Independent media have a full role to play in the development process but they need funding and the support of professional and credible journalists to fully exercise this role, UNESCO said.
The UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is marking a two-day conference Tuesday to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.
The conference, bringing together a variety of participants involved with media, communications, academia, business and governance, examined several themes relating to journalism and media operations today, in particular safety aspects for journalists, integrity and impunity issues and the role the press can play in development.
Concerning media and development, UNESCO said that there are a variety of challenges facing media, be they private, government-owned or even operating on a community level.
"For free, pluralistic and independent media to play their full role in development, they need to provide a platform for sustainable, professional and credible journalism," the Paris-based organisation said.
"Private media rely on growth in the market place to exist and expand, and this has been hindered in many places by the economic crisis following the financial crises that began in 2007," it added.
The challenge for publicly-funded media is different, it was noted, and there is a growing reluctance by governments to finance media, even though the work of the press can be beneficial.
"Public service media, which are more autonomous in regard to market-driven content, are finding that central governments are more reluctant to fund them despite their role in development," UNESCO indicated.
In addition, "community media" is continuing to grow in importance to act as a conduit for the demands of "marginalised groups" like indigenous or rural communities. While there is much "grassroots participation" in these community media, their business basis is precarious in many areas.
"UNESCO is aware that it is those communities most affected by poverty which are least able to impart and obtain information. As a result, they are excluded from public debate and unable to influence decisions that have a profound effect on their everyday lives," the statement said.
This inability to highlight issues has consequences across a broad spectrum of social, health and political issues affecting these groups.
"Without media sustainability across private, public and community media sectors, their marginalized status is likely to persist," UNESCO warned.
But all media sectors are being challenged today by finance and technology questions and are seeking to adjust to the new modernity of news gathering and dissemination, and also deal with newcomers to the media world.
"All news media today - whether public, private or community - are facing challenges about how to deal with new actors who generate news content for the public, such as bloggers, NGOs, private companies and state bodies," it was stated.
"In many cases, the traditional media are wrestling with issues arising from their own entry into online media in general. Their engagement with the public through cellular telephony and online social media has meant overlaps between community media and private and commercial media, as all sectors increasingly enable public participation," it was added.
In addition, the role of advertising and the changing face of advertising platforms have also had an impact on news media, their production and circulation and on journalism.
"The professionalism of journalism is exhibited in the observance of standards such as verification of news content, confidentiality of sources, fairness, and public interest," UNESCO recalled.
But the UN body remarked that journalistic integrity has been questioned in several ways, firstly because "the boundaries between editorial content and advertising are blurring." Also, the multiplicity of contributors of news content means that there are some "who do not understand or adhere to journalistic professionalism" which means that sometimes they are not always accorded the same protections as traditional journalists.
So called "Citizen Journalists" are often targeted in conflict zones where traditional, accredited journalists might not, as long as they are identified as press.
"The rise of Internet intermediaries, with the potential to impact freedom of expression has produced a new set of gatekeepers, many of whom are unfamiliar with or unprepared to deal with this role," UNESCO said.
The UN entity said that it was necessary to find the right balance between free expression and privacy or other rights, and with reputation and security.
This balancing is "an immature enterprise" for many, especially those on the internet.
Meanwhile, UNESCO remarked that the debates on "self-regulation versus privatisation of censorship by internet intermediaries" is still at the embryonic stage and "legal standards for limits on freedom of expression, on all platforms, are still not often fully aligned to international principles of...transparency, proportionality and proper purpose." These principles must be met for any limitations on freedom of expression to be "legitimate." Lastly, UNESCO points out, the level or lack of journalistic ethics or competence raises questions and highlights the need to tackle inadequacies in reporting.
"In a context of expanding information, the integrity of journalism also relies on media and information literacy competencies. Participants in media increasingly need to be equipped to find, evaluate and participate in information about the development debates," UNESCO affirmed