Championing media freedom equips future journalists for career in industry

The School of Journalism, Media and Communication and its Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) is giving students a real-world understanding about the practical implications of a career in journalism – ensuring our future journalists can work freely and safely.

A war journalist prepares to take a photo

Professor Jackie Harrison, Journalism Studies’ Head of Department and Chair and Co-Founder of CFOM, established the centre with colleague William Horsley in 2008; to advocate the importance of a democratic, safe, and free-functioning press around the world.

Since its inception, CFOM has become an integral part of UNESCO’s research and development of policies for securing media freedom around the world.

This work is also helping to inform the Department of Journalism Studies' curriculum, as well as contributing to events that engage students on issues of media freedom and the reality of global journalism.

One such event, International Journalism Week (IJW), provides journalism students with an opportunity to engage further with the ideas and topics that make up their course material – by hearing from key industry speakers, examining journalism in other countries, writing case studies, and entering competitions.

We think it’s so important for the next generation of students to really know about the values of free and independent journalism.

Professor Jackie Harrison

Head of School of Journalism, Media and Communication

Jackie says: “It’s all voluntary though, quite often, the things they do during the IJW week follow through into their dissertation projects.

"Students also really appreciate that we have key speakers - from professional journalism, from civil society organisations that seek to protect journalism, and academics. Our students appreciate these opportunities to listen and talk to people in the front line.”

Media freedom

With three main ‘strands’ – advocacy, research, and teaching – CFOM works in an interdisciplinary way in order to broaden its reach and its output.

Being a centre that, first and foremost, advocates for media freedom means that CFOM works with agencies around the world to raise awareness of and tackle attacks on journalism, in order to promote safer environments for journalists to work in.

“As well as UNESCO, we’ve done a lot of work with a wide variety of international agencies to promote the idea that journalism is under attack around the world and, with that, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know is also threatened,” Jackie says.

She continues: “You can trail it down, if you don’t have a flourishing journalistic environment you don’t really have a vibrant civil society. Rather, you have a diminished civil sphere where people don’t get to find out what is going on and the capacity for deliberation, social criticism and debate is restricted."

As part of the research strand, CFOM investigates these issues that relate to media freedom in order to better understand how they can be dealt with or overcome – and then feeds this research into the teaching undertaken across the department.

This is to ensure that students are prepared for entering an industry fully informed about the issues that will affect how they undertake to do their job.

While CFOM’s research and advocacy programmes ensure that students are prepared, so does the department’s media law teaching and this vital element of the department’s work is taught by Senior University teacher Mark Hanna, who co-wrote the fundamental textbook on media law that is kept in newsrooms around the country: McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

Jackie explains: “What Mark teaches is really about how journalists can understand the legal and illegal threats they face, how they can legally protect themselves and how, when doing their job, they avoid inadvertently break the law.”

Though CFOM has been a huge success, Jackie continues to see opportunities for growth and plans to embed it further into the department’s teaching, so that students can continue getting involved and learning from its constantly evolving research.

“Because we think it’s so important for the next generation of students to really know about the values of free and independent journalism and the threats and hazards around the world that confront these values,” Jackie says.

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