Keynote Alan Rusbridger

Alan Rusbridger, ehemaliger Chefredakteur der britischen Tageszeitung The Guardian, war als Keynote Speaker zur Verleihung der Press Freedom Awards 2019 geladen. In seiner Rede sprach er über die Herausforderungen, denen sich Journalisten und Journalistinnen bei ihrer täglichen Arbeit stellen müssen. Hier können Sie die Keynote in Originalsprache und voller Länge nachlesen.

"Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight.

I come straight from a country that loves journalism so much. We have just appointed a former reporter as Prime Minister. Not many reporters get to run countries, which is probably just as well. I do not know what to say about Boris Johnson’s career. One word that people used about his reporting was that it was very creative. Another word that people used was inventive. His career at the times was a brief one because it proved a little too inventive. His talent of fiction had shown his talent for fact. Then, he moved to the Daily Telegraph and reported from Brussels where again he gained a fantastic reputation for his amazing imagination. Anyway, he may need to be very creative in the next coming weeks, so we wish him well.

This is an evening to celebrate people who remained reporters, to celebrate the courage of many of our colleagues around the world, and to meet in solidarity as friends, peers and people proud to be here to honour the work of people who go out and bear witness on our behalf – reporters.

Lives are all heavily influenced these days by metrics and data. As we gather to think about journalism, I just want to give you three separate data points.

© Reporter ohne Grenzen

The first is 12,000, which is the number of false or misleading claims made by the leader of the free world since taking office. We owe that figure to the Washington Post which measures these things and which calculates that in recent months Donald Trump is averaging an astonishing twenty to thirty false claims a day.

The second statistic is 80 - and that is sadly the number of journalists who were killed last year. That is well over one a week. About 350 journalists were also imprisoned and a further 60 held hostage.

The third figure is 45 - which is the percentage of newspaper journalists thrown out of work in the richest country in the world in the past ten years. Nearly half of the journalists in America without a job.

So there a three very different kinds of figures. One is a snapshot of the scale of false information being injected by just one person - albeit a very influential one - who can speak directly to 60 million people with a stroke of his thumb. One is a measure of the increasing repression and danger that faces journalists around the world as they try to do this business of bearing witness. The third is the continuing story of an industry in economic decline and of a disastrous fallout in terms of the number of journalists who are able to make a living.

It is not a great set of metrics to think about as we gather tonight. And of course, it’s possible to paint an even bleaker picture. Donald Trump for instance is just one purveyor of lies and falsehoods. We have created a machinery to spray out lies and hatred and confusion on an unimaginable scale. Billions of people can literally now create their own version of the truth. Then there is the attempt to discredit the whole craft or calling of journalism. We have always been used to crackpots and despots doing that - but not the so-called leader of the free world who in addition to telling lies himself deliberately and repeatedly does his best to delegitimize journalists who do their best to seek the truth. Of course what Donald Trump does, others mimic. You can see the ripple effect around the world as people with even less respect for a free and independent media feel empowered to do their worst.

What about the rewards for people who do so much including risking their lives to keeping this supply of trusted and reliable information in the world? Not enough people want to pay us. They see no obligation to help to keep this reliable stream of information. Not enough people trust us, not enough people say they can even tell good information from bad information any longer.

A recent Edelman survey on trust found that two-thirds of respondents – two thirds – say they can no longer tell a good source from a bad source. We’re living in an age of information chaos. A world in which we are gradually realizing that a society without agreed facts is a frightening society. It is a dysfunctional community where the norms of politics and science, governance, law and discourse no longer work. My truth is as good as your truth. There is no truth. They all lie. Do not believe facts, believe me. Trust emotions not rationality. A world of information chaos is a dangerous world. Who cares about the complex truths, about climate change or vaccines or migration or taxation or health care or torture or inequality or free speech or a free press? My truth is as good as your truth.

We have a world of information inequality with well-informed elites - and who cares about the rest? So God knows there are enough reasons to feel bleak but there are many rays of hope and many beacons of hope and I think we are here tonight because we care about those and we want to think about those.

So first, perversely those 80 journalists who died doing their job and the 350 journalists imprisoned, punished for a vocation, for their dogged belief that someone has to risk everything to tell society truths about itself. In how many jobs do the practitioners risk so much, are willing to lay down their lives for a wider public good? The answer is not many - and that tells you something about the value of what we do. This isn’t just a job – it’s a calling. It is an act of service. It is something the bravest of our colleagues do not think about as being optional. It is an act of necessity. It is necessary that somebody challenges, bears witness.

I was thinking about this recently as we celebrated two occasions in history, which we recently marked anniversaries of. The anniversaries of a state power being brought to bear on citizens. There was recently the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in 1989. In Britain, we had the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, the moment in 1819 when magistrates in Manchester sent soldiers on horseback to cut down a peaceful gathering of citizens protesting at a corrupt political system. How do we know something like the truth about these atrocities? Not because the state felt obliged to confess quite the opposite but because there were witnesses there on our behalf. Reporters, men and women who, often at some risk to themselves, felt compelled to record what happened and to put the truth out there for all to see - because these small acts of scrutiny are all that enabled justice to be done. All that stopped the worst aspects of history from repeating themselves.

Power generally, not always, is less likely to behave badly if it thinks it is being watched. So while, of course, we mourn these sacrifices and campaign for the freedom of our jailed colleagues, we should also celebrate their spirit, cherish the example they set to us, feel inspired by their commitment and courage, and show that we are prepared to step up and fill the holes left by their enforced absence.

Who could doubt that the recent death of Lyra McKee at the hands of mindless gunmen in Northern Ireland would have inspired others to step into her shoes? Who can fail to admire the indomitable spirit of our colleagues in Mexico? Hundred journalists killed since 2000 – still our colleagues step up to do this necessary work.

© Reporter ohne Grenzen

Second, I think the more people stare over the precipices of societies with no reliable sources of news, no verification or independent challenge, the more people realize that in the end, we are all there is. When the last bee dies and the planet is in trouble and I sometimes feel the same about reporters. Remember that time when Trump had control of the White House Congress, numerous government agencies and the beginning of a takeover of the Supreme Court. But we, the people, had The New York Times and The Washington Post and CNN and The New Yorker and The Miami Herald and ProPublica and others. They were still free. In the words of Martin Baron: They went to work, not to war. The best of what they did and still do was not only very good, it was essential. People could see that. They understood this is what a free press does and people continue to understand it in many countries where they know an independent media is all they have.

There are other beacons of hope. The collaboration between news organizations and journalists who realize that we can achieve more by working together than by competing. The surprising resilience of that form of journalism we call investigative. Reporting that digs deeply shines a light into the darkest places, sticks with a story, explores angles, demands answers, holds people properly to account.

At one point, some media executives thought they could no longer afford to do this kind of reporting. Now the clever ones realize they cannot afford not to because our readers expect it. They want journalism that is on their side, that holds power to account on their behalf and that is the final beacon of hope. Of seeing journalism as well as a business as a public service. That way of journalism is becoming sustainable. Readers will support it voluntarily but only if they truly think that it is acting in a public interest, publishing true things about important matters that affect our lives.

At the Guardian, I was lucky enough to work for a paper founded in 1821 in response to the Peterloo massacre - by the first journalist who actually report, who wrote the first eyewitness report on that massacre - which always puts its public mission as public interest mission ahead of profits. It was not founded in a wine bar by venture capitalists who saw a chance to make money just as well because it did not. It was founded because as early as the early 19th century, it was becoming obvious that journalism was the most effective check on unbridled power. It was a public service. No one was looking to cash in or exit within five or ten years. It has been in the same ownership for nearly 200 years.

In my last 10 years of editor, we wrote about torture, renditions. We exposed tax avoidance, heartless undercover policing. We wrote about corrupt arms deals and slavery. We named fake drug peddlers, dishonest politicians. We wrote about corrupt police find that trillium ineptitude, governmental dishonesty and lies about war. We published the revelations about mass surveillance by Edward Snowden and the truth finally revealed by Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange about how rights and staff were killed by American pilots.

Every one of those stories was really difficult to do, was really expensive to report and really expensive and difficult to defend. Sometimes we had to risk millions to hire lawyers and to fight off rich and powerful interests who tried to suppress our reporting. When the British government smashed our tools of communication, we moved our reporting to a country with better protections.

Now conventional wisdom said that this intense investment in reporting was mad, particularly in the middle of a digital revolution, which was appending all economic certainties. Fire all those expensive reporters and try something modest - that is what they said. But investigative reporting in the public interest actually turned out to be the business model. The Guardian now has a million readers who say: If you are going to do journalism like that, we will support it. But there was a qualification. They didn’t want to support it as a private good - so I can read it and no one else can, that’s the traditional model – but as a public good. I will give you the money so that everybody in this theatre can read it, everybody in Germany can read it, and everybody in the world can read it - because that is what the world needs.

I think of it as a lighthouse. There is no business model for a lighthouse and yet the world needs lighthouses. Otherwise, a lot of people are going to die and a lot of ships are going to sink and so there is a different way of funding the public good of a lighthouse. This idea of good journalism as a cause worth supporting is working. Think of Wikipedia or the national public radio or the great paper The Texas Tribune or ProPublica and countless other projects where people have a strong sense of what journalism is supposed to do because we know this digital revolution is scary. We know that it is full of triumphs and opportunities but it is full of failures and red ink.

The Guardian is now breaking even again because the readers clearly want to support an organization, which invests and investigates Cambridge Analytica, which works with colleagues to publish the Paradise Papers to expose the truth about the appalling treatment of the Windrush generation of immigrants. And there are other models that are creeping up now. There are philanthropists who are recognizing the need for good journalism. Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post, the Marshall Project. In Australia, there was a man called Graham Wood who was an Australian entrepreneur who came to the Guardian and said: If you opened the Guardian in Australia, I will pay for it because there is no media plurality in my country and there is no decent coverage of climate change. If you never make any money that is fine, you can keep the money. If you make money, you pay me back. Well, the bad news is the Guardian is not making money and we have had to pay him back - but it just needed a little vision. It just needed some money and some bravery along with the public support that then kicked in.

I think we are going to see many new forms of companies with a mission rather than simply profit at their heart. Community ventures that place the readers at the heart of journalism, a new appreciation of forms of publicly funded reporting as well as public service broadcasting. Start-ups to combine the best of what is happening on social media with the best that traditional journalism can do. Journalism is bound to change. It is bound to remake itself. It is bound to find new ways and new audiences. But at the heart, at its core, it is going to remain the same. The people we recognize tonight are the best of what we aspire to do: to bear witness, to act as a check on unbridled power, to make order out of the chaos information that threatens to engulf us, to say: this is true – that isn’t; this happened – that didn’t; this is a fact – that isn’t. Because without that and without those people, societies can’t function. Luckily, as tonight shows, remarkable people will continue to step forward to do what societies need and people will defend it and pay for it because at its best it is the most necessary precondition for any good society that we have.

So yes, we should always remember the obstacles that we face, the people that wish us ill and all those who feel so threatened by what we do that they will do anything to try and suppress us. But as we come together tonight to honour people with courage we have so much to celebrate. That is sometimes hard to remember but even more dangerous to forget.

Thank you."