Ms Philomena Gnanapragasam, Director AIBD,
Mr Mayank Agrawal, AIBD GC President,
Government Representatives,
Media Professionals,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka from Fiji!

It is a great pleasure to be able to speak with you today, at the opening of the 17th Asia Media Summit. Before I begin, I want to take a moment to remember the journalists who have been killed in the line of duty this year. From Ukraine to Palestine. Just this month, Al Jazeera’s Shereen Abu Aqleh was gunned down while simply doing her job – reporting from a refugee camp. We must never let these atrocities go unmentioned. No journalist should be a target, ever – whether within or outside a war zone.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji has been a member of the AIBD since 1978 and is of course the current Vice-Chair of the AIBD Executive Board.

The world today is almost unrecognizable from that of 1978 – not least in the world of media. The Reuters Institute’s latest reports provide some useful context for us: Through the COVID19 crisis – lockdowns and other restrictions accelerated the shift to a mostly digital future.

Among historic unemployment figures across economies, many jobs in the  media industry were either lost or changed profoundly. Advertisers pulled out en-masse through the global economic downturn. And, in some countries, it was noticed that young people – especially young women – and minorities were being represented less fairly through media; prompting a global call for more inclusive and diverse newsrooms.

And yet, this crisis has also shown the value of accurate and reliable information at a time when lives are at stake. The global spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus has further focused minds on where people are getting their news.

The data tells us that 4.62 billion people now use social media. This is just under 60% of the planet’s population. It’s almost hard to wrap one’s head around that figure. I read once that more people in the world have access to mobile connectivity now, than they do to safe toilets, which tells you everything you need to know about the pace of this digital migration.

I think it’s a powerful fact to illustrate just how much value the human species places on communicating; and on wanting to know what is happening around them. The number of people who remain ‘unconnected’ to the internet has now dropped below 3 billion for the first time ever. This marks a significant milestone in the world’s journey towards equal digital access. Connected devices are now more of a lifeline than a luxury, especially since the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic.

In Fiji we’ve sought to close the digital divide across our over 100 populated islands by ensuring that all Fijians have access to digital TV. Hence, in 2016, Walesi was born – Fiji’s first digital free to air television service, that serves our most rural and maritime areas via satellite.
I am proud to reveal that Fiji now has 100% digital TV coverage, with government covering the installation cost for all low-income households so that no one is left behind. There have also been over seven hundred thousand downloads of the Walesi OTT app to date; and one of our eight national channels is completely dedicated to educational and public service broadcasting in order to give all Fijians – especially youth – the same access to learning opportunities as those living in urban areas.

Now, unlike traditional media, which has always relied on a clear-cut publisher-audience model – every person online is now both creator and consumer. The barriers to information sharing have never been so low for most of the world’s population as they are today – for better and for worse.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the rise of the digital influencer. Mainstream news brands and journalists are completely eclipsed by influencers and alternative sources on platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.

The explosion of access to news, media content and content creation has led to significantly positive developments for humankind – like a widening of the debate in politics, economics, and social sciences. This has resulted in calls for greater freedom and better standards of living, which has manifested in the way people across the world use media to voice their concerns.

At the same time though, we’re living through a tumultuous moment in history. All of us have been horrified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine;
Climate scientists have warned there’s now a fifty-fifty chance that the world will warm by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next five years;

The world is still battling the impacts of a once in a century pandemic that claimed millions of lives, and decimated entire economies;

We’ve seen a dangerous rise in nationalist propaganda – where chaos mongers manipulate racial, ethnic, religious and national sentiments to fan the flames of fear and foster an ‘us versus them’ mentality.

And, unfortunately, we have all learnt by now that peddling controversy, conspiracies, outrage – even hate – often gives you an edge online.

The inherent nature of social media platforms and engagement-optimized websites can even make it difficult to spot the difference between factual information being published by a Ministry of Health, for example, and a supposed miracle cure being promoted by a con artist.

Factual information, selfies, cat videos and games fill our content feeds, intermingled with lies, conspiracy theories, and junk science. And, with the sheer proliferation of content and the splintering of information and audiences – we lose our ability to differentiate between fact, opinion and mass fiction.

The danger here, is that when we no longer know what to believe, people can end up dead. When we no longer know what to believe, entire democracies can be weakened. When we don’t know what to believe, wars can break out.

It’s been well-documented that hate speech shared on Facebook and other social media platforms has played a role in modern-day murder campaigns, ethnic violence  and extremism. Whether it’s against women, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, journalists, political opponents – the digital world has become the frontier of the war on peace.

Now, many of you here have the power to help turn some things around and begin moving things in the right direction. You can advocate for change; you can be part of a system redesign. As governments, and as private citizens, we need your expertise to reframe our collective thinking about digital media.

We need to reimagine new media models where traditional media companies, big tech companies and governments are committed to some important accountability frameworks.

We need journalists, not for profit communicators and civil society to help us tell better stories about ourselves and how we can live together, despite our differences. This includes creative human-centered content, with a distinct Asia Pacific flavor, that our people can relate to.

We need media practitioners to bring the 2030 agenda to life for their audiences, to inspire government-level policy changes in regard to the climate crisis and related socioeconomic issues.

We need strong civic education around identifying and curbing misinformation wherever possible. Including education around the more sinister and covert side of AI technology, involving deepfake videos for example.

I understand these are big issues, but I do have a lot of faith in you. I want to humbly challenge all of you over the next two days to focus on pushing each other to rethink your roles within the world of media. Challenge some of your preconceived notions about your jobs; reframe your purpose in our hyper-digitalized world.

Thank you once again for having me, and I wish you all a very successful summit. Vinaka vakalevu

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