Building relationships of trust with communities as a means to protect journalism and journalists


In the UNESCO report ‘An attack on one is an attack on all’ which looks at successful initiatives to protect journalists and combat impunity, the case of Philippine journalist Maria Ressa and the online news website Rappler is highlighted as an example showing how journalism and journalistic audiences can be mobilised to fight back against ‘the corrosive impacts of organised political ‘trolling’’. By activating ‘her own online communities in response’ (Posetti, 2017, p. 38) Ressa was able to confront some of the online harassment campaign targeting her and her news platform.

This paper seeks to understand how a strong relationship of trust between journalism and communities of audiences, via media literacy, can serve to protect journalism in contexts where independent journalism is restricted and regularly attacked. This relationship of trust as enabled by media literacy is understood to depend upon journalism being valued by its audience for instance in terms of providing trustworthy information that is seen to be more independent than official channels and politically controlled outlets, or by supplying information that clearly responds to the concerns and interests of a community.

The paper uses a set of empirical case studies to illustrate that even in challenging media environments so called ‘pockets of resistance’, where professional independent journalism is exercised and supported by an audience, can provide a potential counter force to attacks on the media. The notion of resistance is developed around the understanding that within journalism and its professional undertaking - in line with principles of accuracy, sincerity and trustworthiness to achieve public scrutiny - resides a potential to form a counterforce to interests that seeks to restrict it. Arguably, however, this ability of professional journalism to challenge the very premise upon which partisan news narratives rest depends upon a media literate audience that supports and values that role.

Discussing these issues this paper argues that it is necessary to turn our attention not only to the attacks on journalists and journalism themselves, but to look at the interrelated role of audiences and the public in protecting journalism. Doing so the paper disuses the need for an integrated approach to media literacy and safety to enable society more widely – beyond delimited ‘pockets of resistance’ to become more informed about the civil role and importance of journalism in society, and it suggests that media literacy can be used as a tool to formulate counter narratives to those rejecting the value of journalism and the peddling of public mistrust in journalism.