It was a balmy, early summer Paris afternoon. I sat in the hotel garden, pondering the plight of journalism with editors from Pakistan, Ukraine, India, China, South Africa and more. The men and women, who are here for an international editors’ conference, spoke with anguish about the plague of “paid news” in their home countries, about government crackdowns and the curse of extreme commercialism.
But there are other threats to journalism today. We are confronting the disruptive forces of technological change that are threatening the survival of journalism as we know it – in Western democratic countries as well as transitional countries and dictatorships.
To fix journalism, we must venture outside the traditional boundaries of the craft. In an age when anyone can be a producer and a consumer of news, we need to recreate journalism by taking a new look at the role of media and information in society.
That’s what we’ve been working on at the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Informed Societies, where over the past two years, I have had the privilege of engaging in a dialogue with some of the smartest and most experienced media experts from around the world.
We members of the council were charged with the task of figuring out how societies and individuals can cope with the risks and opportunities of the information age. As a result, we have tried to define the idea of an “informed society”, to determine its core values, and to figure out ways to promote those values.
We have had many discussions and heated debates. We have brainstormed face to face at the GAC’s annual meetings and over teleconferences, and have produced long threads of email exchanges.
In the end, we have identified what we consider four key dimensions of informed societies: transparency, media literacy, privacy and the empowerment of citizens. All four of these dimensions have been transformed by the digital revolution, and all four require adjustment by societies and governments.
To provide a tool for promoting this task, we drafted a Code of Conduct for government leaders. While citizens and private businesses must help create and sustain informed societies, we must hold government leaders accountable, due to their command of public resources and the public trust vested in them, for making many of the necessary changes.
We hope the code will serve as a framework for governments to rise to the challenge of fostering informed societies. It will also offer the public specific actions to demand of their governments.
At the GEN conference in Paris, I’ll share our findings with leading editors and media innovators from around the world. In late June, I’ll take the message to Asia at yet another international media conference.
As we engage the public and government officials, we are also working on an index that will allow citizens and journalists to score the extent to which a particular country measures up to the model of an informed society.
We look forward to your feedback and participation in this exercise.
Yuen-Ying Chan, is the Professor of Journalism and Director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at The University of Hong Kong, and Chair (2011-2012) of World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Informed Societies. She can be reached at [email protected]