Editorial – The value of information as a public good and the role of journalism cannot be taken for granted

This joint editorial, prepared by the newly-launched Uganda Media Sector Working Group, was published by several news media in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2021.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day is dedicated to reflecting on Information as a Public Good. It is a timely moment to highlight the uniqueness and importance of ‘information’ as opposed to other forms of media content.

Over the last decade, global technological changes and cultural developments have transformed the means and purposes of communication. Widespread and instant access to communication platforms and content have had numerous positive outcomes for news, current affairs, entertainment, and data.

Yet, at the same, the current communication environment is also filled and contaminated with negative content such as disinformation, misinformation, mal-information, fake news, hate speech, and lots of socially undesirable material.

The focus on information as a public good highlights the difference between information and all other forms of communication content. According to UNESCO, this is intended “to draw attention to the special role of journalism in producing news as verified information in the public interest.”

While journalism as a service and business has for long been bleeding, the COVID-19 pandemic underlined, first, the importance of verified information; and second, the critical role of journalism in generating and disseminating such information in the public interest.

However, the value attached to information as a public good and to journalism’s function of producing news cannot be taken for granted.

In Uganda, journalism has come under severe stress from different angles. These include: unprofessional and unethical behaviour by some practitioners; occasional instances of overzealous and counterproductive regulation; public mistrust; brutality against practitioners by undisciplined state actors; weak commercial foundations; lack of effective self-organisation and self-regulation; as well as economic and structural barriers to accessing information and communication platforms.

We in the media fraternity are fully aware of these internal weaknesses and external constraints. These problems routinely undermine our capacity as an industry to produce journalism that conveys constructive information on a consistent basis and that serves the public interest.

Media practitioners, public authorities and news consumers should take this opportunity on the World Press Freedom Day to reflect on solutions to the challenges of the industry and to ensure that information as a public good is protected and supported.

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