BY Elena Cosentino, INSI director

INSI members rise to the challenges of 2020

If, while reflecting over the year gone and next year’s challenges, you leaf through previous INSI annual reports as I just did, you won’t find even one painting a rosy picture of the state of journalists’ safety worldwide.

Pessimism and grim predictions always abound and for good reason - there are always new wars breaking out and media crackdowns as well as major cultural, political or technological fault lines being weaponised against journalists.

The risks are always too many, and the protections never enough.

But the year 2020 surely has got to take top prize as an annus horribilis in its own right – sandwiched as it has been between a pandemic that has killed hundreds of journalists, stifled news gathering and enabled media-crushing authoritarians and the most volatile US election season in living memory, turning the country into a place where journalists now wear war-zone PPE to cover a small town rally.

But this disastrous year has also yielded some very positive developments, at least within the INSI network and the wider media community. It has been a year when INSI members have risen to the challenge and given their best to each other, in terms of cooperation, assistance and mutual trust.

While video conferencing has no doubt facilitated logistics and attendance, it’s our members’ enthusiasm, initiative and commitment to the shared values of the network that has spurred and fed the huge increase in our activities this past year.

We trebled the number of live events we held over the course of 2020, as compared to 2019.  Between January and November, we ran 35 meetings for members, including briefings and Q&As with experts. Many of these events were held in response to members’ specific suggestions or requests.

Confidential information sharing groups, from the crisis in Belarus to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, have also been attended in large numbers, bringing together the best and most committed editorial and safety managers of the world’s top news media outlets.

One could argue that this extraordinary rallying of purposes was, at least initially, borne out of self-interest. When the novel coronavirus first appeared and then exploded in early 2020 few had a real plan, prior experience or established safety protocols to deal with a deadly pandemic. News organisations desperately needed to benchmark against one another, put their heads together and swap hypotheses and strategies. And they did, pretty fast, all the time and without hesitation.

But even once that emergency phase was over, the full-on engagement with INSI by our members didn’t wane. They have continued sharing what they know and reaching out to their peers for, and with, advice and support on a regular basis.

I believe that the success of the INSI network is testament to our model of cooperation, a model built on fostering trust and kinship even among some of the news industry’s fiercest rivals – over the common priority of keeping journalists and journalism – healthy, safe and alive and kicking.

This is exactly what we needed and will need even more going forward.

Even as good news reached us towards the end of the year, with the end of the pandemic finally in sight, no vaccine will ever be developed for 2020’s infectious legacy of disinformation.

With the politicisation of science and the viral disappearance of facts having run amok throughout countries once seen as bastions of media freedom, brave and rigorous journalism everywhere, at every level, in every department, is now seen by increasingly large swathes of the population as anathema.

As we continue to work to prepare our journalists and protect them from the real-life consequences of such tectonic shifts in our democracies, we can rest assured that our INSI network will help keep the enemies of journalism at bay, as long as we stand united.

Read more about INSI in 2020 in our annual review.

Image by AFP