Picture:Former President Barack Obama spoke about the importance of journalism in democracy. (Twitter)
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On World Press Freedom Day Wednesday, a video was posted on Twitter of former President Barack Obama lecturing about "widespread disinformation" and the need for journalists to create "an information environment" to support democracy.
Obama had previously recorded the video for a conference on democracy held by the Columbia Journalism School in late April. In the clip, he touted the importance of journalism in the struggle for democracy and ways to combat disinformation and promote journalistic efforts to defend the truth.
In sharing the video on Twitter, the Obama Foundation wrote, "This World Press Freedom Day, take a look at @BarackObama's remarks at the @ColumbiaJourn Faultlines: Democracy conference, and why the free press is vital for democracy to survive and thrive."
Obama's personal account retweeted the Foundation, saying, "Journalists have always been on the front lines of the struggle for democracy. That’s why we need to keep standing up for the rights of journalists around the world. Grateful that we have @ColumbiaJourn and people like Jelani Cobb taking on this important work."
"Journalists have always been on the frontlines of struggles for democracy, and some of you have the scars to prove it. And that’s why it’s so important to find creative ways to reinvigorate quality journalism. It’s why we need to keep standing up for the rights of journalists around the world, many of whom are facing increasing threats and challenges just trying to do their jobs," Obama said in the video.
The former president continued, "I plan to keep shining a light on the biggest challenges that democracy faces, that includes revitalizing our political institutions, coming up with more inclusive and sustainable models of capitalism, creating a stronger democratic culture. But it also means creating an information environment that reinforces rather than erodes our democracy, one in which truth matters, one in which we are able to distinguish between fact and opinion."
The former president also espoused the fight for democracy against issues such as "inequality," "polarization" and "widespread disinformation."
"I talk a lot about how democracy is neither inevitable nor self-executing. Citizens like us have to nurture it. We have to tend to it and fight for it. As our circumstances change, we have to be willing to look at ourselves critically and make reforms that can allow democracy not just to survive but to thrive. That’s especially important right now," Obama said.
He added, "Our democracy has always faced its share of challenges, but increasingly it feels like we’re at an inflection point. Rising inequality, deepening polarization and widespread disinformation. At the same time, we’re also trying to adapt to advancements in technology like AI that can profoundly change our world. If we want to preserve our democratic ideals, we need to face these trends head on, and we need all of you to help us do it."
The Obama administration was involved in several seizures of journalists' records and prosecutions of government sources. (The Associated Press)
Though Obama praised journalists for their impact on democracy, his administration was criticized for an "unprecedented" number of prosecutions of government sources as well as seizures of journalists' records.
"In the Obama administration's Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press," former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. wrote in a 2015 report on U.S. press freedoms under the Obama administration. "The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post's investigation of Watergate."
Despite his history, Obama encouraged journalists in the video to help save democracy.
"So, what you do next, the imagination, the innovation, the determination that you’re able to apply in your jobs is going to help determine the fate of our democracy, whether democracy gets stronger or whether it gets weaker, whether people become more divided or can come together to solve some of our biggest problems," Obama said.