My crime is journalism: #Antidote festival of ideas | radioinfo

My crime is journalism: #Antidote festival of ideas

Sunday 01 September, 2019

International journalists Maria Ressa, Lina Attalah, Irina Borogan and Steve Coll were on a panel in conversation with Peter Greste today, at the Opera House’s Antidote  festival of ideas.

On a bright sunny day in Sydney, more than a thousand people from all walks of life made the decision to sit inside the theatres to hear thoughtful discussions about the important issue of media freedom.
 
At a time when governments across the globe are cracking down on press freedom, this session brought together international journalists who are making big sacrifices to tell the truth. They discussed the changing nature of journalism with Greste, who was falsely imprisoned in Egypt in 2013.
 
Maria Ressa, founder and publisher of the independent Philippine newspaper Rappler,  has been charged with 11 offences in the Philippines. The Phlippine government insists it is enforcing the law.
 
“It is weaponisation of the law,” she says. The government is using the law and social media to pressure Ressa for her independent reporting. “Social media is the fertilizer for lies.”
 
Lina Attalah, the publisher of MadaMasr says it is harder to find people in Egypt who want to work in media, because the government has made it a difficult career. “People are worried about joining an organization that may land them in prison and people think twice about giving us information… There are more and more challenges to my job every day.”
 
Egypt did not have the most open landscape in the past, but after the Arab Spring revolution and the change of regime in 2013 it has “become much more repressive.”  
 
“In the past foreign journalists would be deported but then there was more boldness that led to the jailing a foreign journalist… you Peter.”
 
Irena Borogan reports on the Russian security services. She has been interrogated and investigated by the FSB after her reporting of the Moscow theatre hostage crisis and the death of 240 of the hostages.
 
“In the cinema 126 of those people died, not from terrorists, but from poisoning by gas that had been pumped into the theatre. We investigated the story and found that the security services were responsible for the gas. We published it.
 
“After we published the story, the Russian security services came into our offices and said they opened an investigation into another story, seized our computers and took us to the FSB for interrogation.”
 
She is now an independent reporter coving the activities of the security services in Russia.
 
Steve Coll, the Dean of the Columbia University’s journalism faculty says America is also having its own crisis in journalism under the current regime and that Australia is not immune either.
 
“We have seen examples of countries using the law to shut down journalism. This is common. It is happening in the US and in Australia too. They are criminalising the act of reporting when it is about so called national security.
 
“Now we have the indictment of Julian Assange. Whether you think he is a journalist or not, it will create precedents that will affect all journalists. The US laws protecting journalism are based on precedents that are fading in an atmosphere where the president calls the press ‘the enemy of the people.’”
 
Asked what she thought about the raids on the ABC and The Australian’s journalist by the Australian Federal Police, Maria Rees said:
 
“It was shocking to me. Australia is one of the good guys. I think what has happened here signals there has been a shift.
 
“In the Philippines, our president said ‘just because you're a journalist you are not exempt from assassination.’ There is a climate of fear. It allows the powerful to erode press freedom and ultimately democracy. Is this now happening in Australia?”
 
Borogan followed up, saying: “Press freedom is one way of guaranteeing safety for society. If it is eroded then safety is eroded… National security is a big deal in Russia. It is accepted by the public, so journalists can be silenced using laws of state security.”
 
Articulating the other side of the debate, Greste said governments say terrorism makes it difficult for security services to protect us and so they sometimes need to keep information secret. He asked ‘should security take a higher priority than journalism?’”
 
“Governments routinely overestimate how much information they needs to protect citizens. The press and security have functioned successfully together for years when there may be lives in danger,” replied Coll.
 
But the media landscape has changed since the advent of social media, so the relationship between media and governments is now more complex.

Discussing the tactics of people who harass journalists on social media, Maria Rees talked about her experience with social media trolls:
 
“When people began harassing me, we checked our stories, making sure we were true to the facts. We were. But it was not a dialogue, it was a tactic. If you can make people believe your lie by overwhelming the dialogue you will win. That is what they are doing.”
 
She made the point that there is a difference between social media and journalism. “When the power shifted from news [publishers] to platforms they forgot the gatekeeping editorial function. What now spreads on social media fastest are lies and hatred, which used to be moderated by editors.”

 The session was sponsored by the Judith Nielsen Institute.
 

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