“An independent and free media must for a healthy democracy”

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New Delhi: The United States Consulate General in Kolkata, in collaboration with Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), and with the support of South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) and the East West Center (EWC), hosted an international media workshop in Kolkata for women journalists from the Indo-Pacific region.

Speaking at the workshop’s opening session, Melinda Pavek, Consul General of the United States Consulate in Kolkata, emphasised the importance of free and independent media as the foundation of a healthy democracy.

She also warned against the negative impact of information asymmetry on people’s trust in democratic institutions. In this regard, she referred to the United States’ Digital Communication Network (DCN).

The DCN is a community of over 8,000 journalists, educators, communicators, new media professionals, and government officials.

The network creates and distributes tools that provide accurate information and fact-checking capabilities. She concluded by saying that the US is working to create, strengthen, and integrate more such networks throughout the Indo-Pacific region in order to promote media literacy, popularise fact-checking, and support press freedom.

Adrian Pratt, Director of the American Center Kolkata, emphasised the role of digital technology in improving people’s access to real-time information from around the world. However, he also noted its abuse by actors to disseminate misinformation and harass journalists, particularly women.

Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director of CUTS, emphasised the importance of information literacy among journalists in combating mis/disinformation. He emphasised the importance of disseminating accurate information about the US-led initiative to build an Indo-Pacific.

Nilova Roy Chaudhary, General Secretary of SAWM, discussed the challenges that women journalists in South Asia face. Misogyny, trolling, and misinformation are among the challenges she mentioned.

She emphasised the importance of establishing cross-border collaboration among women journalists in the Indo-Pacific region as a tool for combating workplace harassment of female journalists.

Susan Kreifels, Media Programs Manager at East West Center, argued that combating misinformation was a long-term effort and investment. She cited various reports indicating a loss of trust in the media as a result of misinformation and emphasised the importance of calling out and prosecuting those who bombard society with false information.

Around 60 women journalists from various countries attended the workshop, including the United States and countries in the Indo-Pacific region such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, among others.

They discussed  the threats and challenges they face in their respective countries, as well as the best practises they have adopted to combat them.

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