Five highlights from Trust Conference 2020

by Dara Cormican
Monday, 7 December 2020 11:43 GMT

Antonio Zappulla, CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Image Caption and Rights Information

Is ‘Build Back Better’ just a slogan? How do we address the ‘COVID-Crackdown’ on media freedom? What does our surging reliance on technology mean for societies – and democracy?

In a year like no other, these were the questions that experts grappled with at Trust Conference – the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s flagship annual event. Held online for the first time, the forum was attended by more than 600 delegates from 80 countries around the world.

Featuring over ten hours of content, Trust Conference 2020 examined how COVID-19 has deepened existing social and economic inequalities, created and amplified threats to media freedom and will have lasting and significant consequences for protecting human rights. Yet it also looked to the future – and the ways in which we can harness this unique moment in time to shape fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable societies in a post-pandemic world.  

Whether you want to re-live the Trust Conference experience or learn about it for the first time, check out the highlights from this year’s event:

1. World experts looked beyond the buzzwords of ‘building back better’ to examine the practicalities of forging a fairer and greener economic recovery

Rather than COVID-19 being ‘the great leveller’, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities – such as the digital divide, the mistreatment of workers at the bottom of supply chains and gender inequality. The World Bank has estimated that as many as 150 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2021 – meanwhile 32 of the world’s largest companies stand to see their profits jump by $109 billion in 2020. 

Addressing the pressing question as to how we can make a global transition to a more equal and sustainable world, Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford Ian Goldin highlighted the need for redistributing income and wealth and shaping green recovery plans, as well as the vital importance of collaboration – a point that was echoed by Creative Director of Eco-Age Ltd Livia Firth and Chief Executive Officer of Refinitiv David Craig.

With national self-interest governing responses to the pandemic so far, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB Danny Sriskandarajah sees the COVID-19 vaccine as a crucial opportunity to build global solidarity and set the scene for a new narrative to emerge.

Watch the discussion in full here.

2. Nobel laureate shared his vision for a post-COVID world that leaves no one behind

Professor Muhammad Yunus – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 with microfinance organisation Grameen Bank – outlined three priorities for a post-pandemic world: halting climate change, tackling wealth inequality, and preventing mass unemployment as artificial intelligence threatens to wipe out jobs.

The economist nicknamed "banker to the poor", said: "When you hit the darkest part you come up with the brightest ideas.

"Why don't we throw away all the old thinking? We have to be outrageously bold ... to adopt things which were never adopted before".

Watch the keynote here.

3. Journalists spoke from first-hand experience about the ‘COVID-crackdown’ on press freedoms

Rana Ayyub – an Indian journalist and Global Opinions Writer at The Washington Post – and Patrícia Campos Mello – a Brazilian journalist at Folha de S.Paulo – continue to face harassment and vilification for their independent reporting on COVID-19.

But what do you do when it’s those at the top who are determined to discredit you?  What do you do when the law is being weaponised to stifle freedom of expression?

Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Joel Simon told the Trust Conference audience that these repressive strategies are being deployed by governments around the world to further their own dangerous narratives and undermine public trust in the media. Both Ayyub and Campos Mello spoke of how this triggers relentless trolling on social media – often taking the form of highly sexualised attacks – and the danger of this restriction on free speech becoming part of the new normal. 

Check out the recording of the panel here

4. Thought leaders examined threats to media sustainability – and what it means for the future of the industry

In a special breakout session featuring leading journalists from across Africa – including Khadija Patel, Ruona Meyer, Mercy Adhiambo, Christine Mungai and Mahlatse Mahlase – the deepening financial troubles of the news media industry, across both the continent and the world, were laid bare.

While some outlets are trying to adjust to the technological disruptions that have rendered their tried and tested business models outdated, others – including many in the print industry – are having to shut down due to the pandemic exacerbating existing financial vulnerabilities. There were calls for funding to be more transparent and citizen-led, and increased efforts to integrate newsrooms within local communities.

Anya Schiffrin - Director of the Technology, Media, and Communications specialisation at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs - outlined the vital role that quality journalism and an independent media plays in the fight against misinformation – which not only threatens our democracy, but also the stability of our nations and our lives.

Watch the session on building sustainable African media here and Anya Schiffrin’s keynote here

5. Digital rights defenders discussed some of the most pressing and complex issues of our time

In a year where we have lived online, the power of the tech giants has only grown stronger with the vast swathes of data that our everyday actions generate.

And while these companies provide indispensable services, when that data is being used to shape and control the information billions of people see – whether it’s a political advertisement, news from a particular media outlet or even viral misinformation  – the threat to democracy and freedom is known all too well by Associate Director at UCLA Renée DiResta, author of Algorithms of Oppression Safiya Noble and Mozilla’s Director of Innovation and Public Policy in Africa Alice Munyua.

Co-Founder and Director of Tandem Research Urvashi Aneja stressed how this power is yet to be met with sufficient regulation – especially in the Global South – leaving the question as to how we can hold Big Tech to account, unanswered.

Watch the discussion in full here.