Looming global threats to democracy dominated this year’s Antidote - a festival of ideas, action and change at the Sydney Opera House. Audiences heard from thought leaders and provocateurs from around the world about the big challenges facing our world - from climate change to rising nationalism to big data.
For the first time, the festival was co-hosted by the new Judith Neilson Institute for Ideas and Journalism. JNI’s support helped the festival bring some of the biggest names in global journalism to discuss the challenges of reporting in an increasingly volatile environment.
“I don’t know how to deal with this new world,” said Maria Ressa, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Rappler, the groundbreaking digital newsite from the Philippines that has faced a barrage of lawsuits in the last year from the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. “I’m shocked, but living through it.”
Ressa’s panel entitled “My Crime is Journalism” united her with Steve Coll, two-time Pulitzer winner, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a member of JNI’s International Advisory Council. Also on the panel were Lina Attalah, co-founder and chief editor at Egyptian online newsite Madr Masr and Irina Borogan from Russia who both spoke of the attacks and state oppression they face for doing independent journalism. Peter Greste, who faced his own punishment – 400 days in an Egyptian jail while reporting for Al Jazeera - hosted the panel.
Ressa warned that leaders across the world were “weaponizing” social media and blamed the tech giants for facilitating the manipulation and repression of journalists by governments.
“If you cannot agree on the facts you cannot have trust, you cannot have truth, you cannot have democracy,” Maria Ressa said.
Coll said Facebook and Google had made some efforts to curb the abuse of their platforms but governments needed to force them to take the big steps.
“I think regulation is required, it’s on its way,” Coll said. “Regulatory regimes will rise up and bite them if they don’t fix it themselves and they know that.”
Another highlight of the festival was a panel asking how well journalists have done in covering climate change. Kyle Pope, editor of Columbia Journalism Review and JNI International Advisory Council member, told the audience the media had failed to cover climate as the crisis it is. As evidence he pointed to the May release of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report predicting much more dire consequences from warming sooner than previously expected. “Half the newspapers in the U.S. did not cover that report,” Pope told the panel hosted by former ABC 7.30 Report presenter Kerry O’Brien.
Pope is heading a coalition called Covering Climate Now that will see 170 media houses around the world devote a week to climate coverage in the lead up to the UN Panel on Climate Change in New York in late September. The campaign is encouraging media to embed climate change in everything they do from weather coverage, to sport.
“I think the way to start this is for most small, to medium sized outlets to tell the story about what’s happening in your community. Tell me what’s happening in my life. That’s the way to get things going,” Pope said.
Indonesian TV news anchor Desi Anwar, another JNI International Advisory Council member, said reporters in the developing world need support to do a better job. Climate change was not a future concept for them she said. Indonesia is one of the world’s greatest emitters of greenhouse gases and Anwar said the country desperately needs to change its practices.
“We don’t have the luxury of debating the science, we are living it,” Anwar told the audience.