Two of Australia’s most eminent journalists and academics have raised concerns and pointed out the challenge journalism faces today in our society.

Professor Monica Attard, Head of Journalism, UTS and Professor Peter Fray, Director, Centre for Media Transition, UTS were the panellists at the Alan Knight Media Series event hosted by Affinity Intercultural Foundation held at their Sydney offices on Tuesday 10 September.

Professor Peter Fray and Professor Monica Attard.

Recent raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and journalists’ homes and record numbers of journalists throughout the world being imprisoned, killed and taken hostage are of great concern.

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The blatant murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi almost a year ago, whose body is still missing, implicating Saudi government authorities at the highest level is a prime example of authoritarian control on freedom of journalists to perform their job without fear or favour.

Authoritarian government control on the means of communication and monopoly by media baron does not leave much room for the professional journalists to function in the pursuit of truth.

With the advent of social media, the internet has equipped anybody to be a journalist and get away from scrutiny from being responsible, fair and truthful. This results in the spread of fake news and hate speech.

The consumers of news are not giving value to the pursuit of truth and facts, but news has become of entertainment value, just to enjoy and feel good about it.

The facilitator of the panel discussion, Ms Roslyn Lawson, former ABC TV and radio news journalist started off by posing the question, What is a journalist?

“Let’s face it, anyone these days with a smartphone and the ability to use social media can take a photograph from any event and broadcast it. And government leaders these days can bypass traditional media scrutiny. Just think Trump and Twitter,” Ms Lawson tried answering her own question.

Prof Attard, after describing how she became a journalist said that it was indeed difficult to define a journalist.

“I think the problem, the definitional problems associated with journalism have gone back and they are the manifestation of the disruption heaped upon the industry by the internet,” Prof Attard said.

Talking about the difficult position professional journalist were in Prof Attard further added, “Journalists are also under attack. I’m thinking Trump has referred to journalists as enemies of the people. For instance, last year, 348 journalists were imprisoned. 80 reporters were killed and a further 60 were held, hostage. Not much of a safe career, is it.”

Prof Fray talked about the dilemma of the duality of interest for a journalist, working for the employer and serving the public interest of conveying the truth.

“You’re working in the public interest at the same time as you are working in a commercial setting having this duality. There is an employer-employee relationship and there’s a set of expectations that come with that. Then there is the notion of serving the public interest,” Prof Fray explained.

In his concluding remarks Mr Ahmet Polat, Executive Director of Affinity talked about the challenges that journalism posed.

“Today, the challenge journalism faces in our society, is both from within and from without. The external challenge is coming from rising populism equipped with various forms of racism and fake news. The root cause of this problem is the readiness of society in being happily deceived,” Mr Polat said.

He further added, “In many Middle Eastern countries including Turkey and recently in Kashmir, hundreds of journalists are behind bars on allegations of terrorist activity while others are collaborating with those in power safeguarding their self-interest rather than standing for truth.”

“Journalists need to abide by the ethics of their profession and remain the guardians of truth and they do not only have a duty of safeguarding the truth, but also the duty of nurturing love and respect for truth,” Mr Polat concluded.