Following is the speech made by writer, journalist and filmmaker Rahul Aijaz at the World Journalists Conference 2021.
I made the mistake of watching Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense earlier this year… or last year. The dates have been a bit fuzzy since the pandemic began. But the film showed a succession of pandemics after intermittent periods with each one causing a loss of sense, from smell to taste to sight and so on. At the height of the pandemic, it was starting to feel the world as we knew it was no more and this would be permanent, just like the characters in the said film.
Now with the access to vaccine, I can definitely see the world coming back to normal. Maybe not so fast, but in a year or two or three. No one can say for sure. American filmmaker David Lynch said last year he saw the future of the world as bright and that we would come out of this as better, kinder human beings. The pessimist in me doesn’t think so. The idealist in me can only hope.
The rise we’ve seen in misinformation, hate crimes, shootings, inequality in pay, disregard of human lives and a million other self-inflicted problems and self-caused destruction won’t end all of a sudden because of one pandemic. The world has seen pandemics before and nothing has changed so far.
So, if we are to come out of this as “better, kinder human beings”, that change must begin within ourselves. At the risk of sounding like a fraud motivational speaker, I insist that is the only way we can go through this and into a brighter future.
How do we achieve this now? This is where the role of journalism actually becomes more important than it has been in a while. There are two aspects to this: how do journalists adapt to a post-Covid world and how do journalists aid the world to return to normal?
The answer to both of these questions lies in journalists embracing new technology and new ways to not only be better, more efficient journalists but also using the said methods to reach a wider audience.
Charlie Beckett, professor at London School of Economics and Political Science, in his blog ‘The Future of Journalism post-COVID19: technology, diversity and collaboration’, suggests us leaning toward AI and Machine Learning for this, especially when it comes to data journalism. He also gives an example of the BBC Faith Correspondent Sophia Smith Galer who uses Tik Tok as a creative way to provide news.
I believe, though, the biggest challenge for journalists right now, is to get the anti-vaxxers out of the conspiracy theories. It’s necessary because we can’t think about the post-Covid era unless everyone on the planet is at no risk of the virus. As journalists, all we can do is talk. And write. And spread the word and the facts and the cases. As terrible as it is, this does become a case of who’s shouting the loudest. And we don’t just need to shout the loudest but we need to shout in every street and square.
This is where adapting to newer technologies and utilizing every tool in the box becomes a necessity.
Hopefully, someday soon, we can envision and almost see the finish line and the post-Covid era. Although, I, personally, think one of the better things to come out of the pandemic is that most meetings have become emails and calls. So, that should definitely stay.
It’s more likely that vaccinated or not, even in the post-Covid era, we will still experience the anxiety and hesitation when it comes to human contact for at least a few years to come. It also means that for the next few years, healthcare will sustain its place as a topic of discussion in the public sphere, whether or not states and governments do anything about it. The role of the journalists should then be to bring to light the cold, hard truths of the effects of the pandemic and not just report them, but force a change on an institutional level and the governmental policies to fix the system that failed millions around the world. In Pakistan, post-Covid era is still a distant dream, although you won’t feel like that if you see people in the street. There’s still a long way to go before everyone can be vaccinated. And then, most of the population is still unsure or even scared about vaccines. Yet, by miracle or not, we have come this far. And, if our recently Covid-positive Prime Minister Imran Khan can be confident enough to still conduct in-person, indoor meetings, we will be fine too.