Fernando de Yarza López-Madrazo opening address at World News Media Congress 2023

2023-06-28. Fernando de Yarza López-Madrazo, WAN-IFRA President, addresses delegates attending the World News Media Congress 2023 in Taipei.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 28, 2023

It is my distinct honour to be here to welcome you all to the 74th World News Media Congress, the first time in over a decade that the world’s leading media industry event comes to Asia, and the first time ever for it to be held in Taiwan.

Allow me to pay tribute to our hosts, all at UDN, who have stood patiently by us over the past few years as we navigated the COVID pandemic. Among many things, COVID delayed our arrival here by two years and forestalled the opportunity for our international guests to experience the warmth and incredible hospitality these shores have been so eagerly waiting to bestow on you all.

On behalf of everyone in the WAN-IFRA family, I am delighted to say that we’ve finally made it! 800 of us, in fact, from 50 countries as diverse as Argentina, Canada, Botswana and New Zealand. I encourage you all to experience the wonderful city of Taipei, our home for the next few days, and to make the most of this tremendous country and its amazing people.

We, of course, arrive here at a moment of great importance for Taiwan, the region, and indeed the world. The relationship between The Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Beijing Authorities has made the front pages across the globe on numerous occasions of late. Tensions have been rising significantly, and the geopolitical situation has this country, its people, and indeed all those who care for the democratic way of life, very much on high alert.

WAN-IFRA is built on the values of independence and democracy. As president, I believe Taiwan must be allowed to cement its status as a ray of light in an increasing circle of darkness, authoritarianism, and control. The historical, cultural, linguistic, and spiritual ties will forever remain between the Chinese mainland and this island. But the right of the Taiwanese people to choose their destiny, determine their future, and live in peace is something those of us visiting from afield can recognise as vital to maintaining. Presently, this right is being challenged to unprecedented levels, but we can all identify with the determination to protect, preserve, and nurture hard-won freedoms.

Unfortunately, we also arrive here at a moment of great challenge for the press in many parts of the world. Much remains to be done to safeguard all’s freedom, dignity, and human rights.

Over the past year, we have seen the increasing use of ‘lawfare’ to silence the independent press worldwide – the abuse of judicial systems to exert pressure and censorship, deter critical reporting, and silence courageous individuals from speaking truth to power.

We are all appalled by the figure of over 360 journalists currently in jail around the world. WAN-IFRA denounces the ongoing criminalization of the profession and the terrible price being paid by dedicated women and men, simply for doing their jobs.

Iran. Turkey. China. Myanmar – these are the leading jailers, but they are by no means alone.

We denounce the recent sentencing of Jose Rubén Zamora to six years in jail in Guatemala and the closure of his news organisation, El Periódico.

We condemn Russia, where the jailing of critics and opponents of the current war is deliberately used to prolong the invasion and prevent truth and reality from reaching the Russian people. We stand with our friends at the Wall Street Journal in calling for the release of Evan Gershkovich.

And we call for the immediate, unconditional release of all jailed media professionals and an end to the legal harassment of the independent press.

Once again, we firmly reiterate our support for a free press in Ukraine, and underline our resolve to stand by our colleagues there for as long as it takes: their survival is not only a crucial test of our solidarity in action, but an existential challenge to the will to defend democratic values, of which freedom of the press is a cornerstone.

We are acutely aware that truth and fact remain too fragile. It is vitally important for us to prioritise and support public interest journalism and quality news, especially heading into critical election cycles in a number of key countries where democracy is threatened like never before. People are actively stoking division – we see this even in newsrooms. Our best response to propaganda and misinformation is more journalism, ensuring the highest standards of rigour and independence are upheld.

In this regard, we must recognise the immense possibilities, and at the same time, huge challenges and understandable fears, of Artificial Intelligence and what it holds for our collective futures. What AI means for our newsrooms is not yet clear, but while it promises to be a game changer we must be incredibly wary about not repeating mistakes of the past. A rush to embrace new technology without considering the implications, especially concerning AI, is potentially catastrophic.

We must also continue towards our goal of making gender equality and diversity – in our newsrooms and our boardrooms – not only a top priority, but an imminent reality. Similarly, we must increase our efforts to keep journalists and all media professionals safe, online and off, particularly women journalists who continue to bear the brunt of threats and attacks.

And we cannot ignore, especially as we are here, the growing influence of China and its dominance over the region, and how we should all be mindful of the implications this has for a free press to report on an area of increasing global significance.

Over the years, this organisation has not wavered in calling out China’s blanket disregard for press freedom – and we will not stop doing so today. China must be held accountable for its actions, particularly its sidestepping of human rights, of which the appalling treatment of the Uyghur minority is just the latest to come to light. China is no friend of a free press, and we call for all 43 of the journalists currently incarcerated in Chinese prisons to be immediately released.

And we reiterate our global community’s support to the five Chinese Golden Pen laureates since 1995 – Jimmy Lai, Li Changqing, Shi Tao, Gao Yu, and Dai Qing. Their frontline fight for freedom and human rights represents the highest values of our organisation, and of our profession.

Facing these immense challenges alone is not an option in this organisation. In solidarity, we can help each other surmount even the toughest of obstacles. This is why, as an “agent of transformation” for the entire sector globally, WAN-IFRA is best placed to bring the profession together and guide it towards success.

Last year, a record number of over 11,000 media professionals from more than 120 countries registered for our programme of international and regional events, webinars, and training and coaching opportunities.

Some 90 new corporate and individual members rallied to WAN-IFRA in 2022. Nearly forty new members have joined us in the last six months

These are just two key indicators that encourage us to perform even better, to work even harder to deserve the loyalty and trust of our members and remain an essential partner to them and the world’s press.

I am particularly proud to chair an association that is said to be ‘authentic’. This is a very personal trait of our organisation. WAN-IFRA is unique in that it engages in complex and demanding areas beyond the reach of most professional bodies in the sector.

If WAN-IFRA engages, mobilises, and empowers the media to tackle the industry’s challenges in more than 120 countries, our roots and purpose commit us to developing activities in support of sustainable independent media in emerging and transitional markets, leveraging expertise, knowledge and networks from within the industry while advocating for the fundamental rights and freedoms that underpin a free and independent press.

Currently, WAN-IFRA works with media in 26 transitional markets throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eurasia. In these countries, the needs are great and, unfortunately, growing. Our engagement takes the form of capacity-building and advanced training programmes, financial grants and advocacy support thanks to programme-specific public and private funding and the vital support of our global members. This mission flows through all levels of the organisation and lies at the heart of everything we do.

Our work is guided by the conviction, held for more than 70 years, that media freedom is firmly rooted in sustainable, economically independent news businesses. This belief continues to serve as a beacon for WAN-IFRA’s programmes, approaches and partnerships.

And the World News Media Congress is the focal point for all these efforts. It is a moment of reflection, learning, and a call to action – to surmount threats and seize the momentum as we look forward, collectively, to a healthy future for news media businesses.

In closing, once again, I am extremely grateful to our eminent Taiwanese member, UDN, for playing an active part in the success of this gathering in Taipei. It is an honour for us to organise the 2023 Congress in partnership with them and all our Taiwanese colleagues. Taiwan is a hub for the entire Asia-Pacific region and an ideal place for our international delegates to experience the wealth of its dynamic media landscape. Taiwan’s democratic institutions have shown resilience despite growing interference from Beijing’s authorities: to be in Taiwan in 2023 is a statement supporting democracy and a free press at a time of heightened international tension. The world’s press shows its support. By coming to Taiwan in 2023, WAN-IFRA remains authentic to its foundational purpose and vision.

I hope you’ll make the most of the coming three days to get a grip on where the global industry is headed, and how news publishers are responding to fresh challenges.

Thank you.

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