Trust is part and parcel of a healthy media ecosystem, said International Press Institute (IPI) chair Khadija Patel.
Patel was speaking on a panel looking at trust and sustainability hosted by fraycollege on Tuesday 22 March 2022. The Twitter Space was hosted by fraycollege CEO Paula Fray who was also was joined by Professor and Director of the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, Herman Wasserman, News24 Assistant Breaking News Editor Sheldon Morias and Sonny Swe, founder and CEO of Frontier Myanmar.
In her opening remarks, Fray told listeners and speakers taking part in the Space that the media really exists to serve society.
“And if you operate from that point of view, it really influences the stories you write and the approach to your audience,” she said.
Putting trust on the media agenda
Wasserman says that for journalists, trust should also be at the forefront.
“Trust is important if, as a journalist, you want the public to listen to you and to believe you,” he said, adding that “lack of trust in the media is part of a global issue.”
He said part of global distrust in the media as a whole has a lot to do with the fact that the media is seen as an elite, sometimes untouchable, body.
Wasserman emphasised the importance of re-establishing trust between media and its audiences.
“It’s important for the media to re-establish trust with communities and build those relationships,” he said.
Trust on a global scale
Patel, in discussing the global overview of trust and sustainability in the media landscape, said there is an opportunity for members of the media to consider the way that things are done in order to reach audiences.
“There’s an opportunity for us to think about the way that we do things to reach our audiences but there are many opportunities hidden within it,” said Patel who is also the Head of Programmes for the International Fund for Public Interest Media.
She put forward that perhaps what the media, as an industry, requires is to begin to think about how to broach the issue of trust in the media – because trust is “part and parcel of a healthy media ecosystem”.
She said that globally, the climate for journalism is especially challenging, and in many places has been outright hostile.
“In the organisation I am working in now, which is a new organisation, we’d like to ensure that we’re able to have a bank of knowledge that we can distribute across the journalism ecosystem,” Patel said.
She said that because newsrooms are shrinking all over the world, members of the media simply don’t have the resources to tell all the news that needs to be told.
“But there are ways in which we can work together to resolve this,” Patel said.
Swe, who established Frontier Myanmar in 2015, said he and his team started the journey of changing the organisation’s DNA very early on, in order to earn the trust of audiences.
“We did this by building a community around responsible journalism,” he said, emphasising that writing honestly would bring desired results.
“As long as you’ve fact-checked and you’re reporting on the daily lives of people, I am sure you can ensure the audience’s trust,” he said.
His views were supported by Patel who urged journalists to relearn humanity: “Go back to basics and understand that we are our audiences – they are us and we are them,” she said.
From breaking news to trusted news, first
Morais gave background to News24’s shift from “Breaking News. First” to “Trusted News. First.”
In reference to this dynamic move by the media house, Morais said: “What we do ultimately leads to weakening or strengthening trust.”
He said while there’s a lot of distrust in the media, especially in the South African media landscape, there’s a need to assess what’s being done and what’s important to the South African readership.
Breaking news, first has been the focal point in many newsrooms,” he said.
“What’s most important is to build trust slowly, step by step, reflect the South African dynamic in all its facets and when you do get something wrong, be transparent and apologise where needs be,” he said.