Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) Dean and CEO Dr Everette E Dennis, gave the keynote address at a recent meeting of OSCE – the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe – taking up the role of free media in the context of the politico-military, economic and human dimensions of security.

NU-Q Dean & CEO Everette E Dennis
NU-Q Dean & CEO Everette E Dennis

Dennis decried attacks on the news media by governments that are rampant and growing and where security arguments are used as a great infringement on human freedom… and detrimental to the public’s well-being and security. Renewed efforts to secure and enhance freedom of information for media and the public will be enhanced by the decriminalising defamation, a key goal of the famed OSCE Office of Representative on Freedom of the Media, which Dennis called a vital precondition for security itself.

As he put it, the role of media is both to support and challenge the fundamental assumptions of security… at a time when a hacked website or the spreading of false information can be just as dangerous and threatening as military intervention was in the past. While attacks on the news media are sometimes thought limited to the murder and jailing of journalists in repressive regimes, even in the US, attacks on the media as the enemy of the people or threats to cancel broadcast licenses can have a chilling effect on freedom and security which are deeply disturbing, according to the Dean.

In his remarks, Dennis proposed an agenda for governments and the media to confront the historic conflict between secrecy and publicity to enhance security by protecting justifiable national security matters while guaranteeing greater transparency and freedom of information.

He urged a commitment to media literacy training, new protocols for the release of information, greater advocacy for media freedom and a commitment for media organisations to police their own house to avoid errors and fake news. He also called on social media leaders to enforce ethical standards and curtail the use of unnamed sources and advertising paid by unsavory interests. This, he said, calls for a continuing dialogue wherein secrecy and publicity are in play-that engages leaders of government, business, media and other institutions.

The dean spoke before over 100 European government leaders, security officials, educators and other officials at a palace in Vienna’s historic Hofburg.

Digital and social media for all their benefits are also undermining media freedom with fake news, trolls and other efforts at disinformation that distorts the free flow of information and the media’s first obligation to seek the truth.

The dean described the hacking of the Qatar News Agency website and the tweets by US President Donald Trump, as factors in the blockade of Qatar by four neighbouring countries as a case where disinformation fomented trouble for regional and international security. He scored cybercrime laws that have criminalised positive social media messages about Qatar in two of the siege states as the other side of defamation which usually punishes false and negative reports, not those that are simply positive expression of opinion.

In a discussion that also touched on the role of media in the blockade of Qatar, the dean noted that the information war in the Gulf is replete with fabricated news stories and crude attempts to undermine government and the social order. He noted the aggressors demand to close Al Jazeera, the most pervasive voice in the region and one that champions investigative reporting.

He said that many of the hate-filled reports come from media outlets that were heretofore professional, responsible and generally reliable. He urged a return to true surveillance of the environment, rather than contaminating the news which is an outrageous and destructive response for robust and unconstrained freedom of expression.

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