Interview with Agerpres Director General Alexandru Giboi

JT 14:34:31 19-04-2018
MT1433JT.003
A. Giboi - "Journalism today and tomorrow"

Interview with Agerpres Director General Alexandru Giboi


BTA: How would you characterize the journalistic situation in your country?
Alexandru Giboi: The current journalistic picture in Romania is as complicated as it is globally. We are going through a period of uncertainty: the public has trouble differentiating between real news and false information. Today, social media do not seem to be regarded as trustworthy, unlike several years ago. For the five years I've been working for Agerpres, mass media paradigms and discussions about the media have been changing constantly. Several years ago, we used to consider social media a possible partner to traditional media, but now it seems like we've reached a point where traditional media can no longer rely so heavily on social networks. Moreover, we are facing financial problems, which to my knowledge are as acute in Romania, as anywhere around the world. The media feel the financial pressure - be it from the state or from the market - and they need to be ever more ingenious in finding solutions. This is a difficult stretch for us, but hardship in my opinion is good, as it prompts us to think different, to find solutions and progress.
BTA: Is Romania having difficulties with the so-called false news?
Alexandru Giboi: Currently, false news is on the rise. And so is propaganda. This is the exact moment when traditional media and - to be more precise - news agencies have to come into play. News agencies should guarantee correct and clear information that has not been interpreted and is not subject to interpretation. News agencies merely provide the raw material: we do not comment or interpret; we let the public form their own opinion. This kind of pure information is the best cure against false news which, like I said, exist in Romania, too. Naturally, Romanian journalism has to cope with local interests and influences - maybe not as hard as news agencies in some other countries - but still, this is a very important struggle for us.
BTA: Do social media pose a risk to journalism in Romania?
Alexandru Giboi: Only to a certain extent, as social media in Romania are still not regarded - at least by the journalists - as a reliable channel of news dissemination.
Yes, media organizations in Romania do use social media to advertise their news, but that's about it. Facebook is the most popular social network in Romania, but I don't think social media function as sources of information. On the other hand, a great number of people log on to Facebook thus accessing a greater variety of news than what they could find on their own. Yet, I don't think Romanian journalism is put at risk by the rise of social media over the past few years. What is more, I think this rise of social media in Romania is already coming to a halt.
BTA: What are the major problems and challenges that Agerpres is facing today?
Alexandru Giboi: At the moment, the problems before Agerpres - if they can so be called - stem from the fact that we have a legislative framework that needs optimization. Last year, we were subject to certain pressure with respect to this legislation that pushed us against the direction of the statute defining the functions of our agency. Agerpres functions in compliance with the statute that defines the ways it is governed. Obviously, we are active players on the market and we are affected by its state - our revenues depend to a great extent on the rate of development of Romanian media as a whole. Most of our clients come from the private sector, and more specifically the private media. We do not function as a mere public institution; we also work on the private market and we need to strike a balance between informing the public, which is our primary function by definition, and strengthening our position as a main player on the market. Sometimes it is very difficult to function as a state institution as defined by the statute, while at the same time making profit on the private market. Yet, we try to maintain a balance between these two aspects of our agency's work and life.
BTA: How would you evaluate the editorial independence of your agency?
Alexandru Giboi: At the moment, the editorial independence of our agency is guaranteed both by the current statute and the way Agerpres is being managed. We are absolutely independent. We stay away from political games. Our work in the private sector provides us with some of the necessary funds that we need to develop our activities, so we do not feel any pressure, not even from the private market, and we are never forced to make compromises. Currently, Agerpres is the most reliable source of information in Romania, which is evidence of our absolute editorial independence.
BTA: Do you think there are social tendencies that 'kill' the journalistic profession?
Alexandru Giboi: There are two sides to this question. Like I said, this discussion is inherently related to the topic of social media. In Romania, social media pose no effective threat to the journalistic profession. On the other hand, there is the question of the growing public trust in the media in our country. Romanians believe in what the media tell them. Obviously, this is a good thing, but it could entail undesired consequences. The trust in the media must always be coupled with the public's ability to differentiate between false news and authentic information. To trust the media in general is one thing, but to avoid being manipulated, people must be able to choose the right sources of information. In this regard, information agencies play a vital role. Over the last five years, Agerpres has seen a 14-fold increase in its subscribers. This is very important as it means that accurate and unbiased news now reach many more people than before. People who are better informed and capable of making the best decisions for themselves. This type of public supports proper journalism and, by extension, us, true journalists.
BTA: What is the future of journalism? What journalistic principles must be upheld at all costs, despite technological developments?
Alexandru Giboi: This is a very important question. I think that the future of mass media is closely related to the advancement of technologies. At this point, the media cannot progress unless they are tightly connected - as by umbilical cord - to technologies. The mass media should make the most of technological progress in order to advance. With the help of technologies, we can now reach a larger audience, and people have become more active in their relationship with the media, which is no longer a one-sided discourse: thanks to technologies, it has become a two-sided relationship. The media transmit a message to the public, and the public can now provide feedback. It is then up to the mass media to take into consideration the feedback received, which enables them to enhance their services and tailor them to the particular needs of the subscribers. I believe that the next stage of development of journalism should be tightly related to technological progress. There is AI, there are robots in social networks that disseminate information and are able to make conversation like real people. There are various ways to record video: we no longer film only with regular cameras, 360-degree filming is available, too. Picture quality is going up, cameras are becoming ever more sensitive, able to capture the slightest detail, both in photos and on film. All of these developments automatically lead to the professional development of journalists. If they want to remain relevant to their public, they need to go along with the technological progress. Because while the agency has a common public, every journalist in that agency ought to realize that they could have a personal audience, too. And in order to have personal followers as a journalist, you need to provide on a micro level what your institution provides on a macro level: multimedia products - texts, photos and videos. It is no secret that when you publish an article abundantly supported with pictures and video clips, your publication will draw more attention and attract more online visits. Users spend much more time on pages that are rich in photos, videos, graphs, etc. It is of utmost importance that we should be able to make use of new technologies on an individual level as journalists, and on an institutional level, as a news agency.
BTA: Are you optimistic about the future of the free, independent, professional media?
Alexandru Giboi: I am an optimist by nature, and I believe we should be leading the mass media towards a brighter future through our optimism. We must preserve our optimism at all costs. Especially today, when the media is subject to all sorts of threats. Our work must focus on maintaining the public trust in us, in our products, in our journalism. The principles of deontology must be observed with every single piece of news we produce, we have to keep away from influences, and our prerogative must be providing accurate and unbiased information to the public.
If we stick to these rules, given the rate of technological developments, I don't think my optimism is far-fetched.
Optimism will ensure the development of modern media, and thus the development of society, because media cannot exist without a public. I think social progress - through accurate information - is the ultimate goal of mass media. Yet, on a more personal level, let's consider the future of our children. What type of society do we want them to inherit? A society which can access information from all points of view (currently the market is flooded with too much information, so we need to make sure our children have access to quality news), or do we want to leave our kids and our society to their own devices?
I believe we should be optimistic about the future of modern journalism. /Interview Sophia Georgieva/ 21 March 2018
/МТ/