challenges will not have disappeared. In particular, your news will, I fear, be continually confronted by other news that flows indiscriminately across the digital landscape. That news challenges far more than the profitability of newspaper publishers. It challenges the traditional concept of journalism itself.

You all are probably aware of a Stanford University study published late last year. It found that more than 7,800 middle-school, secondary-school, and college students in twelve American states could not assess the credibility of the information that floods their smartphones, tablets, and computers, despite their uncanny aptitude for digital and social media. The authors of the study reached this conclusion [and I quote]: "Overall, young peoples’ ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak."

I have no reason to believe that young people in other countries are significantly more discerning about the stuff that they read and watch on the internet. I rather suspect that most adults as well are at their level. I purposely use the word stuff because to elevate the entire content of the internet to the status of information, with its customary denotation of facts and knowledge, disguises the problem. Stuff allows me to avoid contorted terms such as misinformation and false information terms that sully the status of information itself. You must be especially sensitive to the way in which the term "fake news" stains the noble notion of news. But whatever we call the stuff on the internet, even sophisticated audiences find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between legitimate news information gathered in a dispassionate search for truth and materials that are created to persuade, sell, mislead, or exploit.

Your news organisations may be able to innovate ways for increasing the news literacy skills of your potential audience. But I imagine that the audience at issue is the audience that neither reads your papers nor visits your websites. Your websites may well offer superb classes in news literacy, but few students will attend. You could, however, support something like The News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan education nonprofit that works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and secondary school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.

The National Literacy Project aims to provide those students with the essential skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news and information and engaged, informed citizens. That project is now cooperating with the Facebook Journalism Project, which itself was created to strengthen links between Facebook and the news industry. Those two initiatives will not overnight make billions of smartphone users smarter readers of the news. But surely, those initiatives and others like them deserve your fullest support and cooperation. In an age of unparalleled access, in which unprecedented amounts and types of information can be shared with more people more easily than ever before, anyone can be a publisher and everyone must be an editor. Your best interests and mankind’s best interests are served by a world population of intelligent editors.

In the midst of the monumental change affecting the news industry, you are blessed to be responsible for a fundamental and unchanging vocation. As you create a firm position on the digital landscape and necessarily pay strict attention to your bottom line, you can and must continue to fulfill the central purpose of journalism, that is, to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. A few years ago, the American Press Association consulted with practitioners and theorists of journalism around the world and determined that proper journalism embraces the principles of truth, loyalty, independence and discipline of verification, amongst others.

Journalism that honours those principles must endure and flourish. Journalism that honours those principles is the only legitimate opponent of the wretched stuff on the internet misinformation, false information, alternative facts, fake news. Journalism that honours those principles is your sacred trust.

To be sure, journalists who honour those principles must nevertheless innovate in the digital age. They must discover the important news that inevitably appears in social media. They must find reliable ways to verify that news. They must develop more rapid methods for gathering and reporting the news. They must always be alert for new ways to obtain the news. It is our good fortune that skilled journalists are by nature innovative. They will survive quite well on the digital landscape. Their survival skills must, however, be exercised only in accord with the principles of journalism. The survival of those principles is far more critical than the survival of any struggling journalist or journalistic enterprise.

I am reassured that the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers Middle East is dedicated to helping independent news publishing companies, and I quote, "perform their crucial role in open societies." That crucial role is obvious. You must provide accurate and reliable information in accordance with the essential principles of journalism. I deeply respect and appreciate the role you are playing. Journalism and civilisation itself depend on your success.

I wish you the best in your deliberations and discussions today and tomorrow. Thank you for giving us all the accurate and reliable information that we need to function as responsible citizens in a free society.

My best wishes to all of you."