DURBAN, Media houses across the world are finding themselves in uncharted waters where populist politicians use social media as a source of propaganda and a weapon against the media.

This has been the message from editors of media organizations from various parts of the world at the World News Media Congress taking place in Durban this week.

Instances such as United States President Donald Trump calling mainstream media the enemy of the people have sent shock waves through media circles.

The CEO of the Philippine online news organization Rappler, Maria Ressa, says her country's President Rodrigo Duterte has turned social media into a weapon. Ressa also believes that closing some 30,000 social media accounts during the recent French presidential election had influenced the result.

We are in I call it the 'Valley of Death', and I hope we come out of it. Because I still have great hope that social media that we can reclaim it and that the weaponisation of social media can still be stopped.

Delegates have also heard how journalists are jailed or killed in parts of Africa, Latin America and South America.

Meanwhile, exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar was awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom award at the opening of the congress on Wednesday. Dundar fled Turkey after an article exposing the Turkish government supplying arms to Syrian rebels led to an attempt to assassinate him.

Delegates also heard how journalists are jailed or killed in parts of Africa, Latin America and South America. The chairperson of the African Editors Forum, Jovial Rantau, said journalists were still being jailed in Africa because of articles seen as critical of the government.

He said rising economic prosperity in countries like Ethiopia had not led to more media freedom. There is no concomitant rise in media freedom, you know," added Rantau, who stressed the importance of educating Africans that media freedom is not something that is only for journalists and editors.

"Media freedom is their freedom. It's about their right to have access to information that will make them better citizens. It's about their right to get information that will help them to make informed decisions about their own lives," said Rantau.


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