INTRODUCTION TO THE CONFERENCE BY YVES SCIAMA, PRESIDENT OF ASPI
Dear journalists, dear friends of journalism.
I would like to say a few words, and I promise to be very quick, about the central theme we have chosen for today’s conference, which is the independence of journalism.
I will not depress you this morning with complaints that times are difficult for science journalist. You all know that stuff very well.In fact what I want to do is the opposite. I want to talk to you about our privileges.
Journalists have two great privileges. The first one is that we love our job.
Now I suppose you are thinking “how does this guy who doesn’t even know me know I love my job?”
The answer is simple: if you are a professional journalist, everybody knows that you could make more money by doing something else!
So we love our jobs, and that is our first great privilege.
The second one is just as great: we have an audience. Just in this small room, we have people who work for Al Jazeera, for Le Monde, for the South China Morning Post, for National Geographic, for the Guardian, for El Pais, Die Ziet, the BBC and dozens and dozens of other outlets across the planet. If one quickly adds up the figures, one realizes that we, the 300 journalists in this room, talk to tens of millions of people, possibly over a hundred million.
These people listen to us. Of course they have their own opinions, they don’t follow us blindly.
If they agree with what we write, they will say we are great and insightful. But when they don’t agree, they will say we are lazy and ignorant, or even corrupt.
But still, they pay attention-and this attention that millions of people across the world give us is our second privilege.
But of course with these privileges comes a duty, and this duty, our duty, is to strive for independence in our reporting. What I mean by that is: make every effort to escape or minimize all the pressures that are put on us to tweak and twist reality. Strive to produce reporting that comes as close as possible to the truth-even if I know that the truth is a tricky concept.
Now, understand me well. Of course, nobody is completely independent, just because we live in a society, and because our media are embedded in an economy. So the pressures are powerful, and whoever you are, you are on that continuum between independent and under influence.
But you can work your way in one direction, or in the other.
I know there are colleagues who wrongly think that because they are in big powerful outlets that give them time and travel money, they can be done with thinking about independence. And there are other colleagues, at the opposite end of the spectrum, who think that ethics are a luxury for the rich, so they don’t have to think about it either.
Well the point I want to make is that wherever you are as a journalist, what you can do is, every day, on every story, try to increase your independence.
You can always choose not to be in denial about the pressures upon you, to try to understand them, to avoid or protect yourself from them, and if they are not avoidable to manage them in the best interest of your audience.
We have designed today’s programme to help you in that task. We have sessions about the conflicts of interest of our sources, about our own conflicts of interest, about the trustworthiness of our experts, about funding and business models, about political pressures and so on.
All these are all old problems? Maybe. But we believe journalists must continuously discuss independence, because in the end, journalism will only survive if it earns trust. If people don’t trust us, no matter how well we report, and what fancy tools and pretty pictures we have, they will not pay attention. And to be trusted, we have to be obsessed with ethics, and to become really smart about it.
So this is our duty as journalists, this is the price to pay for our privileges, and we hope today’s discussions can contribute to this duty. I wish you all a very fruitful conference!