Shusha in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan was a fitting location for a global media forum that brought together representatives of the news business from all over the world. It is still being rebuilt and repopulated after its liberation from Armenian occupation in the Second Karabakh War, fought in 2020. But that was very much the point, writes Political Editor Nick Powell in Shusha.
Shusha is a place that was ignored by most of the world’s media during the decades of occupation. Even the original Armenian invasion did not get that much global attention, though there were honourable exceptions, such as the Lithuanian journalist Richardas Lapaitis who reported on the massacre of Azeri civilians and was back in Shusha for the forum.
Global media has a habit of ‘moving on’ even when there is much more to tell. It happened when the fighting in Ukraine first began in Donbas. I recall a senior executive of a British television channel rightly praising the team that had reported on the early weeks of that war but by the time he spoke, they had been recalled to London. Although the fighting was actually getting worse, the judgement was that there had been enough coverage.
It’s also worth noting how European media divides when it comes to covering events further afield. The United States frequently commands attention but historic ties still often dictate other priorities. UK media is quite interested in anglophone Africa, France in francophone Africa, Spain and Portugal in Latin America.
Exceptions tend to prover the rule. Timor Leste’s struggle for independence from Indonesia was a surprisingly big story in the UK but only because of the extensive coverage coming from neighbouring Australia, with its historic links to Britain.
Such perspectives, Eurocentric at best and often much needed than that, go a long way to explain why traditional media struggles with the challenges of the digital age, which was the topic of the Shusha Global Media Forum. News, not all of it reliable, is now available from almost anywhere and every perspective from innumerable sources. So Azerbaijan’s cultural capital was a fitting location to debate current trends in media consumption and media awareness.
One speaker was Clive Marshall, the Chief Executive of the PA Media Group. He recalled that when newspaper sales began to significantly decline 20 years ago, it was thought that younger readers would return as they got older but for the most part they have not come back. For him, the only solution was to adapt to the way people, especially young people, want to consume news and to the types of news that they want to find out about.
Oubai Shahbandar, a defence analyst who had reported from Karabakh for TRT World, stressed the importance of accurate reporting, although in his experience even purely factual observations could attract a storm of criticism on social media from those who did not wish to hear the truth. The Vice President of the Korean Association of Political Sciences, Professor Un Gi Jung, observed that targeting journalists with violence or the threat of violence is a growing trend.
The media representatives and experts gathered in Shusha included around 150 visitors from 49 countries, leading to a wide-ranging exchange of views. The Executive Director of the Azerbaijan Media Development Agency, Ahmad Ismayilov, said the primary objective of the Shusha Global Media Forum was to encourage more accurate coverage thorough an exchange of views on the media in today’s world. Perhaps the most widely held perspective was that the use of artificial intelligence will have a potentially massive impact on journalism in both positive and negative ways.
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