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High Stake for Journalism on World Press Freedom Day

“If you read today’s headlines on the media environment, there’s a general uptick in disinformation crowding out primary media sources and concerns about how this impacts stability in communities worldwide,” says Tamara Babiuk, Co-Director of Dexis’ Center for Global Security and Stabilization, when discussing the importance of World Press Freedom Day.

Freedom House confirms that global press freedom has reached its lowest point in years, while Reporters without Borders cites a sharp increase in media controls by authoritarian regimes coupled with a decline in safety for journalists.

The press was once termed as the fourth estate of democracy. They keep checks and balances in play and hold people and institutions accountable. Yet in a post-truth era, the vital role of the press in a vibrant democracy is being challenged. This includes the troubling erosion of perceptions about journalism and concerns about its legitimacy, which is often fueled by political interests.

Yet Tamara speaks with admiration about journalists in the more than 70 countries where Dexis currently works, who remain committed to upholding press standards despite increasing pressures, threats of violence, and reduced support.

“There’s a new generation of investigative journalists who will do their work with or without substantial financial support,” she states. “They are worried about corruption in their countries and will make sure that people have objective information.”

Media professionals are adapting to stay afloat in the current environment by offering fact-checking services, performing social media analysis, or employing technology to determine what news is generated by bots. They’re expanding beyond their role as reporters and champions of truth to look more at the entire media and information landscape.

In this challenging environment, Dexis has been redoubling its efforts to support media development and press freedom including evaluating the effectiveness of donor-funded media programs to learn what works and can be improved, creating bridges between media and civil society, helping digital journalists to improve their use of social media tools, and training journalists to be more critical of their sources and make the public more aware of disinformation threats, tactics, and techniques.

Dexis’ work also includes organizing reporting tours for U.S. and foreign journalists to travel abroad and to the U.S. to make vital new contacts and develop in-depth news stories. For example, one journalist from Niger came to the U.S. to study issues of Muslims and tolerance in America, while a reporter from Burma investigated how Burmese diaspora are integrating in the U.S.

These programs deepen journalists’ investigative reporting skills and provide them with direct access to international sources. Such exchanges and interactions also offer their readers and viewers compelling firsthand coverage of international content.

For trainings and exchanges, it can sometimes be difficult to get journalists to leave their newsrooms amidst constant deadlines. Yet with diminishing subscriber bases in many places, journalists have real incentive for collaboration and sharing data.

Despite the numerous challenges facing press freedom around the globe, Dexis sees real points of hope, including a renewed interest in the important role media plays in programming that supports democracy and governance.

There’s a growing cross-sector of actors supporting press freedom. Well-known foundations are launching large-scale programs to revive local journalism. There’s an increase in press freedom advocacy partnerships with civil society, private funders, and businesses. Nontraditional players like the private sector value high quality journalism and want to see it proliferate.

We’re seeing a whole-of-society awareness where people aren’t taking press freedom for granted anymore. And there’s greater recognition of the role that truth needs to play, even if there’s confusion about where to find it.

Tamara Babiuk is the Co-Director of Dexis’ Center for Global Security and Stabilization (CGSS). She has worked in democracy and governance in over 20 countries and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communications.