In Turkey, for instance, we report from the frontline of a catastrophic and on-going assault on free expression and journalism as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of a new breed of authoritarian leaders, purges the media landscape of critical journalists in the aftermath of a failed coup d’etat.
We also look at the role of war-mongering media in India where the year ended with a full-scale information war between India and Pakistan and with bellicose journalists stoking up the prospects of a new conflict between these nuclear states.
We also examine the continuing global rise of hate speech, particularly in Asia, where there are increasing regional tensions around China and Japan, not least because of territorial disputes and increasing nationalism. And we look at how a glossary for hate in Hong Kong might help take the sting out of some of the media’s bad language.
In Africa, media struggle to rise above conflicts in central and eastern regions covering Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan. We highlight the efforts of journalists to cool things down through the EJN’s Turning the Page of Hate campaign.
Beyond politics we also look at how media add to the ordeal of women who are victimised by repressive social and cultural attitudes which continue to dominate media coverage of the shockingly mis-named “honour killings” in Pakistan.
But it has not all been bad news for journalism in 2016. In fact, perhaps the biggest single, corruption-busting story of the decade came from an unprecedented piece of investigative journalism carried out by 400 journalists in 80 countries – the Panama Papers.
And we highlight two areas of particular ethical practice that make journalism a cornerstone of reliability and trust: firstly, a tribute to all the whistle- blowers and sources who make public interest journalism possible through the eyes of the reporter who helped Edward Snowden reveal the secrets of United States’ global surveillance and snooping; and, second, a thoughtful examination of how we use images to tell stories, focused on migration.
We also provide tips for journalists on how to stick to the facts, protect sources, report fairly on migration, identify hate speech, block fake news and guard against war-mongering and propaganda. In all, our report reveals that ethical journalism has rarely been under such sustained pressure, both political and commercial.
The world’s changing culture of communications, driven by the imperial power of internet companies and social networks, not only encourages users to create personal echo-chambers at the expense of information pluralism, it has also shredded the market models that used to nourish ethical journalism.
Many observers inside media are not overly optimistic about the future, but although there may be more rumour, speculation, fake-news and misinformation as the information market moves online, there is a growing movement to strengthen the craft of journalism.
Indeed, in every part of the world, even where megaphone politics is in power, journalists committed to the values of accuracy, humanity and transparency are doing good work, connecting with audiences and sometimes putting themselves at risk in the process.
Public trust will only return when people have confidence that powerful institutions – government, the state, corporate power – are accountable and listening to their concerns. Journalism at its best can do this job, but not without fresh support.
The crisis outlined here is not just one of professionalism, it is a watershed moment for democracy and requires political will to invest in open, connected and pluralist systems of communication. What is needed are new directions in public policy: