UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

09/07/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/06/2021 23:11

Social media cannot replace proper news journalism

In the last hundred years, the national Indian media-traditional and now 'new' media- have grown exponentially in number and influence.

This year, as we mark the centenary of journalism education in India, never before has the need for journalism education been so pressing as it is now, with new threats of disinformation emerging brutally and with the COVID crisis revealing that information is actually a life-saver.

In India, the discipline of 'Journalism Education' was introduced by British activist Annie Besant in the early 1920's, when she first launched a course on journalism at the National University at Adyar, Madras. There are now about 900 Indian colleges and institutes offering mass communication and journalism programmes at different levels.

In the last two decades, we have witnessed a boom in commercial media and numerous digital journalism platforms have emerged, which has also opened avenues for citizen journalism. All these factors have only compounded the need for certificated courses in journalism, and its rising demand in the region.

UNESCO's mandate upholds Freedom of the Press and the free flow of information. The challenge is to ensure that this flow includes high quality information - which is where journalism education comes in. Hence the longstanding work of our Organization to strengthen journalism education.

We believe that professional news media act as guardians of the public interest. Citizens cannot exercise and enjoy their citizenship in the absence of crucial information and knowledge, which well-trained journalists are better placed to provide. Professional journalistic standards are therefore essential to bring out the potential of media systems to foster democracy, dialogue and development.

We see however that recent trends in the last few years have placed journalism under fire. A range of factors are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism.

In this context, UNESCO set up in 2014 what we called the Global Initiative for Excellence in Journalism Education, to leverage lessons learned during our support to African schools of journalism, and apply them in the wider context of our support for journalism education globally.

This included supporting the development of 'new literacies' in response to the emerging challenges of a fast-changing world.

In this regard, we assembled teams of experts to develop syllabi on such issues as: climate change, data journalism, science journalism, sustainable tourism, etc.

Our most recent publication was a handbook on 'Journalism, fake news and disinformation', an issue that we have all become familiar recently. This has emerged as a serious challenge globally, and escalated following the COVID-19 outbreak.

All this pushes in favour of a reinforcement of journalism education. While keeping in mind the principles of press freedom, many stakeholders must join hands and accelerate efforts. This includes media houses and media training institutions but also governments and other partners.

From our work with global media educators and years of research in this field, it is evident that many of the schools that UNESCO supported over the years have become stronger and acquired a greater capacity to be a strategic part of a global network of journalism schools of excellence.

We have come a long way as far as strengthening the values of global journalism education, but a lot still needs to be done. We must address in particular quality issues and the exploitation of students by some educational institutions. The objective should be to constantly improve the quality of media training, while ensuring access to everyone.

The other pressing concern relates to the dynamic nature of the communication and information technologies that are reshaping the media landscape. Social media, with their huge numbers of contributors, cannot replace the production of proper news journalism, even if they compete very seriously for time and advertising.

In this regard, we see the implementation of the National Education Policy 2020 as an opportunity. It encourages us to make media education holistic, multidisciplinary and inclusive of the latest technological advancements. We must certainly evolve our teaching techniques keeping in view these challenges.

Eric Falt is the Director and Representative of the UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office covering Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka