Trust Conference – the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s flagship annual event – convened some of the world’s most innovative and influential speakers to discuss the pressing concerns at the intersection of socio-economic inclusion, sustainability, media freedom and human rights.
These global challenges, while distinct, overlap in ways which are important to explore. In the face of such complex and interrelated issues, agility, innovation and collaboration are key. At this year’s Trust Conference, held on 26 and 27 October, over 600 delegates from a variety of countries and sectors came together to share expertise, discuss solutions, and call for action.
Here are some of the most noteworthy moments of this year’s conference:
The role of journalism in maintaining free, fair, and informed societies
Trust Conference opened with a series of sessions exploring the role of free media in keeping societies informed and holding power to account. We heard from reporters, lawyers, and media experts alike as they discussed how best to protect media freedom in the face of censorship.
Against a backdrop of images from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, two-time Pulitzer winning photographer Alkis Konstantinidis was adamant: reporters like him must be steadfast in the face of misinformation and remain true to principles of journalistic integrity.
Moderating an earlier discussion with three Kurt Schork award winners, recognised for their vital conflict reporting delivered at great risk to their personal safety, CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour was equally unequivocal.
Conflict is but one threat to the safety of reporters; state violence towards journalists is widespread and pernicious. Irene Khan, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, acknowledged that entities which supress media are unlikely to investigate crimes against journalists.
Suppression of media often comes hand in hand with other authoritarian measures. Unjustly imprisoned for six years by the Iranian regime, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s speech to delegates made the point that when freedom of expression suffers, society at large will bear the brunt.
Despite the unimaginable personal toll of her experience, ultimately Nazanin’s speech was hopeful. She expressed that, while free, fair, and informed societies are not easily won, progress can be made through resilience and solidarity.
How can the digital world work for us, not against us?
At Trust Conference, the advantages and disadvantages of our lives being increasingly conducted in online spaces were a hot topic of discussion.
During a session on the role bitcoin can play in supporting free and independent media, Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer of the Human Rights Foundation, explained how cryptocurrency is increasingly being used to fund people and organisations whose bank accounts aren’t secure, or are under surveillance.
In a later session on the repercussions of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Brittany Kaiser, Co-founder of the Own Your Data Foundation (who joined remotely), described another benefit of blockchain: its potential to keep personal data, and its use by external entities, transparent and secure.
But, said Ravi Naik, Legal Director at AWO, we can only ensure that technologies like Blockchain are used ethically if we stay vigilant, and continue demanding that our legal rights are observed.
The interconnected global challenges driven by the climate emergency
Trust Conference examines issues with wide-ranging, interlinked consequences. This year, the climate emergency was repeatedly referenced as a threat to people’s rights and livelihoods in several distinct but related ways.
Climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate drew delegates’ attention to the urgency of the climate emergency and the way it disproportionately affects African communities that have done little to create climate change. Her expansive keynote speech - which blamed rich countries for creating unsustainable and dangerous climate conditions and called for an end to investment in fossil fuels - ended with a simple statement: “We cannot drink oil, we cannot eat coal, we cannot breathe gas.”
Fabio Teixeira, correspondent at Context, also highlighted how the climate emergency is exacerbating inequality. He presented his investigation into the labour rights abuses prevalent in Brazil’s ethanol supply chains, which are driven by the increasing demand for ethanol to cut the use of fossil fuels. Fabio expressed his hope that bringing such abuses to light will force organisations purchasing ethanol to address labour practices in their supply chains.
Despite the pervasive nature of climate change, not everyone is up to date with the climate agenda, said Councillor Mete Coban. He spoke on the importance of education, and how community awareness - particularly in less affluent communities with more immediate concerns than the climate - is a critical first step towards local climate action.
According to Lara Wolters MEP, legislators have a responsibility to communities to lead from the front. Until suitable national and international legislation exists, she said, people and businesses lack the framework to inform and contextualise their own climate action.
Inequality as a barrier to inclusive economies
Strong economies lay the foundations to raise global standards of living. At Trust Conference, we heard how important it is to grow economies in ways that are sensitive to systemic inequality. A failure to do so, warned our speakers, will leave marginalised groups behind.
Bhumika Muchhala, Political Economist and Senior Advisor at Third World Network, gave a compelling assessment of the ways that current economic structures discriminate against people of different backgrounds and identities.
Oxfam GB CEO Dhananjayan Skriskandarajah reaffirmed Bhumika’s analysis, blaming a failure to distribute global resources fairly for rampant poverty and other global crises. The opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to level the playing field, he said, had been wasted.
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