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Contemporary Journalism: Winning the Battle for Freedom

An Executive Conversation with journalist Tim Sebastian

Known as the founder and moderator of BBC’s Hardtalk and The Doha Debates, and currently the presenter of Conflict Zone on Deutsche Welle, former BBC reporter and award-winning investigative journalist Tim Sebastian was welcomed by the GCSP on 19 October.

Giving a critical overview and assessment on “Contemporary Journalism: Losing the battle for Freedom”, Sebastian identified growing apathy in public opinion in general as one of the major challenges for current investigative journalism, consequently easing the demand for accountability for politicians.

Referring to Freedom House’s most recent report, Sebastian noted that large numbers of people worldwide are deprived of their basic right of freedom of speech, mostly for the sake of political stability and often at the expense of democracy – an indispensable complement of investigative journalism. Indeed, Mr Tim Sebastian remarked that it is only in democracies that “journalists who seek to tell the truth can survive” and ordinary people get a voice to challenge their rulers.

In reference to Michael Schudson’s book Why Democracies need an Unlovable Press, Sebastian underlined the role of the press as an essential pillar of the system of checks and balances while appealing to his fellow journalists not to descent into self-censorship for the sake of political stability. 



Focusing on shortcomings in the Middle East notably, Sebastian lamented the trend of a shrinking space for freedom of speech. Such developments occur paradoxically despite the global trend of the “Internet as the ultimate instrument for freedom.” Nevertheless, good journalism still exists, according to Sebastian. 

Engaging the question of how investigative journalism is going to survive and how to enforce the assertion of press freedom, Sebastian explained that it is the active collaboration between a democratic political leadership together with the awareness of its citizens that demand their basic rights that will make investigative journalism survive. People are either afraid of the freedom of speech itself because it could be directed against their own individual and/or cultural sensitivities or the belief that we have already all the freedoms and rights we deserve. Both are contributing to the increase of societal apathy in terms of press freedom.

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GCSP – Maison de la paix

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