This past Monday, I had the honour to once again co-chair the presidium of the BRICS Media Forum – the fifth such meeting.
In a year marked by radical change – good and bad – a key theme that has resonated throughout 2020, is how collaboration and co-operation are the key ingredients that bind us not only to one another, but to success.
This same theme resonated throughout the meeting – held virtually – as it will be, only through partnership, a sharing of ideas and experiences, and the joint willingness to tackle challenges and issues, that we, as media, will be able to face and overcome the challenges of a swiftly evolving media landscape.
The glut of information that makes it into the public domain, not all of which is accurate, is a scourge that we, as responsible media, need to eradicate.
Fake news is not new, we know that, but the recent upswelling of misinformation and disinformation is of grave concern, not only for us as BRICS media partners, but for the world in its entirety.
There is also, thanks to Covid-19, an information overload, and coupled with faster mechanisms for conveying news, the ‘fake’ news is spread further and faster than ever before.
The relationship between BRICS media forum countries has become even more important during this period, and all countries should encourage even greater information sharing, as well as journalists and other forms of resource exchange, to enhance the accuracy and efficiency at which information is communicated to the public.
Covid-19 is a prime example of the requirement for accurate and factual news and information.
So many myths, urban legends, falsehoods have abounded that it has become difficult for a battle-shocked public to sift and discern fact from fiction.
This can literally be the difference between life and death and we as media are both the executioner and rescuer, as people’s fate can rest in our hands and the information we convey to them.
The media is a powerful force in influencing how any particular environment is perceived, understood and experienced.
When there is a ‘captive’ audience, that influencing role has even greater obligation to be factual and authentic.
During the global proliferation of lockdowns due to Covid-19 measures, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has noted that 80-90% of people now consume on average 24 hours of news and entertainment in a week, which places an even greater weight on the media to ensure that the truth and nothing but the truth, is delivered.
In times of crisis it is vital that the public receive timeous and factual information with which to arm themselves with knowledge.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes there has been an excessive spread of misinformation in what it has dubbed as an ‘infodemic’.
As a forum, we are in a unique space, to learn from one another and adopt the strategies that can see our countries forge clear paths to help citizens decipher the correct course of action – for them and based on fact.
Each of the BRICS Media Forum member countries has experienced dealing with the challenges around COVID-19 at different stages and rates, therefore we are able to share advice on mistakes, lessons learnt and how, as a grouping, we can be more collaborative in the media space.
It is also a roadmap that can be adopted at every level of business and community, for we have seen huge strides in advancements of all kinds, when we realise we are doing this for the common good.
Think about the collaborations in the development of a vaccine or how the telecommunications companies have come together to ensure we are connected.
Co-operative task forces are a tangible way to ensure we all succeed.
We can champion each other and guarantee we all pull in the same direction.
Regular conversations conducted via webinar between the media houses within the BRICS countries – privately and publicly – for example, are an excellent means to confirm we are all on the same page and how we can stop the spread of misinformation and so on.
We all exist in an interconnected world.
Understanding that, Cai Mingzhao, President of the Xinhua News Agency and executive chairman of the BRICS Media Forum stated at the meeting held in 2018, that: “The international media should stick to three main principles; ‘to be true…to be fair…and to be people-oriented’.”
This is yet another reminder of why it is we need to work together.
Such is the blight of fake news that António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, even remarked at the opening of the annual General Assembly in September, that online misinformation is “a toxic virus shaking the democratic underpinnings of many countries”.
The onus is, therefore, on the media to keep the public’s trust in the information it serves.
The world is rapidly adopting an era of global participative partnerships, so there is no need to go it alone.
We are all in this boat together.
I would like to encourage my colleagues and everyone, to adopt a people-to-people exchange approach to everything they do and share available resources to not only deal with the existing pandemic, but the fallout that is yet to come.
Practical solutions are what are needed now.
The BRICS Media Forum was launched in 2015, at the suggestion of Xinhua News Agency and jointly initiated with mainstream media from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa.
It is an instrument that aims to establish an efficient working co-ordination and relationship between BRICS media, advance innovation-driven media development and gather stronger momentum for the development of BRICS countries through exchange and pragmatic co-operation.
* Dr Iqbal Survé is executive chairman of Independent Media.