12 September 2020

A distinguished panel of experts attending an e-symposium organized by TRENDS Research & Advisory on Wednesday (September 9, 2020) urged the media and think-tanks worldwide to engage more for the cause of public good during times of crisis.

Addressing the E-Symposium – Think-Tanks & Media During Covid-19: A Symbiotic Partnership – experts highlighted the convergence between think-tanks and its media functions during the Covid-19 pandemic. They also said TRENDS could lead this initiative and bring together think-tanks worldwide to discuss global challenges.

They agreed that the global community is heading toward the world of virtual think-tanks in which online engagements will gain more importance and that they must regularly meet to exchange ideas. They also highlighted the pandemic’s role in enhancing think-tanks’ online engagement on a global scale.

TRENDS Researcher, Elyazia AlHosani, delivered opening remarks at the symposium on behalf of the Center’s Director-General Dr. Mohammed Al-Ali while Jonathan H. Ferziger, Israel-based Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, moderated the session.

Jeffrey Hiday, Director at the Office of Media Relations, RAND Corporation – USA, looked back at his organization’s tryst with prior episodes of “truth decay,” where the public has lost its faith in government and the media.

“The situation with Covid-19 is dire as the stage of “truth decay” is worse because of the highly favorable environment for false and misleading information that thrives and spreads quickly,” said Hiday. According to him, RAND researchers consider the Covid-19 crisis very challenging for people as they do not know what to believe.

“Trust in the media is low at the moment, and trust in the government is not high. Trust is higher in the medical community but still not high enough. These different trust levels represent a dangerous mix in the context of the pandemic,” said Hiday. According to him, this phenomenon could even lead to people not getting vaccinated. “The media and think-tanks should ensure the accuracy of facts they put out,” he said.

Dr. Wen Wang, the Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies – China, said that the media seems influenced by gossip while the world is dealing with a pandemic. He noted that think-tanks have also not played the role expected of them to confront Covid-19.

“Think-tanks didn’t play a positive role in promoting international cooperation between major powers, China and the US, in solidifying global governance. Instead, they created friction that could have led to conflict,” said Dr. Wang.

According to Dr. Wang, the role of media and think-tanks were influenced by negative factors such as anti-intellectualism, which saw pandemic is a conspiracy. He also lamented the populism associated with the tussle over collective interest and individual freedom in something as crucial as wearing masks.

Dr. Stephen Blackwell, the Director of Research and Strategic Studies at TRENDS Research & Advisory, said that at a global level, the situation could be viewed as either fragmentation or democratization of the global think tank world. “Think-tanks need to work harder with the increasing pace of the news cycle, thus actively contributing to the public’s understanding of the issues by providing real-time analysis,” he said.

Michael Holtzman, the President of SEC Newgate – USA, said that never before has the media and think-tanks’ value been clearer than during this pandemic. “It is the first and most obvious opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility to the public good,” he said.

Holtzman said that the news organizations have to convey the seriousness of the crisis without provoking. “They have to continue advising viewers and advisors on how to stay safe when social media plays a very deleterious effect on people’s psyches,” he said.

Dr. John Bruni, Founder, and CEO of SAGE International, Australia, said the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories had been a major issue during Covid-19. “Think-tanks must break through the noise of misinformation and overabundance of information to develop strategies to achieve positive social impact,” he said.

All TRENDS events are live-streamed on its YouTube channel and other social media platforms in multiple languages with simultaneous translations.

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