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Free and independent media is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy - Melinda Pavek, Consul General, US Consulate .

August 11, 2022, India,U.S. Consulate General Kolkata 

Kolkata: The U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, in partnership with Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) with the support of South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) and East West Center (EWC), hosted an international media workshop in Kolkata for Women Journalists from the Indo-Pacific. 
Speaking at the inaugural session of the workshop, Melinda Pavek, Consul General, U.S. Consulate Kolkata, emphasised the role of free and independent media as the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. She also cautioned against the adverse impact of information asymmetry with respect to undermining people’s trust in democratic institutions. In this regard, she mentioned the Digital Communication Network (DCN) established by the United States. The DCN is a network of more than 8,000 journalists, educators, communicators, new media professionals, and public officials who are working to combat disinformation and propaganda.  The network develops and shares tools that provide people with accurate information and fact-checking capabilities. She concluded by stating that the United States is working  on developing, strengthening, and integrating more such networks across the Indo-Pacific region to promote media literacy, popularize fact checking, and support press freedom.  
Adrian Pratt, Director, American Center Kolkata, highlighted the role of digital technology in bolstering people’s access to information in real time from across the globe. However, he also pointed out its misuse by actors to spread misinformation and to harass journalists, especially women journalists. 
Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS, underlined the issue of information literacy among journalists as a critical step for combating mis/disinformation. He underlined the need for disseminating correct information about the U.S.-led initiative of building an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). He mentioned that often the IPEF is viewed solely as a tool for extending market access by the U.S. Such incomplete narratives often overshadow the other pillars of the IPEF namely: regional security and climate change, he added. He concluded by highlighting the role of Civil Society Organisation in the Indo-Pacific in creating information literacy among various stakeholder groups, including the media.    
Nilova Roy Chaudhary, General Secretary, SAWM, shared challenges being faced by women journalists in South Asia. She mentioned that such challenges range from misogyny to trolling to misinformation. She emphasised the need for establishing cross-border collaboration among women journalists in the Indo-Pacific region as a tool for combating the harassment of women journalists in the workplace. 
Susan Kreifels, Media Programs Manager, East West Center, argued that combatting misinformation was not a one-time exercise and required long-term effort and investment. She cited various reports indicating loss of people’s trust in media on account of misinformation and stressed the need to call out and prosecute actors who bombard society with misleading information. 
The workshop is being attended by around 60 women journalists from different countries, including the U.S. and countries in the Indo-Pacific region, such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, among others. They will be discussing the threats and challenges they face in their respective countries along with the good practices adopted to counter them. 

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