Editorial comment – For the public good

Health minister Dr Iferemi Waqainabete talking to the media at the Superdrug Store after a wheelchair handover in Nabua, Suva, on Thurs 15 Apr 2021. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU/FT FILE

Today is supposed to be a special day for journalists.

Today is World Press Freedom Day.

For whatever it is worth, we hope today is an opportunity for people to understand the work of journalists, and that we will acknowledge people in the news and those who read, listen to, view, and surf the internet in search of information.

In the face of the overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic, journalists, now more than ever, face huge challenges.

They are sometimes misunderstood in Fiji.

They have feelings, bias, aspirations and they appreciate many things just like everyone else.

Many of them have families of their own, children to support, nurture and watch over.

Faced with many obstacles, passion for the job keeps many in this career.

Some have been ridiculed, snubbed, and publicly humiliated, sometimes by State officials.

It is important that those in authority are held to account, that there is truth to power.

There have also been many instances when journalists have been acknowledged and appreciated.

This can be thankless work.

However, there is personal satisfaction when a story contributed positively to improving the lives of families, and to the development of a community, village, town, city or the country.

For every journalist on the frontline, there are just as many in the background, from the editors of various departments, sub-editors in a newspaper, to people behind the scenes, working to get a radio or television program or web update ready for the masses.

There are the people in administration, finance, transport, advertising and marketing, and newspaper sellers, who all play an important role in the dissemination of information for the masses.

As we engage in the fight against the COVID-19 virus, the role of the media is critical to ensure people are in a position to make well-informed decisions.

In his message for today, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The global challenges we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic underline the critical role of reliable, verified and universally accessible information in saving lives and building strong, resilient societies.

“During the pandemic, and in other crises including the climate emergency, journalists and media workers help us navigate a fast-changing and often overwhelming landscape of information, while addressing dangerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.

“In too many countries, they run great personal risks, including new restrictions, censorship, abuse, harassment, detention and even death, simply for doing their jobs. The situation continues to worsen.”

The economic impact of the pandemic, he said, has hit many media outlets hard, threatening their very survival.

He warned that as budgets tighten, so too does access to reliable information.

“Rumours, falsehoods and extreme or divisive opinions surge in to fill the gap.

“I urge all governments to do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media. Free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation.

“The United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists aims to create a safe environment for media workers across the globe – because information is a public good.”

We are reminded that there must also be a great sense of responsibility.

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