AI In Divided World, DW Global Media Forum Finds Best Practices For Journalists

The two-day plenary of the 2024 edition of the Deutsch Welle (DW) Global Media Forum was a wonderful storm of good mood, to quote the ebullient Director General of DW, Peter Limbourg, especially for the sheer number of enthusiastic participants- over 1,500 journalists, media scholars and activists representing more than 100 countries.

There were also interludes of traditional German musical performances that thrilled the audience, and the superb, engaging hosting of the plenaries by DW staff which kept the audience in good mood from 10am to 4pm daily! Liz Shoo, a DW TV and Radio presenter, was especially impressive with her masterly presentations and hosting of panel sessions.

But beyond the fun was the troubling issue of how the media can use AI in a world that is increasingly polarised and conflicted. While AI can improve media production in the area of gathering contents and understanding data pools, the world is worried about its potential for negative use in a world where fake news, misinformation and disinformation are already threats to media practice.

Limbourg, who gave the opening remarks at the forum, called for “ethical use of technology” by the media. Ms Annalena Baerbock, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs who delivered a keynote address, warned on the risks of AI and how it can be used to sow division and exacerbate conflicts around the world, and called for international regulations to control it use. While she acknowledged its good sides- as seen during the Indian election where politicians deployed it effectively for campaign purposes- she worried over its negative deployment when used to spread false news to bring down political opponents or instigate crisis.

Topics for discussions on AI during breakout sessions include: How to use AI constructively in the newsroom, Quality-assessment and control of AI in Journalism and Disinformation and disruption —AI’s grip on the Global South.

Many of the sessions focussed on media practice in a divided world, putting journalists on the spot about how they cover conflicts. Baerbock had set the tone when she claimed journalists are under pressure to report with integrity despite being part of the divisions in the society.

The Israeli-Gaza conflict presented a suitable case study to highlight how ideological, ethnic and religious differences are impacting the work of journalists around the world. The session was aptly titled: The struggle for objectivity, compassion and the right words on the Middle East conflict.

Media houses chose what to report and the language to use to describe events depending on their ideologicallearnings. For example, there was mild disagreement even among panellists on whether what Israel is doing in Gaza qualifies as genocide or not. But it was the Filipino Journalist and CEO of Rappler, Maria Ressa, who put it bluntly. She said if we called what happened in Israel on October 7 as genocide, there’s no other way to describe what Israel is doing in Gaza with the killing of innocent women and children.

Ressa argued that the only way journalists can purge themselves of society’s biases is to understand how others arrive at their practices and beliefs. Barkha Dutt, the Indian video publisher, also urged journalists to “tell the story of those who suffer without taking sides,” adding that there is hierarchy to suffering.

There was also the interesting discussion on whether journalists are to protect democracy or vice versa. Many among the panellists highlighted the critical role of journalism in a democracy and how journalists holding governments accountable in many countries are killed or jailed.

The discussion inspired a question from an Azerbaijan journalist who wondered why panellists were not talking about protection of journalists under democratic regimes. At least 30 journalists and other media actors are said to be currently in detention in Azerbaijan.

News literacy of Gen Z in the age of TikTok offered food for thought after a data presentation by Nic Newman, a senior researcher at the Reuters Institute. He revealed that over 70 percent of Gen Z access their news from social media, and are much likely to watch or listen to the news rather than read. The session discussed how the media can expand the landscape to capture the Gen Z and turn them into news consumers.

The discussion led to suggestions that media outlets must expand their social media presence to include TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and other Apps commonly used by Gen Z.

There were also interesting sessions on how the press is reporting the environment crisis, women and minority issues, with speakers suggesting more inclusive and impactful coverage.

In the midst of domestic and global challenges facing journalists and the media, they cannot afford to stop doing their jobs. This is why a session featuring some Nigerian media entrepreneurs discussed “The rough road to impact: How to keep news outlets going.”

Toun Okewale Sonaya, CEO of Woman Radio, Angela Agoawike, CEO of Omalicha Media Network and ace tv broadcaster, Deji Badmus all and gave some insights based on their experience. They explained the struggle to be sustainable and how they’re using different initiatives to create impact and improve revenue.

The session featuring Nigerians were well attended by media representatives from Asian countries and Africa.

Asked what he would take away from the conference, Professor Jude William Genilo, Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, said he was impressed by the plenary sessions and the workshops he attended.

“There’s a lot to take away from the conference. There were things that we learned and things we were able to discuss. One of the pressing issues we learnt is about media safety, how to keep journalists safe.

“Another is how the media should cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its very important. The workshop I attended was on information security, that is also very important. These are things I can take away and bring back to my university where we train future journalists for the country and it’s important for them to know the role of the media in times of crisis.

“For example, we learnt that journalists and activists are not doing the same thing, and we have to understand that,” he said, smiling.

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