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Second Global Constructive Journalism Conference

18 January 2019
Second Global Constructive Journalism Conference

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva


Friday, 18 January 2019, 09.00 A.M.
The Graduate Institute Geneva

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to be here with you today for the opening of the 2nd Global Constructive Journalism Conference.

A warm thank you to the Graduate Institute Geneva and to Ulrik Haagerup for bringing us together.

Two things have happened since we got together last year in Aarhus:
̶ One, the challenges journalism faces across the world have only grown more acute.
̶ And two, my belief in the critical importance of constructive journalism has only grown stronger.

Start with the challenges.

Every morning, when I open the New York Times, on the top left corner of the first page, I notice their motto, which reads: “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It reflects the confident ethos of journalism.

And yet, these days we could add a question mark to each word: “All the News That’s Fit to Print”

̶ “All”? - Which medium can still claim to cover all the news in the world?
̶ “The news”? What is news and what is fake news? And whom do we trust to make the distinction?
̶ “Fit”? Who decides what is fit for the public sphere? Certainly not only newspapers - but also trolls, bots and tweeting heads of state, to name a few. In this cacophony of voices, the distinction between truth, myth and even outright lies becomes increasingly difficult.
̶ Well, and “to print”? How many of us - the young in particular - still get their news printed on paper?

Journalism, in short, is at the very center of much that ails democratic societies the world over:

̶ An explosive mixture of resentment, alienation and rage.
̶ Economic fears driven by technological disruption.
̶ And above all, a crisis of trust - trust in leadership, trust in the value of democracy, trust in facts and truth.

But if journalism is at the heart of the challenges, it also plays an integral part in their resolution.

And that brings me to the importance of constructive journalism.

The press - the famous “fourth estate” - has three key roles: (one) to inform, (two) to hold power to account and (three) to educate. When it lives up to these fundamental objectives, journalism helps democracy flourish. It inspires us to take action and to believe that change is possible.

But when it comes up short, it opens the door to misinformation, to ignorance, to disillusionment and to demagoguery. When it comes up short, power goes unchecked. When it comes up short, the public sphere fragments.

Constructive journalism is the most convincing answer I have heard yet to live up to this responsibility.

How to react to unreason? With reason and absolute objectivity.

How to react to constant commotion and hysteria? With the solid and thorough craft of reporting.

How to react to growing polarisation and partisanship? By putting oneself in the other’s shoes; by taking arguments and counter-arguments seriously.

And how to react to the crisis of trust? By exploring solutions.

That is constructive journalism. It’s not about positive, upbeat news. It’s not about seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. Rather, it’s about reporting solutions to start a debate on what can be done.

Journalists are not supposed to be activists of course. But what they can do is activate citizens to take action.

And here’s the encouraging news: constructive journalism is making inroads - across newsrooms worldwide, but also right here at the UN.

The Perception Change Project in my office is one example where we’ve taken inspiration from constructive journalism, to change the narrative, to change the way we speak and the tools we use, to change mindsets.

We are doing all of this not as a public relations exercise to polish the image of the United Nations. We are doing it to empower actors at the grassroots as much as on the diplomatic stage to take responsibility and assert themselves in our collective efforts for a better world.

For everyone to involve themselves; to leave no one behind - that is what the Sustainable Development Goals are all about, our global roadmap for the way forward.

And constructive journalism is a vital instrument in our toolkit to put it successfully into practice.

Thank you - and much success in your discussions today!