From coverage of the Windrush scandal to public media innovations, this year’s PMA Global Conference explored ways to rebuild trust in media and democracy worldwide.

Titled “Speak Out! Rebuilding Trust in Media and Democracy”, the event brought together PMA members, journalists and public media thought leaders from around the world to discuss solutions to some of the key issues facing public media and public interest media worldwide. Held in Jamaica, the event sought to make the most of the country’s high press freedom score to have frank conversations about the growing threat of nationalism, populism, competitive pressures and the challenges facing investigative journalists. It also aimed to encourage dialogue about solutions and ways to maintain and improve public media platforms.

The following article offers a session-by-session summary of our 2018 Global Conference with links to key examples and resources.

The struggle for public media

With media freedom in decline globally – particularly in regions once regarded as bastions of the free press – public media face more crises than ever before. Setting the scene for #PMA18, opening Keynote Julie Drizin used her role as Executive Director of Current to highlight the plight and fragility of public media in the U.S. where fragmented audiences, tenuous funding mechanisms and President Trump’s administration pose considerable threats to the sustainability of public broadcasters PBS, NPR and their member stations.

Drizin titled her Keynote the “Fierce Urgency of Now“, evoking the words used by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr when referencing the decline of civil liberties, to reiterate the haste at which the values of public media and its fundamental role of informing democracy needs to be protected in the U.S. This role includes offering a safe, commercial-free space for children to learn and address the needs of underserved audiences and minorities while also addressing “national concerns and [solving] local problems through community programmes and outreach, with maximum protection from extraneous interference and control”.

PMA’s Kristian Porter and Marta Catalano followed Julie with their intervention “From Crises to Solutions“. Their session used research behind PMA’s PSM Weekly newsletter to emphasise the global and shared nature of the crises facing public media, using examples of government interference and funding cuts at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, self censorship and the rise of populist movements in Central Europe to emphasise the shared nature of these threats. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Solutions, collaboration and maintaining high standards

Yet where there are crises, there are also solutions – particularly the need for greater collaboration and experimentation in the newsroom. Examples posed by Marta included NRK’s Faktisk, a collaborative fact-checking project between PSB, print and commercial media organisations and Le Monde’s snapchat team, which encourages much needed collaboration within the newsroom between article editors, video journalists and motion designers.

But building trust also requires involving the audience – making public media truly public. Creators of Vox ‘Borders’ encourage audiences to suggest and vote on locations for their reporters while Yle’s KIOSKI is a platform where young creators aged 15-25 can create content to present different aspects of modern Finnish youth culture. Experimentation is key to getting collaboration right, especially as technology changes. Radio New Zealand have embraced this through their Podcasts and their VoxPop app that allows listeners to record speech to their iPhone, which is then transcribed to text and uploaded to the organisation for input into live broadcasts.

The third session,”Never mind the platform, just keep up the standards”, explored ways to maintain and support high standards of journalism while embracing new tech in the digital era. The BBC’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Fran Unsworth, used her opening Keynote to say that despite innovation and experimentation being key to sustainable and dependable media, this must not be prioritised ahead of maintaining high levels of skilled, professional journalists. The PMA board member also spoke about the necessity of digital literacy and advocated the role public media organisations can play in education. In recent years the BBC has developed workshops for schools in the UK and is now taking the programme to India and Kenya. They are also experimenting in new ways to develop content that appeals to young audiences across the most popular platforms, this includes the introduction of an under 30’s focus group that brings younger citizens’ views and priorities into the newsroom.

Panelist Dr. Zahera Harb, a trustee at the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), concurred with Fran Unsworth regarding skilled journalists but added that journalists have more responsibility than ever to avoid the spread of hate speech. Referring to fake news in particular, Harb said that “Not repeating and sharing hate speech is not censorship, it’s responsible journalism”. Zahera, fresh from leading a PMA, EJN and UNESCO workshop to develop an action plan on hate speech in the Caribbean, also said that hateful expression can be exacerbated by omission and that language and contextual relevance are essential in combatting hate speech.

Finally, Orb Media’s Chief Journalism Officer, Naja Nielsen, demonstrated how the organisation collaborates to create quality investigative reports of global significance that can be distributed and made relevant for local audiences. Journalists need to be skilled, she said, but each will have a different specialism – there needs to be diversity and collaboration is key to ensuring this. Orb Media achieves this by researching and developing a story then disseminating it to member newsrooms around the world, working with them to edit it for the local context.

Quality storytelling

Great storytelling is more essential than ever – especially if stories of significant public interest and transnational importance are to stand out from the crowd. Our fifth session “Windrush, what next?” explored how the Windrush Scandal was reported in both the UK and across the Caribbean. Exposed by The Guardian in the UK, this session used a mix of recent harrowing accounts, documentary footage and a roundtable discussion to discuss how stories with such transnational impact can resonate internationally while not becoming lost amongst the rapid turnover of news and “churnalism” of the digital age. The session also explored how best to achieve coverage of all contexts of a story – in this case representing both local Caribbean and UK stories to UK and Caribbean audiences.

Participants Odette Campbell, a communications specialist & media trainer from the Grenada Broadcasting Network, and Caroline Bannock, Editor of Community and UGC at The Guardian, called for greater collaboration between journalists internationally, not only to enrich and inform coverage but to ensure that momentum is maintained and that the stories of those who have been removed from the UK are told. Collaboration allows greater access for journalists and audiences the panel agreed, but more importantly, said Caroline “These are people, not numbers, going forward we should all be helping each other to cover this story”.

Yet quality storytelling and collaboration aren’t the only components needed to give a report resonance. The audience need to trust the source, the newsroom and the organisation. So how do public service media in particular maintain trust in the digital age?

Maintaining public trust

Titled “Maintaining public trust and credibility in the digital age” our sixth panel explored the contemporary evolution of public broadcasters and how they maintain and create trust amongst their audience.

PMA President and CEO of Radio New Zealand (RNZ), Paul Thompson, explained that it was a necessity for RNZ to become a multiplatform broadcaster to ensure the greatest reach. However, this was never at the cost of losing the values it held dear as a public broadcaster. First and foremost RNZ’s aim is to “make New Zealand a better place” but, as Thompson admitted, this is not for the faint hearted and takes courage, especially if RNZ are to compete effectively against commercial competitors for a share of the audience and fulfil its mandate in these challenging times for democracy. In fact RNZ now reaches half of its audience via its digital platforms, with its weekly audience having doubled in the past 5 years.

For Thompson there is a simple ABCD strategy for maintaining public support: Audience needs are a priority; then there is RNZ’s Brand, which is the promise it keeps to its audience in maintaining quality, trust and independence; this is then followed by the development of specific Content; and finally the Delivery Platform – quality content doesn’t have to just be multiplatform. This strategy is supported by maintaining editorial independence, continuously innovating and “radical sharing” – through coalitions and collaborating with others, including the audience.

Yet for Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS), innovation has been central to maintaining a high level of trust among its audience. PTS Director of International Department/Documentary Platform, Jessie Shih, revealed how the broadcaster successfully included its audience in the production of news through its citizen journalism service, PeoPo. Launched in 2007, the service truly puts the the public into public service media by offering a self-regulatory, peer managed UGC platform used by a wide breadth of ages. According to Shih, PeoPo provides a dream audience where the youngest reporter is 11 and the oldest is 86 years-old, with more than 40% in their 20s. Questioned about what makes the service trustworthy, Shih said that users generally respect the service, which also has ID authentication and a code of editing, with no censorship.

But it doesn’t have to take technological innovation to inspire trust and relevance with a broadcaster’s audience. For Gary Allen, CEO of Jamaica’s RJRGLEANER Group, a merger between broadcaster RJR and The Gleaner newspaper in 2015 allowed a pooling of resources and expertise to improve overall coverage and quality content in the face of growing media convergence. For Gary “Bringing radio and TV together with print was the only way for us to give new life to good quality content that audiences had never seen before”.

A public broadcaster and its regulator

In most states, maintaining trust also requires an independent regulator to ensure that a PSB keeps to its remit to serve the public. Our seventh session, “Public Media from different perspectives” explored this relationship within the context of Gibraltar, with speakers John Paul Rodriguez, Deputy CEO of the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority (GRA) and Gerard Teuma, CEO of the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).

The two organisations maintain a very close working relationship, with GRA acting to ensure that government funding to GBC is appropriately spent while maintaining the PSB’s independence from political and economic interests. The GRA have published six codes of practice as part of Gibraltar’s Broadcasting Act covering everything from programme standards to political matters and on-demand multimedia services. If GBC fail to comply then GRA may issue directions for apology, sanction fines and ultimately revoke the broadcaster’s licence – depending on severity.

In fact, as John Paul reiterated, it is not in GRA’s interest to sanction GBC, but to ensure that it succeeds as Gibraltar’s PSB and only source of local news on television and radio. As such, the regulator conducts audience satisfaction surveys, general awareness campaigns and promotes media literacy in schools. GRA also fully supports GBC in its development and delivery of multiplatform content, especially in the face of audience divergence and appealing to youth audiences.

For Gerard Teuma, GBC’s role first and foremost is to “inform, entertain and educate” and “provide a fully unbiased service” for Gibraltar. The broadcaster has a 65% local production quota, and its output “is a way of contributing back to the community”, particularly in times of crisis where the station becomes a go-to resource for accurate and timely information. GBC must also show value for money and promote Gibraltarian identity and culture. The local nature of the broadcaster allows it to contribute to local events and even host an Open Day for charity.

Given the size of Gibraltar, the scale of GBC’s output is impressive. With its Radio and TV services available over analogue, digital networks, online and via cable, plus its own on-demand services. But its current size, enthusiastic political support and increased funding in recent years do come with its own set of challenges according to Gerard. This includes competing with VoD services while also keeping to its mandate for local production, ensuring impartiality in the face of political pressures, keeping within budget and broadcasting within a set of restricted transmission hours.

This is why the close relationship between GRA and GBC is so necessary in the context of Gibraltar – allowing negotiation and support, allowing the broadcaster to adapt to the challenges at hand.

Disaster preparedness

Our last session was titled “Public media and disaster preparedness”. Speakers Amanda Pitt, Chief, Strategic Communications, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and Anika Kentish, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, used recent examples from across the Caribbean to highlight the role media can play in disaster prone regions.

This is a topic PMA returns to time and time again, and one that offers a very real context within which to talk about the themes of collaboration, trust and accurate and responsible storytelling that emerged throughout the  conference. The media can’t work in isolation on the ground, and there is no greater example than reporting on disasters to demonstrate the need for the media to work alongside others. Anika reaffirmed this point by saying “It isn’t enough to say there is a hurricane going on. We need qualified people to be able to advise on what is going on without alarmism”.

Reflecting on her experience with the UNOCHA, Amanda Pitt said there were number of lessons that the media need to apply when it comes to disaster preparedness such as: developing early warning strategies and lifeline resources, providing context for relevant regions and communities, promoting a two-way dialogue – whether this be with communities, response agencies or other media organisations on how best to cover a disaster – and the need to develop partnerships with the private sector.

Both panelists emphasised the need for accuracy, especially at times of disaster when public media are seen as a lifeline and first port of call for vital information.

Rebuilding trust

Rebuilding trust in media and democracy is no mean feat. This conference sought to explore what role public media has in this process in the digital age and with so many examples of the challenges facing public media as well as the solutions and steps PSM organisations are taking to adapt to these challenges, it is clear that public media remain a fundamental element of a working democracy.

Yet to maintain this position and ensure effectiveness, nearly every participant insisted on the following: For better training for journalists to ensure quality storytelling and high standards, for there to be greater and improved collaboration both internally and externally, and for innovation but not at the expense of standards.

But public media organisations also require media freedom and independence to be effective. This may seem obvious, but with the rise of populism and nationalism across the world, political interference in PSM organisations is an ever growing concern. PSM need to stand up for their role in democracy and advocate themselves, their values and their remits, in part through promoting and supporting media literacy initiatives.

PMA president and RNZ CEO Paul Thompson concluded #PMA18 by saying “Media Freedom is not a nice-to-have, not a luxury, it’s essential for democracy“.

Our thanks to all participants and contributors who took part in the conference. For more details on conference resources email: editor[at]

By Kristian Porter