To what end conflict reporting, a vital part of media coverage, has increased in the digital media age was what panelists explored at the Media Summit in Bonn, Germany, on Monday.
In today's changing media landscape, where a growing demand for information, increasing speed and the ability for anyone in the world to report news, journalists run the risk of neglecting in-depth analysis of current events. The "Media Summit" held on the first of a three-day Global Media Forum examined the changes taking place in international media coverage of crises and conflicts as a result of this constantly-changing new digital media age.
"The rise of digital media has completely remodeled the media sector," said Günter Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, European Commission, in his keynote speech. He went on to address the regulatory changes brought on by a single digital marketing strategy as presented to the European Union on June 1 to address the digitalization of media.
Five panelists then joined Deutsche Welle news anchor, Christopher Springate, for a lively discussion on how this restructuring has specifically impacted the media they produce from conflict zones. The panel sought to explore the issues presented by the old journalistic adage, "If it bleeds, it leads," as live reports from war and disaster zones are broadcast around the clock, but for the benefit of whom?
As journalist Andreas Zumach, contributor to the Germany-based Tageszeitung said, "We have a rat race to see who is the first with the most spectacular news. That makes it difficult for journalists who cover the efforts to de-escalate or even solve the conflict at a diplomatic level to get coverage."
Katrin Sandmann, a war correspondent who has reported from a number of countries in conflict for German television networks, sees the added media resources a bit differently.
"The fact that we have so many different media journalists, even citizen journalists, it gives you options, and there's never been so many options as what we have today, you just need to use them properly. There's a chance of being extremely well-informed in the 21st century."
Often a dearth in reporting is a result of limited resources, said panelist Max Hofmann, European Correspondent and Brussels Bureau Chief of Deutsche Welle. "Normally when things are going well, or even if they're going badly, if things are constant, they just tend to be forgotten. But that doesn't mean that you can't report on positive things."
That approach to news reporting is one currently being promoted in several Scandinavian countries called "Constructive news," which works against the decades-old philosophy that only bad stories can be good stories.
Presented in a video message from Ulrike Haagerup, Executive Director of News at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, constructive news is seen as a solution to the currently contested form of war reporting.
There are, however, other unique issues that have been brought up by the digital trends in media.
"The biggest challenge at the moment is the truth because it's being challenged by propaganda but also by the ability that everyone has to create their own news," said Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director of EBU, European Broadcasting Union.
Richard Porter, Editorial & Digital Director, BBC Global News Ltd., concurred. "We live in an era of contradictions. (We have) more media than ever before, but not always more freedom. That's a very big contradiction that we face. We have bigger audiences and yet we have more financial pressures than ever before. We have the ability for everybody to produce their own news, in their own pockets, and yet it's harder than ever to discern the truth."
For discussion moderator Christopher Springate, however, the question was not one of truth but one of influence, as he asked the panelists whether the media – and the frequently emotional messages they send – exert significant pressure on policy-makers by bringing issues to light. One of the key issues he says is the interplay between foreign policy and crisis reporting. “Is there a pressure that we're putting on politicians, to be as fast as we are when creating policy,” he asked, citing the issue of refugees currently being addressed by governments across Europe.
"I think we are putting pressure on them but we are not the only ones. In my opinion, the people who are affected are adding that pressure," said Nyberg Frankenhaeuser.
Despite the debate, the panelists all agreed that challenges of reporting conflicts persist even in a digital media landscape.
"It can't be about the solutions," said Sandmann. "That's asking too much of a journalist."