Outgoing Head of News and Events, Jeff Dubin, addresses delegates at the 14th News Assembly, Paris
After almost 40 years in news, I still consider myself an idealist, and I’m sure that you’ll agree with me if I say that all of us in this room would all like to make a contribution to building a better world. It’s probably the reason many of us got into journalism in the first place. Honest, well-executed, quality journalism has had a profound impact on society by holding those in power to account, providing context on an increasingly inter-connected world, and helping us take a good hard look at ourselves, often resulting in significant social change.
Today we have an incredibly powerful array of tools at our disposal. But these tools of OUR trade are now also used by individuals, governments, politicians, propagandists and terrorists to bypass accountability and connect directly with the groups they wish to target (and often manipulate). These tools can be used to inspire or incite, create unity or division, elevate or manipulate, encourage harmony or hatred. Depending on who is using them, and to what end.
We are all drowning in a polluted sea...of facts, alternative facts, information and disinformation. Many societies are split, and polarized audiences, bombarded by noise from every direction, too often fail to distinguish fact from fiction, preferring to accept any argument which reinforces their existing beliefs. Too many others are simply tuning out.
I grew up in the US at a time when the 1960's version of new technology brought the world into our homes every night, and when the impact of television news on American society was exploding. Black and white images I witnessed as a child remain burned in my memory to this day. Water cannons and attack dogs used by police against adults and school children in Birmingham, Alabama, simply because they were black and demanding equal rights. Coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy, which brought a shocked and grieving nation to a standstill for four November days. The war in Vietnam - the living room war - when a divided nation witnessed nightly scenes from the battlefields, including US marines destroying a Vietnamese village by burning down huts with cigarette lighters, leading US President Lyndon to accuse the President of CBS News of having “shat on the American Flag” by airing the story. It did not deter future CBS news coverage. And then there was Watergate, where extensive live coverage allowed Americans to witness the process that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, and the conclusion that even the President of the United States was not above the law.
High-quality coverage of these events and others by broadcast and print media, contributed to how the US evolved as a country, particularly regarding civil rights, social change and its conduct in international relationships. In many ways I believe it also helped to shape what kind of journalist, and what kind of person, I became.
Helping to shape a national consciousness by providing accurate, unbiased information and context is a tremendous responsibility, and it requires real commitment. How can we help people lost in this content tsunami find their way, hopefully helping appeal to “better angels” instead of lower impulses. The price of truly meeting this commitment is high, but the price of failing to fulfil that responsibility will ultimately be higher.
In theory, public service media (PSM) journalism - free from commercial pressure, with secured finance and editorial independence for news output - is the ideal framework for fulfilling a public service journalism mandate. But, in practice, PSM is not exempt from the financial crisis - and the financial and political pressures require that difficult choices be made. However, I strongly believe that by recommitting to each other, and to the principles of reciprocity and solidarity that form the foundation of the EBU news community, EBU News and EBU Members can play an even more productive role in helping to make a sustainable contribution to society in the future.
The network of national media organizations that form the EBU Membership is an unrivalled source of news content and expertise, and the resources available to this news community are amazing. But I can’t help but think that we are still only scratching the surface, and that by reinforcing this reciprocal, collective effort, by committing and contributing resources when the story is on your territory, and benefitting from your fellow Members commitment when the story is on their turf, significantly more benefit can be provided to ALL Members.
Protection against the emergence of increasingly convincing deep fakes, and other types of disinformation, designed to deceive, can provide a real opportunity for the EBU news community. This diverse community with its first-hand coverage from correspondents on the ground, and the wide range of political, cultural, and regional subject matter expertise, is an unbelievable asset, and finding ways to better share intent and knowledge, along with artificial intelligence and other technology, could provide a formidable verification network and yield incredible results.
I said earlier that I was an idealist. I also remain an optimist. I am optimistic that the people in this room, and others committed to a free press, journalistic integrity and truly serving the public, will find a way to use their formidable intellect, skills and technology to inform, educate, and hopefully elevate the national and international discourse.
On a personal note, as many of you know, this will be my last News Assembly. I will be stepping down as EBU Head of News and Events at the end of the year and Liz Corbin, currently Head of News at BBC World News, will take over in January. Working with Benoit Balon-Périn and the News Committee, the EBU Membership, Justyna Kurczabinska and the EBU News Team, has been a real pleasure, and I am proud of what we've been able to accomplish. Liz joins an extremely dedicated and talented Geneva news team, and together I know they will add increasing value and move EBU news into the future.