Jenifer Vaughan Fenton, Spokesperson/Senior Media Adviser, UN Special Envoy for Syria | Switzerland

Jenifer Vaughan (Fenton) has been the spokesperson at the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Syria since May 2019. Ms. Vaughan attends the SDGs Conference in her personal capacity. Previously, she worked for Al Jazeera in Doha and New York, and CNN in Atlanta, Jerusalem, London, and Abu Dhabi, holding senior positions, including an Executive Producer. Ms. Vaughan also worked for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Palestine, and the UN Refugee Agency in New York. Vaughan held the Yale Poynter Fellow-in-Residence for the 2017–18 academic year. She has won several major industry news awards, including multiple Peabody Awards.


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Event Title: SDGs Conference 2023 Date: Sept 20, 2023


Strengthening media institutions and political commitments for sustainable peace and security

The Secretary-General noted in his annual report that peace and security are threatened by the evolving nature of conflict, shrinking civic space, misinformation, hate speech, unregulated cyberspace, the climate emergency, and the rollback of women’s rights. The political will has been lacking. Clearly, journalism plays a pivotal role in conflict resolution, safeguarding human rights, and fostering sustainable development. Sadly, journalism is a risky and far too deadly endeavor. Media is consistently attacked and undermined in many contexts. Numerous studies have noted that across the world, female journalists and media professionals encounter escalating online and offline assaults. Gender-based acts of violence encompass stigma, stigmatization, misogynistic hate speech, cyberbullying, physical aggression, sexual assault, and tragically even murder. 

Strengthening media institutions and media freedoms is essential for the promotion of democracy to enable the free flow of information and to protect the interests of society. The United Nations has among its primary objectives, preventing conflict and promoting international cooperation and since its founding, it has evolved to take on a wide range of global issues, including the vital role of media. The UN also recognizes the critical role that media plays in conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. The news media dictates what conflict and its aspects get covered and how much airtime or front-page news coverage a conflict receives. Who speaks about the conflict in the media? Do we use the main or auxiliary players in the conflict aid agencies, terrorists, or the civilians who are impacted? The media can frame a matter in a way that makes it more intractable. Media can act as a weapon of violence, spreading hate and false information. It can also assign and employ stereotypes and give people labels that are dehumanizing. News media can also provide accurate information in conflict zones, which is critical to help civilians stay safe and to access other necessities. 

It can also reduce conflict and help aid with resolution by providing accurate information in a timely manner. Also, it sheds light on the root causes of conflict and provides a path for meaningful dialogue. It can also hold parties to account, expose abuses of power, violations of human rights, and crimes of war, and act as a watchdog. The Secretary-General noted in his annual report on the organization that the UN has created mechanisms in an effort to bolster media development in places of conflict and countries. The report also highlights the work being done to fight back against the miss and disinformation, as well as hate speech and efforts, of course, including monitoring and training. Partnerships play an important role and include media, social media companies, and civil society organizations. 

Obviously, the media variables are very complex. News media environments are varied. For example, there are government or quasi-government media monopolies, and large media conglomerates. The news values differ at different outlets as well as to the extent to which governments control communication through mechanisms such as strict penal codes, and legal frameworks that restrict or enable the freedoms of the press. There is also communication infrastructure that may be limited or advanced and may suffer from more related or other damage. The interests and motivations of media outlets and journalists, of course, are wide-ranging, and communication methods also differ depending on the country and the region. Communication Technology continues to change the media landscape, and it is challenging to manage the volume of information that we are receiving. There is, of course, a lack of political will to achieve these goals.

There are not only legal protections for the freedom of the press but also constitutional guarantees. Journalists and media workers have the right to be protected from harassment, violence, and censorship. There needs to be a political will to establish conditions where journalists can carry out their work without retribution. Alongside these information laws, political commitments are needed to strengthen the freedom of information to help ensure government transparency and accountability for journalists, citizens, and affected persons to request and access public documents. Regulatory bodies need to have clear mandates that can help ensure fairness, as well as accountability in the media industry and international organizations.  

Other countries and bodies also should encourage and share best practices and resources. Media organizations also need to self-regulate adhering to ethical codes of conduct and also diverse funding and independence. To the degree possible, funding should be diverse and media outlets should try to reduce their dependence on single revenue streams as this runs the risk of making them vulnerable to external pressures. So, a combination of philanthropies, subscriptions, memberships, grants, and other funding to investigative journalism projects is critical, especially ones that aim to uncover corruption and hold powerful entities accountable. Media pluralism is also critical. We need to promote a diverse media landscape and have independent and community-led efforts. Education and media literacy are becoming increasingly essential programs, including at schools, teaching members of the public, engaging civil society, and combating disinformation and fake news. 

Along with holding the social media platforms accountable, it needs to be fostered and media outlets need to prioritize. Public interest reporting, and strengthening media institutions must be a process that is ongoing, combining a number of things that I underlined, including legal affairs as well as regulatory framework. A trustworthy and vibrant media ecosystem is one in which there is both freedom of the press and responsible journalism. Governments, international organizations, and civil society must work together to create an environment where media can operate freely and responsibly. Media must be strengthened and protected.

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