World Journalists Conference 2020: peace and media amidst the pandemic

Unprecedented circumstances call for unprecedented actions. As we begin to adjust to the ‘new normal’ brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say that the issues plaguing our society have been amplified. Fake news spreads like wildfire, journalists lose their jobs, and peace is a distant memory as global death toll rises and the illusion of normalcy collapses.

In such times, World Journalists Conference (WJC), which celebrated its eighth year in 2020, decided to continue. Unlike the last seven years, the conference was held online and nearly 80 journalists from over 55 countries gathered to address issues of fake news, global responses to COVID-19 and the state of peace in Korean peninsula in light of the 70th anniversary of Korean War.

The three-day conference began with an opening address by the host organization Journalists Association of Korea’s president Dong-Hoon Kim. Kim welcomed all the distinguished journalists and reminded everyone how important it is to continue to hold this conference despite the limitations caused by the pandemic. He also emphasized the fact that Korea remains the only divided nation on earth today and the aim of the World Journalists Conference is to promote world peace and contribute to the advancement of journalism.

WJC2020 host organization Journalists Association of Korea (JAK) President Dong Hoon Kim (photo: screenshot)

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, in his congratulatory message, lauded Journalists Association of Korea for establishing WJC as an important platform for world peace and journalism.

“Despite its relatively short history of 8 years, the World Journalists Conference has been hailed as a shining example of public diplomacy,” said PM Chung.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun welcomed distinguished journalists to World Journalists Conference 2020. (Photo: screenshot)

Citing the COVID19 deaths caused due to misinformation, The Prime Minister also addressed the issue of “infodemic”.

“I am well aware that in order to avoid inhibiting freedom of expression, regulations that address fake news need to be tailored with a high level of precision,” he said. “This perspective has driven the Korean government’s response to COVID-19 fake news. To the extent that such misinformation poses a serious social problem threatening the health and safety of citizens, the government is making the utmost effort in preventive measures to avert an “infodemic.”

Further, regarding the peace talks between South and North Korea, Chung shared that despite the April 27th Panmunjom Declaration two years ago, there has been no progress recently.

“Nevertheless, our belief remains firm that permanent peace on the Korean peninsula is a noble goal and mission that South and North Korea must achieve. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the reality that the two Koreas constitute not only a shared community of fates but a shared community of life in terms of public health,” he said.

Each day, 18-22 speakers presented, discussed and debated the issues in their respective countries regarding fake news and response to the pandemic.

The theme for the first day was ‘Fake news and the future of journalism’. 22 speakers, ranging from countries such as Korea, Egypt and Iran to Malaysia, The Philippines and India, presented their perspective on the aforementioned subject. There was a particular focus on how fake news isn’t a new phenomenon but rather that social media has accelerated the speed and the range of fake news, which culminates in misinformation affecting lives, especially during the ongoing global crises.

World Journalists Conference 2020 was held from Sep 14-16 at Korea Press Center in Seoul. (Photo: Peter Song)

The second day was dedicated to the theme of ‘Global Responses to COVID-19 and Disease Control Methods’. Once again, 22 speakers from countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Singapore, and Georgia discussed how their respective countries have been trying to control the spread of Coronavirus using different measures. They also addressed the role traditional and social media have played in influencing people’s decisions, actions, and obedience (or lack thereof) to the instructions to prevent COVID-19 infections.

The third and final day addressed the 70th anniversary of the Korean War and Peace Policy in the Korea Peninsula. Journalists from Korea, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Iran and other countries weighed in on the peace policy, the problems faced by and in the Korean peninsula, and why their unification may be hindered by factors outside of their control, including but not limited to the foreign forces.

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