In the last hundred years, the national Indian media — traditional and now “new” media — has grown exponentially in number and influence.
This year, as we mark the centenary of journalism education in India, never before has the need for journalism education been as pressing as it is now, with new threats of disinformation emerging brutally and with the COVID-19 crisis revealing that information is actually a lifesaver.
In India, the discipline of “Journalism Education” was introduced by British activist Annie Besant in the 1920s, when she launched a course on journalism at the National University at Adyar, Madras. There are now about 900 Indian colleges and institutes offering mass communication and journalism programmes at different levels.
In the last two decades, we have witnessed a boom in commercial media and numerous digital journalism platforms have emerged, which has also opened avenues for citizen journalism. All these factors have only compounded the need for certificated courses in journalism, and its rising demand in the region.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) mandate upholds freedom of the press and the free flow of information. The challenge is to ensure that this flow includes high quality information — which is where journalism education comes in. Hence, the long-standing work of UNESCO to strengthen journalism education. We believe that professional news media act as guardians of the public interest. Citizens cannot exercise and enjoy their citizenship in the absence of crucial information and knowledge, which well-trained journalists are better placed to provide. Professional journalistic standards are, therefore, essential to bring out the potential of media systems to foster democracy, dialogue and development.
We see, however, that recent trends have placed journalism under fire. A range of factors are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism.
In this context, UNESCO set up the Global Initiative for Excellence in Journalism Education in 2014 to leverage lessons learned during our support to African schools of journalism, and apply them in the wider context of our support for journalism education globally. This included supporting the development of “new literacies” in response to the challenges of a fast-changing world. We assembled experts to develop syllabi on issues such as climate change, data journalism, science journalism, etc.
Our most recent publication was a handbook, Journalism, ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation , which is an issue that we have all become familiar with. This has emerged as a serious challenge globally, and escalated following the COVID-19 outbreak.
All this pushes in favour of a reinforcement of journalism education. While keeping in mind the principles of press freedom, many stakeholders must join hands and accelerate efforts. This includes media houses and media training institutions, governments and other partners. From our work with global media educators and years of research in this field, it is evident that many of the schools that UNESCO supported over the years have become stronger and acquired a greater capacity to be a strategic part of a global network of journalism schools of excellence.
We have come a long way as far as strengthening the values of global journalism education is concerned, but a lot still needs to be done. We must address in particular quality issues and the exploitation of students by some educational institutions. The objective should be to constantly improve the quality of media training, while ensuring access to everyone.
The other pressing concern relates to the dynamic nature of the communication and information technologies that are reshaping the media landscape. Social media, with their huge numbers of contributors, cannot replace the production of proper news journalism, even if they compete very seriously for time and advertising.
In this regard, we see the implementation of the National Education Policy, 2020, as an opportunity. It encourages us to make media education holistic, multidisciplinary and inclusive of the latest technological advancements. We must certainly evolve our teaching techniques keeping in view these challenges.
Eric Falt is the Director and Representative of the UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office covering Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka