“Journalism has to make the invisible visible
The inaugural address at this year’s Adeje Summer University was given by Rosa María Calaf, one of Spain’s best known and respected television journalists. During her 30+ years working as a reporter she has been stationed in more than 160 countries and covered some of the world’s most important stories.
Before her intervention, the mayor of Adeje, Jose Miguel Rodríguez Fraga said spoke of the importance of the Summer University for Adeje and for its young people and the need in a changing world for innovation and qualification. “We began with summer courses, we went onto to have a summer university and now we have a campus…the backing of the university has been very important for the borough”, he said.
The Rector of the University of La Laguna, Eduardo Doménech, stressed “education is an investment, and the Adeje Summer University provides an excellent example to be followed”. He said that he “couldn’t be happier that during this, his last year as Rector, Adeje had been awarded the gold medal” for their work in the field of education, “a public recognition of all the hard work done in this regard”.
During her opening address to invited dignitaries and guests at the Convento de San Francisco, Rosa María Calaf dealt with the challenges to journalism in the 21st century. One of the problems in today’s world, she said, was that “people don’t ask questions of they things they assume are unquestionable.” She said that “journalism has to make the invisible visible, to go where there is silence, to ask the bigger question such as who benefits”. We all assume to know the differences between a dictatorship, where citizens and journalists may be killed for what they say and write, and a democracy where that doesn’t happen, but the issue of control, of who is controlling the media, who is behind the message, isn’t being asked often enough. “A better democracy needs more inquisitive and more critical citizens”, she added, reminding journalists that they needed to ask “who decides the information agenda, and whose interests are served”.
Rosa Maria Calaf also looked at the way the avalanche of information arriving onto our television and computer screens often means that the important news is being lost, that we are becoming too used to be entertained rather than informed. And again, we are forgetting which questions need to be asked. She gave the examples of the Indonesia and the Japanese tsunamis, and the extreme difference in death tolls – did we ask why? Did we examine how once country is much more prepared to cope with natural disasters than another, or simply watch the pictures of human tragedy unfold on our screens and look for the next story.
She also referred to coverage of the current economic crisis, which seemed to have happened overnight. But there was no one event that caused this crisis, so journalists were not seeing or were ignoring the signs, not fact-checking, allowing themselves to be told what was news and what wasn’t.
The experienced television journalist also warned about loose ethics in reporting – perhaps wearing bullet proof jackets or a helmet while broadcasting from a zone where it wasn’t actually necessary, so changing the dynamic and falsifying the story by doing so. “It’s not just what is said, it is how it is said”, she warned. Another pitfall was allocating more importance to the tool of communication being used than the story being told.
Rosa Maria Calaf studied both law in the University of Barcelona and journalism in the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She has two honorary doctorates as well, from Tarragona and Elche. She was the foreign correspondent for TV España in New York (1984-1987), Moscow (1987-1989), Buenos Aires (1989-1993), Rome (1993-1995), Vienna (1996), Honk Kong 1998-2007), Peking (2007-2007) where she also covered the Peking Olympic Games.
She has won numerous national and international awards over the years, among them the Premio Onda, the Silver Microphone from the RTVE Association of Professional Journalists, Catalonia Journalist of the Year, and a special award from the Casa Asia for her coverage of the 2005 Indonesia tsunami. She has also been recognised for her work in the fights for equal rights for women and was the recipient of the award for best foreign correspondent from the International Press Club in 2006 and the José Couso V Freedom of the Press award in 2009.