Acting VOA Director Yolanda López delivered the keynote address, Tuesday, May 3, for the Opening of the Academic Conference on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022 in Punta Del Este, Uruguay.
López spoke to the theme of this years’ conference, “Journalism under Digital Siege,” with a focus on the safety of journalists. As acting director, López must decide when to send journalists into conflict zones such as Ukraine and Afghanistan.
“These are the tough decisions we must make each day. Balancing the need to keep our audiences informed with the urge to keep our reporting crews: reporters, camera operators, our fixers, safe,” she said.
The panel opening the academic conference included Gonzalo Baroni, National Director of Education (Uruguay), Dr. Chiara Miranda, acting on behalf of Dr. Gladys Ceretta, Dean at the University of the Republic, Dr. Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and moderator, Jessica Jerreat, VOA Press Freedom Editor.
During the conference, scholars will present nearly 30 research papers. In the hour-long opening discussion, panelists set the tone, emphasizing the importance of research and the need for greater cooperation between academia and journalists to create a safer environment.
López mentioned that even with the best support, training and resources working to protect journalists, their lives and loved ones often remain at risk from autocratic governments, extremists and other special interests groups. The threats can be both physical and mental, and with the steady rise of disinformation, threats to journalists remain a constant presence in their work – particularly many VOA journalists who work in dangerous places, she added.
Speaking to the theme of the event, López called for greater collaboration of those working to safeguard journalists.
“Now, more than ever we need to bridge the gap between research and the experiences of journalists on the ground, to reach policy makers and create a lasting change to protect journalists,” López told the scholars and audiences in person in Uruguay and online . “I applaud efforts from NGO’s and the UNESCO itself. They have outstanding programs including some that assist countries to develop legislation that favors freedom of expression.”
The future remains unknown, López concluded, stating that journalists’ work goes on long after their stories are published. Good journalists are, “committed to report the facts. We need everybody’s help to allow us to do that safely.”
Later in the afternoon, López participated in the panel discussion, “Information as a Public Good – Our Journalists, Our Freedom.” The aim of the discussion was to draw attention to the important role journalism has in producing news as factual and verified information for society. The acting director spoke to the important role VOA journalists play in this ecosystem and showcased a short video of VOA’s most recent work in some of the world’s most dangerous regions.