The Global Conference on Media Freedom, a joint venture by the governments of the UK and Canada, was held 10-11 July in London to reflect on the current state of press freedom and journalism across the world. Coming from a country which has been on critics’ agenda for the past years, the event was quite thought-provoking and of high importance.
I got the chance to take part in this valuable experience thanks to British Council, who had a Youth Hub at the conference, featuring workshops and roundtable discussions about the role the youth plays in the digital era of news reporting, citizenship and media activities in general. The “youth corner” was a genial idea that manged to somewhat equilibrate the overall dominance of high-ranking politicians and experienced professionals at the two-day conference.
To give a general overview, the Hungarian media market is definitely a complicated one, which has seen many changes in the past years.
The industry is continuously shaken by financial drawbacks, traditional newsrooms are seemingly put to the sword, and the growing political influence is undeniable. As a consequence, a sense of incertitude has settled over Hungarian journalism.
Hallin and Mancini’s categorisation, stating that the country has a polarised pluralist media system, seems to be adequate with a heightened emphasis on polarisation. In general, journalism is characterised by high political parallelism and weak professionalization, which are important factors for a young journalist to consider. Moreover, the strong state intervention has been criticised by many, including the EU and Reporters Without Borders.
According to the latter, Hungary dropped 14 places on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index compared to the previous year and is now listed in the 87th place (out of 180), putting the country into the ‘problematic’ category.
The increasingly concentrated ownership and the government-led public media are considered to be the greatest issues.
Although there have been some suits involving Hungarian journalists, it must be noted that no journalists have been killed or injured in Hungary, which is unfortunately not the case in every country.
The conference shed light on the abuses committed against media workers, with a special focus on the different regions of the world. Fierce debates surrounded the topics of media ownership, navigating disinformation and the relationship between religion and the media.
While there were many commitments drafted and questions raised at the plenary and panel discussions featuring important players from all over the world (e.g. Special Envoy Amal Clooney, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland), the discussions at the Youth Hub tried to take a more practical approach.
It was fascinating to find out about the challenges young journalists in – among others –Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ghana face. We covered topics from trust, disinformation, media sustainability through the future of freedom of expression to challenges for the new generation. Even though we are influenced by diverse backgrounds and views, it was amazing to see how different viewpoints can meet. This is something I feel could be practiced more often in Hungary.
The main takeaway is that we all have our own responsibility in shaping the media landscape and online agenda.
I sense this more than ever, as it is not particularly pleasant to get sympathizing and in some cases slightly piteous reactions after revealing where I come from. A lot could be done in Hungary to climb back on the media freedom index, but this needs a joint intent that manages to overcome the prominent trend of polarisation.
Furthermore, I got the impression that even in the teeth of financial difficulties and political pressure, most journalists remain aware that newsroom standards matter and try to do the best to keep an ethical balance as they navigate through the news agenda in an era of uncertainty and change.