Reporting for Democracy: The Role of a Free Press in Elections

Reporting for Democracy: The Role of a Free Press in Elections


PETER CLOTTEY:
Hello, and thank you for joining us for this
web chat commemorating the 26th anniversary of the
World Press Freedom Day. I’m Peter Clottey, host of
“Nightline Africa,” a radio magazine show, and “One on
One with Peter Clottey,” a TV segment on Voice of
America’s Africa 54 TV show. Journalists shine a
light on many issues– keeping citizens informed,
prompting robust discussion on serious issues, and holding
their governments, including our own, accountable. Today is an opportunity to
honor the many journalists who have dedicated their lives
and taken great risk to pursue this important work. During this discussion, we’ll
talk about the essential role that media plays in supporting
elections and democracy, especially in the
face of the increasing challenges of disinformation,
declining trust in news media, and intimidation and
violence against journalists. We’ll also talk about how the
digital transformation of media has created a fragmented news
and information landscape, and how that has impacted
election reporting. Those of you viewing online
can ask questions by submitting to them in the Comments section
next to the video player, or tweeting them
using #WFPD2019– that is, WFPD2019. Joining us today
is Lucinda Fleeson, an award-winning journalist
with extensive international training experience in
investigative reporting and election coverage. Lucinda has trained journalists
in Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America,
and South Asia. Her training manual for
Investigative reporting in developing
democracies has been translated into 18 languages and
circulated to more than 20,000 journalists. Our third panelist
Lori Montenegro, DC Bureau Chief on
Noticias Telemundo, will be joining us in
the Comments section. She will help answer
your questions and share links to resources. For the past 20 years, Lori
was a Washington correspondent for Telemundo covering the
White House, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, and
the Justice Department. She is a recipient of
the Presidential Award from the National Association
of Hispanic Journalists. I’d like to start things off
by asking our panel of experts a couple of questions related
to the main theme of today’s discussion, the role of a
free press in elections. Lucinda, you’ve spent many
years training journalists in election reporting. Can you start us off by sharing
your thoughts on the role journalism plays in
democracy and elections, and share some tips
for balanced coverage of candidates and the issues. LUCINDA FLEESON: Sure. Thank you, Peter, and hello,
journalists around the world. Whenever I travel
and work with you, I’m so impressed by your
ingenuity and resourcefulness. Elections are a time
when journalists really play an important,
pivotal, vital role. And it starts with just the
basics, informing voters. How can you vote? Where can you vote? When can you vote? Reporting on the process– are the election and
polls being played fairly? Are there election
monitors to ensure that? What happens when there are not? Oftentimes, you
have to report when things are not free and fair. But I also want
you to encourage– I also want to encourage you
to reach beyond those basics, and really inform the voters
on who these candidates are. That’s your job. And partly you can do it
by creating the narrative. What’s the story each campaign
candidate is telling you? Write in-depth feature profiles. Write issues. For instance, you might
just break out one issue– transportation, investment, how
are each of the candidates– what are their ideas
and proposals on that. Instead of talking to
the candidates every day, which unfortunately is the
practice around the globe– here too– get out and
talk to other people. What they think of the issues. What they think
of the candidates. Independent people,
pollsters, labor unions, independent
academics, historians, local-level
government officials, they all are important. Most of all, talk to the voters. Don’t just be a typewriter and– we don’t have typewriters
anymore– don’t just be a stenographer and record
the politicians’ statements. Get out and ask the voters. What are your concerns? Are you better off than you
were in the last election? Travel as far as you can. If you can’t get
out of the city, go into poor neighborhoods,
rich neighborhoods, and as far and wide in the
country as you can. PETER CLOTTEY: Thanks, Lucinda. In some regions of the
world, traditional media such as newspapers, TV,
and radio news programs are still the primary
sources of information in election coverage. However, digital platforms,
including social media and blogs, have grown
significantly in recent years and are now a key avenue by
which people consume news. Well, I will give you
an example about some of these instances in
Nigeria, for example, during the recent
presidential election. There were a few issues
of one group trying to me to intimidate the other and
prevent their supporters from going to vote. Where you had the Yoruba
people and the Igbo people, they are all from the South. However, because they thought
the Yorubas support the ruling party and the Igbo
support the opposition, they said, well Lagos
is for Yoruba people. Igbos need not vote. So some of them went round,
in spite of police protection, intimidating sometimes,
destroying ballot papers, ballot boxes. And so you have some
of these poll observers who are scared they
couldn’t go there. Some of the poll officials
couldn’t administer the poll correctly. So the electoral commission
was forced to cancel results from that section. So the opposition believed that
it was an orchestrated attempt just to intimidate and harass
the opponents from going to the polls, because they
thought the incoming president was going to lose. And Lagos being one
of the biggest states, the conventional wisdom is that
if somebody wins Lagos and wins Kano, the two most
populous states in Nigeria, the presidential
candidate automatically becomes President. So they did
everything they could to make sure that the
opposition guy didn’t win. But the ruling
party came and said, well this is not the case. There are a few hoodlums
who defy the electoral law, intimidating and all that. That should not be blamed
on the ruling party. But these are some
of the issues, as journalists,
that we have to take a critical look at and address
and report them accurately. Because if you fail to
report them accurately, there could be tension,
there could be kills, there could be violence. And some– at least 47 people
were killed, estimated figures by the government. So these are some
issues that we have to take a critical look at. What say you, Lucinda? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well, with
the growth of social media, unfortunately a lot
of these outlets– blogs, Facebook,
Instagram– they don’t follow the same practices
as we as journalists do. And so, rumors can start, and we
all know the danger of rumors. There’s been many instances of– in Africa, and really
elsewhere too, South Asia– where you’ve had these
social media outlets often be promoting biased information. And it can create
violence and killings. I think I read a poll recently
that 20% of African nation elections have
violence association. That’s a lot. PETER CLOTTEY: Thank you. Now before we jump
into viewer questions, let’s dig into a
poll question we shared on social
media in the days leading up to this discussion. We asked, what aspect
of election reporting are you most interested
in hearing about? You can see the
results on the screen. The top answer was the impact
of disinformation on elections, followed by the rule of a
free press in elections, then protecting journalists
from intimidation and violence. Lucinda, what are your
reactions to this poll? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well, I
think those are three really important issues. I’m going to start
out with the ensuring that elections
are free and fair. A lot of this has
to do with process. What we call process
stories, which is write about the
process of the election. How are the polls set up? In our country, in
the U.S., we have a lot of problems where
some of the polling stations are not accessible
in poor neighborhoods in certain states. Is that happening
in your country? A good way to judge your own
nation is, what is the gold– is to look at, what
is the gold standard? How are elections
monitored and carried out in countries where
they do it right? And then you can
just report on that, and then compare your country. Talk to the election monitors. Are there international
independent monitors coming in? They often will hold
press conferences and tell you how the
polling is going. So every step of the
process of the election– leading up to it,
during, and after. Write those stories. They’re often not
that controversial, and they’re there should be
information about it, too. I know a lot of you
are in countries where the results are disputed,
often for weeks or months. Just continue to write the daily
stories on how that happens and seek out experts
to comment on them. I also want to take up
the second one of how can journalists
protect themselves from intimidation and violence. A lot of you are in countries
where that’s a problem. And as Peter introduced
me, I teach a lot of investigative reporting. It sounds simple,
but one of the best ways journalists can
protect themselves is to be accurate and fair. I know of instances
where violence has occurred because the
journalists were not fair. For instance, I’m not going
to say what country it is, but I am familiar with a case
where the journalists, a TV station, broadcast a
story that intimated that the President was
beating up his wife. There wasn’t any proof, and
it was kind of a nasty story. Well, the TV station had a
big reaction and violence against it, which is
wrong, but if they were fair in the first
place, perhaps they could have prevented that. So your first armor is
to be fair and accurate. The second thing is– I like a rule that we used
to use at the Philadelphia Inquirer– which is
don’t become part of the story, Which is, don’t
get yourself hurt or killed. Don’t do something foolish. It’s not your job to get
out there and stop violence. Your job is to be
safe and secure, so you can report on it. And then last– Peter, what should we
say about disinformation? PETER CLOTTEY: Well,
disinformation sometimes is dangerous. I will give an example
in Sierra Leone, for instance, where there was
this rumor that the opposition party has brought
in some equipment to manipulate the
election results. Had it not been a
former head of state from the neighboring
country to step in to say no, let’s address
this accordingly. Some of us approach the Chairman
of the electoral commission who said well, our system
is analog, so there is no way you can
bring in a machine to manipulate the figures. And that calmed tension. But that disinformation could
have created a whole lot of mess, unfortunately. Well now, let’s
take some questions from the Comments
section of those following along on Twitter
using the hashtag WPFD2019– that is, WPFD 2019. Oh, here is how do digital
platforms influence an electoral process, Lucinda. LUCINDA FLEESON:
Well, you know when we’re talking digital
platforms, that’s a huge thing. Are we talking about the online
website of reputable news organizations? Oftentimes the digital
version of news organizations can be more full and
complete than even their short broadcasts
or their newspapers. So I would say
that’s a good thing. Digital platforms could also
include blogs and Facebook. Again, it depends on
how accurate they are, or if their stories
are being planted– as we have cases
in this country– by interfering foreign parties. So yes, they can influence. PETER CLOTTEY: Well the
second part of the question is, how can citizens be
protected from disinformation? How can ordinary citizens
support journalists and a free press, especially
in the face of threats of violence and intimidation. LUCINDA FLEESON: Let’s
go back to the first one first, which is how can– PETER CLOTTEY: –citizens be
protected from misinformation. Right. LUCINDA FLEESON: The
news organizations have a duty and a responsibility
to be as accurate as possible. And I think that
what’s happened now, is that with all
this digital news, there’s sometimes pressure
to rush to print something that the competitors are,
to broadcast something. And I think the real lesson
is, everyone has to confirm their own information. Don’t just repeat
it because you’re seeing that your
competitor is, or you want to rush to be
first with the story. That’s a tough thing to do,
but it needs to be done. The other thing that, how can
citizens protect themselves? This is easier
said than done too. Citizens need to be able
to analyze news sources as whether they’re credible. And this, it requires a lot. It requires them
to look at websites and see who is funding them. Look at news organizations and
say, do I believe these or not? And, you know, that’s a big job
and not everyone’s doing it. PETER CLOTTEY: The next question
is from the U.S. Embassy in the Malawian
capital, Lilongwe. It says, what can
journalists do to make sure that there is no
tension as voters wait for election results,
in case there’s a delay. Because their election,
general election, is on May 21. LUCINDA FLEESON:
Hello, Lilongwe. I was there a couple of
years ago, and I enjoyed it. You can’t make up
information, but you can tell and share
with the voters every step of the process. You know, you can interview
the election officials and the parties every day,
and give them updates. And you know, that’s all you can
do, really, but that’s a lot. Share– full disclosure. Disclose with them and share
with the voters everything you know about it, and
why the delays are there. PETER CLOTTEY: The election
officials in Malawi sometimes have been
forthcoming when you call them. They quickly answer
your question. Well, Rena asks, how can the
media handle impartiality in the electoral process? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well,
when you say handle, I think you maybe mean ensure– ensure impartiality in
the electoral process. Again, this is something that
is one of our first duties in election coverage is,
report on the process. Share with voters. Are they being set–
are the polling stations, and the counts,
and the monitoring officials adhering to
international guidelines? Ask them. Compare them. If you have international
media monitors, it’s easier. Because as I say,
they often will even have a press conference
on a daily basis. But find out what
the standards are, and see how your country
is adhering to them. PETER CLOTTEY: Well, the
second part of the question is, aside from
disinformation, what are some potential unforeseen
consequences and risk of digital media on how citizens
consume election reporting. Who is responsible for
protecting against the risks. LUCINDA FLEESON: Well,
in this country we don’t– in the United States,
we don’t believe that the press should be licensed or there’s
no government body that punishes them except for the courts. There are some rules about
fairness in broadcast. So it varies from
country to country. But there are many,
many instances of biased media
around the world. I’m thinking of South
Asia and Africa, in particular, where
some news outlet– they’re not even news outlets– when there were
some biased groups have set up particularly
radio stations, and broadcast what is
clearly hate messages. And this has incited
violence and interfered with the election. Who’s responsible
for stopping that? It depends on each country. But it’s perhaps
your responsibility as a reporter to
report on these things, and report how they adhere to
what everyone would believe are international
standards for reporting. What do you think, Peter? PETER CLOTTEY:
Unfortunately, sometimes when you have this kind of
disinformation and impartiality and all that, it gives
the government the leeway to crack down on the media,
which is quite unfortunate. LUCINDA FLEESON: That’s right. PETER CLOTTEY: So you have
some journalism groups all across the
continent, sometimes. Those who belong to those
groups sometimes are a little bit more upright and
follow the rules of journalism. However, those
bloggers, sometimes they are not held to
the same standard. And people often
gravitate towards that. And that is the challenge. So journalists will need to
be accurate and fast to put the information out, the
credible information out there, in order to try to blunt
the effects or the side effect of what misinformation
they’ve put out. Otherwise, we’ll all
be in deep trouble. And then you have the
government cracking down. They come up with laws
that are quite oppressive, and then it
snowballs from there. It makes it difficult for
journalists to do their jobs. And sometimes, they can even use
violence or state institutions, you know, to suppress the media. We’ve seen it in a number
of African countries. LUCINDA FLEESON: Absolutely. And you know, sometimes– More and more are creeping
into the mainstream press and broadcast are
reports about social media. And sometimes, it becomes the
mainstream news organizations’ responsibility to report
that these false rumors are– or, unverified rumors–
are taking place. I’m thinking of right
now in Sri Lanka, where following the terrible
Easter Sunday bombings, the country shut down Facebook
and a lot of social media. And there was one column that
I read where they said, good, because this prevents
the spread of rumors. I don’t if it’s good or
not, but in these kind of crisis situations– and, you could argue
for elections, too– people really want to
know what’s happening. And that’s our role, is to
provide that information. And when we don’t know
whether something is true, just say that too. PETER CLOTTEY: That’s true. And sometimes, the
election officials must be up and doing to
provide information out there, or else you have
people coming up with all kinds of
suspicions and rumors, you create unnecessary
tension and chaos, possibly. Because once people don’t
know, it creates a vacuum. Then all kinds of actors
will come in to act, and sometimes it would not be
to the interests of the country. And that is what we
need to guard against. The other part of the question
is, what role do other actors outside of the political space,
especially private companies, have in combating disinformation
and supporting a free press? And why does this matter
for elections and democracy? LUCINDA FLEESON:
That’s kind of broad. I mean, I’m thinking– in
corporations, oftentimes– is their role funding campaigns? Is that what we’re
talking about here? It depends. I mean, ideally every country
should have campaign finance laws, where reporters
and everyday citizens can look and see who is
giving money to candidates. Perhaps your country
doesn’t have that. Many don’t. If so, you can
report on that fact. That we don’t know–
you know, there are no campaign finance laws. Sometimes, it becomes
journalists’ role to think on the long view. OK, we don’t have that
kind of access now. What can we as
journalism organizations do to lobby and create new
laws that would allow that? Because that’s a part
of our duty, too. If you don’t like
the laws right now, let’s have an active
role in government in getting more
free information. And I know that’s a long view. It may take 10, 20
years, maybe longer. But it’s worth doing as
activists and journalists pressing for freedom
of information. PETER CLOTTEY: The
interesting part of that is, most
of these countries have in their constitution
freedom of expression. You know, the Constitution
guarantees it. But sometimes, because of things
that might not necessarily please the government,
those accesses get shrunk, and it’s getting increasingly
shrunk in a lot of places. So I guess the
fight still goes on. U.S. Embassy Lilongwe asks,
how can we increase voter participation among the youth? LUCINDA FLEESON: Hmm. Well, first of all
I’m thinking, is that the news media’s
responsibility, or is that the
political parties? I would take that
as a broader view and say, how can you increase
youth involvement in news and just being informed? And, you know one thing
that has been growing, although not fast enough, is
the idea of news literacy. And it’s starting to
be taught in schools now, although not enough– which is teaching
people, citizens, youth how to analyze their
own information sources to make
sure they’re getting independent and
impartial information. And those are
really good things. PETER CLOTTEY: Well,
in some countries, I’ve seen the political parties
getting involved where they go and talk to the citizens
to try to [INAUDIBLE] vote in their campaigns and rallies. The electoral commission
itself sometimes are giving some
budget to educate the people through traditional
media, the newspapers, TV. Now they are going digital too
with Twitter, blogs, and all that. And then you have
the civic education. Nongovernmental
organizations also, you know, have been doing that in some
countries that I’m aware of. But everybody has
to get involved. I mean, it is your civic duty. You have to do it. So Kanataka asks, there are
certain prescribed ethics for conventional media. However, the same is not
applicable for new media. Has the time come
to codify ethics for new media or social media? If yes, how do we go about it? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well as I said
before, in the United States, we don’t believe
that there should be licensing or mandatory codes. However, most credible,
responsible news organizations have their own code of ethics. And those have been adapted
to cover news new media. I’m thinking in the
Washington Post, which has a very strong
code of ethics, and that covers
whether journalists can blog their personal view on
issues while being a reporter. The answer is no. And oftentimes
they can be fired I mean there have been many
instances of reporters being fired for expressing
political report opinions about
candidates when they’re supposed to be impartial. So there– you can
find these very easily. Google, Washington
Post code of ethics, and you’ll see that a good one. And various news organizations
have promulgated them as well. PETER CLOTTEY: The U.S.
Consulate General Chennai asks, how can journalists
best fact-check the statements of
political leaders during election coverage? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well, that’s
become a whole industry. My friend Angie Holan
over at PolitiFact gives lectures on this and has
tip sheets on how to do it. But in essence, they
take every speech and go through the facts. And you know, what once– you know, Google is our friend. We can fairly quickly fact
check with independent facts, their own statements,
and this should be done. And I don’t know– I encourage everyone
to look at PolitiFact. It’s not the only
one, but what I love about them is that they
give a rating to politicians for each speech, which is
green, true, goes up to yellow, and then at the very end
of the meter is red– liar, liar, pants on fire. PETER CLOTTEY: Interesting. You know, I’ve seen instances
in some African countries where the politicians
who make some of these false
statements, so to speak, get upset when the
facts are brought out. Some of their supporters
don’t take kindly to that. They go to the
media stations, they attack them, and all of that. But then, that
should not stop them from doing the right thing,
because the citizens deserve to know what they
are being told. Because they have
the final decision to make to choose
the best candidate. So I would encourage
them, go ahead. Check your facts, put
the facts out there. It may not be pleasant
to the people who are spewing some of these
negative or false narratives and sometimes they
might come at you. But you have to be
careful that you don’t insinuate or call them names. You just put the
facts out there. Let the citizens
themselves make a judgment of who is telling the
truth, or otherwise. Well, Rafael asks,
how can journalists protect themselves from
criminal prosecution for doing their work? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well, again we
don’t have criminal prosecution here for just doing their work. But in terms of accuracy– accuracy, accuracy, fairness. The one case that we had– times in the United States
we’ve had criminal prosecution– is where journalists have
been subpoenaed and asked to reveal their sources. They usually will not do it. And then we have had
cases of reporters going to jail rather than
name their sources I, as a journalist,
devoted myself to trying to get people on the
record as much as possible. I mean, I didn’t– I would listen to
off-the-record things, but I didn’t really like it. I didn’t really like
quoting anonymous sources. So that’s one way
to protect yourself, is don’t quote
anonymous sources. It sounds Utopian or ideal,
but I found that you actually can usually convince
people to go on the record if you just say, well,
now wait a minute. Let’s see, what can you
put on the record here? I don’t know what other
kind of criminal prosecution you have in mind. PETER CLOTTEY:
That’s a tough one. I’ve seen instances where, even
when people go on the record and you play back the same
information, they say, Ah! My voice was distorted. You know, you’ve had
instances like that, so sometimes it’s
a difficult one. Sabrina from U.S. Embassy
Bridgetown asks, to what extent should a journalist
known to be affiliated with a political party, report
for said political party? LUCINDA FLEESON: Never. I mean I know, I
know this is done. But the problem is,
you know, you really don’t have credibility to be
independent and impartial. If you report for
a political party and are identified
as such, that’s OK. And you’re an activist then. And there are such a thing
as journalism activists for a cause. But you should be
identified as such. I mean, then you become a
spokesman for the party, or I won’t say
political hack, but– What do you think, Peter? PETER CLOTTEY: I think
citizens can really determine which is credible. Which news item is
credible and which is not. And sometimes, I
have seen instances where journalists
would get information from a political party
and then it planted. And then they have their byline. But then people will say,
what happened to you? Where is the balance? If you don’t take care,
your credibility will go. And in our kind of profession,
if your credibility goes, you’re finished. I mean, who will believe you? LUCINDA FLEESON: And you know
what, the readers and viewers are pretty smart. PETER CLOTTEY: Absolutely! And that is what sometimes
the people tend to forget, that people will read what
you are putting out there, and they will decide whether
you are being genuine, credible, or, you know, otherwise. Farzana at American Center
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, asks, are there
organizations which protect international
journalists’ rights? LUCINDA FLEESON:
Yes the Committee to Protect Journalists
is based in New York, and they do important work
around the world, really. And they do advocate for better
press laws, better media laws, and that’s the one
that comes to mind. PETER CLOTTEY: Yeah committed– I mean, they are all over. They’ve been very good at
sometimes getting lawyers to represent members
in several countries. I’ve seen a few of them
where they got lawyers to protect them because
they’ve figured the guys were doing the right thing. They wrote credible
stories, but then the powers that be didn’t
like them and they will try to use the state
institutions to intimidate and harass them. Probably they might
not have a case, but because they
have their power, they try to use
those institutions. And those people
have gotten off, because the courts have
come to the conclusion that hey, this
guy is just trying to use political influence
to silence somebody here. Sometimes they are
not so lucky, but– LUCINDA FLEESON: Yeah
they put pressure. They also, by the way,
publish an annual roster, unfortunately, of
all the journalists who have been killed
and attacked every year. PETER CLOTTEY: All right,
the viewing group at the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone,
Botswana asks, is it ideal to set up a counsel
that approves and regulates journalists? Or can they self-regulate? LUCINDA FLEESON:
Well as I said, we don’t believe in that
kind of regulation in the United States. I’ve seen it in other countries. And you know, I personally
don’t agree with it. I think the marketplace
corrects and regulates. As you said, if your
credibility goes, you’re kind of gone
as a journalist. What’s your view on that, Peter? PETER CLOTTEY: Well,
I have seen instances where journalism groups like
southern Africa journalists organization, they have a
group called MESA, you know, and they are quite good. They have training workshops
for the member groups so people are abreast with
modern things of reporting, and to be impartial,
and to be credible and fact check and all of that. So I think those can
help, because the sad part is, if you don’t follow some
of these rules to be credible, to ensure your facts are– all your I’s are dotted
and T’s are crossed, you will give these
so-called oppressors, who do not want
information to get out, the leg room to suppress. And that is not what you want,
because you want to be free. You want to uphold
the stipulations of the Constitution,
which guarantees freedom of expression
among other issues. LUCINDA FLEESON: And
groups like MESA, which is a very good group,
I’ve worked with them, there is strength in
numbers, particularly where you’re in instances where there
may be violence or government pressure. You know, this is
a really good time to have a journalism
fraternity and sorority to represent you in Parliament
or in court to help you. There is strength in numbers. PETER CLOTTEY: Absolutely. Another question from the U.S.
Embassy in Gaborone, Botswana. In the U.S.A. There
are media houses that are known to
be pro-Republican or pro-Democratic. Should we copy this
practice in Africa? LUCINDA FLEESON: No. Yes we do, and in the old
days, 100 years ago, there was a lot of that in the media. And then we got away from there. I mean, everyone
pretty much agrees that Fox News is a fan
of the Republican Party. Now the Republicans say that
everything else is Democrat, and I don’t agree with that. But certainly, the
editorial pages of some of our major
newspapers are– lean toward liberal, but it
depends on your point of view. I don’t know, would
you agree with that? PETER CLOTTEY: Well, I think
you have a strong point. But then you also
have to take a look at where they are
in terms of how the embrace of the
tenets of democracy is. Because well, the U.S. Has
been practicing democracy for well over 200 years. In a lot of these African
countries, some of them are between 20 to 30. And then, there have
been interruptions of military interventions
here and there. So you need to look
at where you are. In some West African countries,
and southern African countries. I know, the role of the media
is very strong in those areas because they have been
stable for so long. And so, the politicians and
the powers that be usually well allow them to operate
with some freedom. It’s not so in a lot
of other countries. So it’s the way democracy is. You know there are burgeoning
democracies in these countries. So we have to weigh the two. Here, the U.S. has been stable
for a very, very long time. So they can experiment
with whatever they want. Some African countries don’t
have that luxury to do that. LUCINDA FLEESON: Good point. PETER CLOTTEY: U.S.
Consulate Karachi asks, some say that control over
digital media by governments can be beneficial
for the masses. What do you think? LUCINDA FLEESON:
What kind of control? I mean, you know,
do we want them to be able to cut off our
internet and phone service? I don’t. Do we want them
controlling content? I mean, you know we
see in some countries– I’m thinking of China– where you virtually
can’t get Facebook or many other digital platforms. So, I don’t know. I just read a
really good article in the “New York
Times” about YouTube, about the way that
they’re grappling with trying to shut down quickly
when there are mass attacks. And they’re having trouble. I’m not sure I want to throw
the government into that mix of controlling that. One thing I like to think
about, is when the Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary– in 1958, I think– the first thing they did
is, they went and destroyed the radio station. And why? Because they wanted to cut off
communication to the people. And I feel the same way
about digital access. We don’t want anyone
shutting that down. PETER CLOTTEY: Press freedom
should be that– press freedom. If you allow people to
weigh in to control it, they will control
it to an extent that the press
freedom will be lost. So do not give them any room. If you give them
that room, trust me, I have seen instances where the
government will use an excuse such as, well we want
to prevent instability and to maintain the territorial
integrity of the country. So we have to shut it
down, you know that, for people not to go
up in arms and try to destabilize the country. That is a way of
shutting down free press, and you don’t want that. American Corner UDP,
Santiago, Chile, asks, are there any types of
electronic systems that can mitigate the effect
of slanderous campaigns, such as ranked choice voting
instead of majority rule? And what do you think
the outcome would be in the field of journalism? LUCINDA FLEESON: I’m not
sure what ranked choice– PETER CLOTTEY: I’m
not sure, either. But I guess in some
instances where– LUCINDA FLEESON: Oh I know. It’s where you vote for your
first, second, and third choice, and then
they eliminate some. And so that– Yeah. I have to say I’m not familiar
enough on ranked choice. I do think that slanderous– I’d like to address
that question. Is there anything that
can be done to protect against slanderous campaigns? Slander, libel,
in this country it is something that
can be attacked through the civil courts. And I believe that. I don’t think that we
should be promulgating slanderous statements
or libelous statements against people. And that, you know, is again
where fact checking comes in. And I think, for instance, if
you have one camp of candidates slandering another,
the role we can play is to immediately fact check
and point out if it’s incorrect. PETER CLOTTEY: I mean, fact
checking is the best way. That’s your best
tool to save yourself from reporting the slander,
because you could end up at the court. So U.S. Embassy
Gaborone, Botswana asks, how do you deal with
plagiarism in online media? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well
that’s a good question. Again back to codes of
ethics for journalists– and I really suggest you do
look up the Washington Post code of ethics because
they go into this– again, when it’s
found out, journalists have been swiftly fired. It’s so easy to cut and paste,
you know, but it’s wrong. It’s wrong whether it is in
the newspaper, or on the air, or on a blog. And it is easily found out,
particularly because we can Google these things. I mean, as a as a professor,
I used to Google sometimes sentences, you know, to see if
they popped up someplace else. So it’s easily found
out, and it should be punished by the news
organizations, themselves. PETER CLOTTEY: Just
avoid it, you know. Just avoid it. Just write your own stuff. I mean, there’s nothing
wrong with that. If you write it, and
it’s wrong, your editor might correct you
and move along. There’s no need in
copying somebody’s work. LUCINDA FLEESON:
Write your own stuff. That’s our motto. PETER CLOTTEY: All right, U.S.
Embassy Yaounde in Cameroon writes, in a situation of
conflict crisis characterized by violence and human
rights violations, there’s bound to voters
apathy, especially among women. Yet in my country,
women are encouraged to participate in
political leadership. What role should
journalists play to ensure an effective
participation of women in such context? LUCINDA FLEESON:
You know, I’m not sure there’s anything
special to do, except again, this
is media literacy. Make sure that,
if it’s possible, there’s media access
throughout the community. I mean, radio is a wonderful
media throughout Africa. And again, I’m not
sure it’s our role to ensure that
people participate. It’s our role to provide
the information so they can. PETER CLOTTEY: I can
understand the background because in the southern
part of Cameroon, there’s this ongoing crises
of conflict where you have what you call the Ambazonians
fighting the government. They want a free country
or a separate country. So that has been going on. Some journalists who have
been reporting about it have got in trouble with
some of the authorities. Because the authorities
believe they’ve been slanting to favor
one or the other, and they’ve gotten
themselves into trouble. A case in point was
a lady journalist who the authorities felt
that she reported wrongly about some deaths, about some
situations that the powers that be wanted to keep secret. That is what she said. She got into trouble. She was sent to the court. She was released subsequently. I don’t know what
has been the case. But there is this
tension going on. Of course, the
international community has spoken about it,
encouraging both the government and the opposition to
try to resolve that. But that is the
background to the question that this guy was asking. U.S. Consulate
Karachi, Pakistan asks, how can journalists and
social media activists counter and avoid trolling
and abusive language? LUCINDA FLEESON: Don’t do it? I don’t know. Maybe this is in the–
what they’re talking about in the Comments section. Probably. You know, when a story’s
published on social media, and then there’s comments. I don’t know,
because you know, not every media organization can
afford to monitor and edit the comment sections. And I know because of that,
some outlets have actually taken away the comment
sections because they just can’t control it. I don’t know how to
counter and avoid trolling and abusive language. Again, you have to have
someone there to look at it and remove it. And if it’s the official
news organization’s website, it’s probably worth it. PETER CLOTTEY: I mean,
I’ve seen instances where there are editors who look
at those and just remove them. I mean, just remove them and
save everybody any headache. American Corner
University, Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile asks,
will good journalism lay the groundwork
for fair democracy? Or will good democracy lay the
groundwork for fair journalism? LUCINDA FLEESON: Both. PETER CLOTTEY: So you
have your answer there. Sabrina Foster at
the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown Barbados
asks, how difficult is it for traditional media
to correct disinformation after it has been
circulating for a while? LUCINDA FLEESON: You
know, it’s difficult. And what I’m
thinking of right now is the anti-vaccine movement. You know. traditional media has,
for more than 10 years, been correcting this incorrect
information that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism. And people just
don’t believe it. We can’t control
what people believe, but we can continue
to correct it and not publish the wrong information. PETER CLOTTEY: Well, Fatima
Umar, U.S. Embassy Abuja, Nigeria– how can media
combat recent damage to its reputation as a neutral
and unbiased profession. LUCINDA FLEESON:
Do the right thing. You know, journalists are never
going to be terribly popular. That’s not our job. In fact, I used to say, when
both sides were attacking me it means I’m
probably being fair. PETER CLOTTEY: Well, see, in
the Nigerian media landscape– anytime you go to
Nigeria you want some of the best
media organizations to read the material and stuff– they would mentioned
quite a few, and they would tell you the rest
are this, or the rest of that. Because some of
the politicians own some of these media
organizations. So, all the stories are
tilted to favor them against the opponent. So we have to be very careful. But being unbiased, cross
checking your facts, and writing the facts as you
see them, is the best way to go. Because as we said,
if you are slant– if you slant a story, or if
you commit any libelous act, you will be taken to the court. And sometimes, some
people might attack you for doing the right
thing, but that should not stop you from doing that. And as we said, if your
reputation is soiled– if your credibility is
undermined by your actions– you are finished in
our kind of profession. So, you have to stay
true to yourself. Write the stories as you
see them, check your facts, and put them out there. Let the citizens make their
own judgment on the best information you put out there. LUCINDA FLEESON: Amen! PETER CLOTTEY:
Another question– how can the international
community more effectively work together to improve
journalist safety and counter violence
and intimidation against journalists worldwide? LUCINDA FLEESON:
Well, it’s a subject that is dear to the heart
to many journalists, many international journalists. There are– you know,
another organization that I would direct you to is
the DART Center for trauma. And they do quite a bit
of work on improving, or trying to
protect, journalists and taking their
own safety measures. In fact, you can find
some guidelines there on how to do it. There’s always more
work to be done. It’s never enough. PETER CLOTTEY: But
you know, journalists would also have to take their
safety into their own hands. You have to be mindful of
the kind of work that you do. If you are an
investigative reporter, you know you sometimes come up
with some stunning revelations. And people who want to
keep the information secret will come after you. So you have to be very careful. I’ve seen instances
where friends of mine will cover their faces, or
not go to certain places because they know some of
their investigative work are quite explosive. Some of them got
even judges fired. Their supporters
came after them. Some politicians lost elections
because of some information that came out because
of investigative work. So of course, their supporters
are going to come after you. So you have to be
mindful of where you go, where you visit,
people you talk to. Your safety should
be your priority. LUCINDA FLEESON: Absolutely. I mean, oftentimes when I
do investigative reporting training, for instance,
it will always be– it will often be
young girls who want to go investigate human
trafficking and prostitution. I don’t think this is a great
idea, to go to those places where it’s happening and
start asking questions alone at night. You know, some of it is
just common sense safety. PETER CLOTTEY: Absolutely. A few questions have
come on specific tools that can be used to fact check
your work or your information. What tools do you use
in your daily work to check facts and
new information? How many sources do you
need to have to verify a new piece of information? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well, I think
I saw you answering that first, so why don’t you go ahead first. PETER CLOTTEY: Right. I would– at VOA, what
we do is, in order to ensure that you are safe, and
your information is credible, we have three
independent sources that would have to confirm. I go a little further
by talking to people who know the subject to
confirm or deny the story, apart from having these
three independent sources. And I think with the
three independent sources, you are on a safer side rather
than going out with information that could be challenged
and as a result could damage your reputation or credibility. So these are some of the
things that you have to do. Sometimes, you can even
Google a few of the things that you want to find
out to really ascertain whether these are factual or
just somebody just putting things out there. And I also have
instances where I have to call people, or
approach them, to say, hey, I heard this. What really happened? Going to the real
news maker sometimes will save you a lot of headache. LUCINDA FLEESON: Hey! I’m so glad. That is such good advice,
Actually pick up the phone and try to verify it
yourself, not just– You know, how many
journalists today spend their time in the
office on the phone and– I mean on the ph–
on the computer, and not even on the
phone or going out. That’s great. PETER CLOTTEY: It’s easy to
have the usual eight hours and not put in a lot of
time to verify your source. A lot of people want to
get the easy way out. They come and do their
regular eight hours and go. But if you really want to
have your information correct, sometimes it goes
beyond the eight hours. And that’s what we need
to pay attention to. LUCINDA FLEESON: And
there are other things. There are now– and you can
easily find this by doing a Google search– there are visual fact checking. So for instance, say that
there’s a doctored photo. You often can find
the original photo. I’m thinking of– there was a
flood in a town in New Jersey here, and there was a picture
of a shark fin swimming down the street. Well, by doing a little
search in Google Images, you can find the
image of that shark. So it was obviously
photo docked– I mean Photo-shopped. So there’s many imaginative
tools out there. PETER CLOTTEY: Daniel Mesfin
of the American Center in the Ethiopia
capital Addis Ababa, asks, how can
journalists be accurate in fast changing
situations, especially in countries with restricted
information space, where it is very difficult
for reporters to find and confirm information? LUCINDA FLEESON:
Journalism is not easy, and unfortunately,
there are no shortcuts. You just have to go through
the process and work on it. And despite the pressure to be
first, it’s better to be right and 10 minutes late. I mean, I know this
easier said than done, but it comes down to
that basic practice. PETER CLOTTEY: A
lot of instances, where I’ve gone to
countries where it’s difficult for local journalists
to get information out, I just go to the sources
of the information. You go to the
officials who matter. Ask them the question. Sometimes, they may be rude. Sometimes they might not provide
the information you need. But that should not stop you
from asking those questions. By so doing, sometimes you
can even get verification from other subordinates,
and they will correct the information that you have. They might confirm it. I’ve had instances like
that, and that helps. LUCINDA FLEESON: But you
know, the other thing is, back to the what’s in
favor of using the internet, I go to a lot of trainings
where journalists say there are no public records. And part of the training
is to show them how you can find public records. Because there’s more
there than you think. And this becomes a burden
for us, each of us, to train ourselves. And I remember there was– are we connected with Nigeria? PETER CLOTTEY: Yes, there was
a question from Abuja, yes. LUCINDA FLEESON: OK. Well, in Lagos the webmaster
in the Lagos embassy was a guy I really liked. And he used to say, you’re in
charge of your own education here. If you have 10
minutes a day only, work to increase
your digital skills. I mean, he was lucky. He started out by going to a
training in Reuters London. And when the training
was over at five o’clock, you know the other
reporters went out, he stayed in the computer lab
learning as much as he could. And he just educated himself
until he became the webmaster. I mean, we all have to do that. Even old gray haired
people like me, you know, we’re in charge
of our own education. And if we don’t keep current,
we’re going to be left behind. PETER CLOTTEY: That’s
what I was saying. You have to go beyond
what is required of you. You know, that to get
the requisite information that you need. How can we maximize
the potential benefits of social media? That is accessibility,
democratizing information, while mitigating
the potential risks? LUCINDA FLEESON: Well,
it’s standard practice now, for a lot of reporters,
to gather information from social media. For instance, I’m
sure you probably all know this, that there
are wonderful Facebook groups on various subjects. Everything from diabetes
to immigrant children. And you can find people
to interview this way. Some radio reporters will send
out a question in the morning. I’m working on this topic today. Is there anybody there that
is experiencing difficulty, or knows something about this? And then, back from
Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat
they’ll get answers. So it can be a wonderful tool
to find people to interview. PETER CLOTTEY: Explore
as much as you can. The final question is,
what role do other actors outside of the political space,
especially private companies, have in combating disinformation
and supporting a free press? Why does this matter for
elections and democracy? LUCINDA FLEESON:
Well again, I’m not sure what the
context for this is. Are we talking about private
countries like social media organizations? Like YouTube and Facebook and– I’m not I’m not quite sure.
, I mean I think this is a discussion that’s
going on right now. What is their responsibility to
shut down the disinformation? And I don’t think we’ve come
to a conclusion on this yet. It’s a tricky question,
because we don’t– we want free information, but we don’t want
to give the megaphone to people that are spreading lies. PETER CLOTTEY: I think one of
the significant ways by which we can combat disinformation
is to put the accurate information out there. That’s a significant
thing we can do. And we have to go the
extra mile by crossing every possible
obstacle that we can, to put the right
information out there. Because people will
be able to tell. I can’t tell you
enough about people sending you Whatsapp messages,
Instagram messages, Facebook messages, trying to find out
if the information they have is correct or not. Because they know you are
you are into journalism, and so they come to you
asking you questions. People will not–
others will not do that. But the mere fact that they
come to you means something. It means they want to get
the accurate information. These are some of
the things that we have to do in order to put
the right information there and to combat the disinformation
or rumor spreading by the people who really want
to create unfortunate things. LUCINDA FLEESON:
Well Peter, you and I seem to agree on a lot of this. Accuracy, accuracy,
the extra mile. PETER CLOTTEY: That’s. The only way to go OK, it looks
like we’re almost out of time. Thank you all so much for
your fantastic questions and comments. We’ve really covered
a lot of ground today. Hopefully those of
you watching will continue engaging on these
important press freedom and election reporting issues. Lucinda, do you have any
final thoughts to share? LUCINDA FLEESON: Just– I salute you all in
your other countries. I know that you face
a lot of obstacles. And you surmount them. And so, I’m inspired
by you and refreshed and glad to be with you on
World Press Freedom Day. PETER CLOTTEY: Thank
you very much, Lucinda. Wonderful. In closing, I’d like
to thank our panelists for their great insights today. Hopefully, this
discussion can serve as a launching point for
a larger conversation on the critical role that a
free press plays in supporting elections and democracy. A big shout out, as well,
for the excellent questions from our online viewers and the
live viewing groups at Embassy of Gaborone, Botswana, Embassy
Addis Ababa, American Spaces Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa, Jimma,
and [INAUDIBLE] members in Ethiopia. American Center Yaounde,
Cameroon, Embassy Kampala, Uganda. American Center
Lilongwe, Malawi. American Corners Kamenge
and Gitega in Burundi. School of Journalism at Kagawi
Catholic Institute, Rwanda. Six American Spaces in Nigeria– Abuja, Bauchi, Calabar,
Ibadan, Jos, and Kano. American Space San
Pedro Sula, Honduras. American Center
Caracas, Venezuela. American Corner
Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados. American Spaces ICEBU in
Uberaba and Manaus in Brazil. Colombo Americano
in Cali, Colombia. American Space [INAUDIBLE],,
Czech Republic. Windows on America in Kiev,
Kharkiv, Starobilsk, Dnipro, and Cherkasy, Ukraine. American Center Pristina
Kosovo, Karachi, Pakistan at the Center for
Excellence in Journalism, Consulate Chennai, India,
at New Generation Media. Bengaluru, India
at Suvarna News. American Space
Dushanbi, Tajikistan. American Corner Naryn,
Kyrgyzstan, American Center Tashkent, Uzbekistan. And American Corners Astana,
Almati, and Shymkent, Kazakhstan, in coordination
with the British Council. I would also like to thank the
Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and
international information programs, for
their contributions to this program and
all the work that they do to support and advance
press freedom around the world. Thank you again, and
have a great day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *