The views expressed in this report are those of the authors. Their statements are not necessarily endorsed by the affiliated organisations or the Global Challenges Foundation.

If anyone has the power to solve global crises, it would seem to be our officially elected leaders. But the leader of a nation only holds responsibility to their national constituencies. How can we then ensure that leaders go beyond the narrow terms of their mandate and address global challenges that will affect their constituents in the future? Journalists have a crucial role to play in underlining not only crime and corruption, but also abuse of power in the form of neglect. They can alert the public to breaches of trust, when leaders are not serving their long-term interest and effectively fail to deliver on their mandate, and thus increase the chances that leaders will live up to their moral obligation.

If anyone has the power to solve global crises, it would seem to be our officially elected leaders. Their roles are crucial in light of the global crises occurring all over the world today: terrorism, poverty, rising inequality, more than 65 million people displaced – as well as the looming environmental catastrophe of climate change, and the real possibility that one billion people will be climate refugees by the end of the century. Such crises warrant immediate action, and for this, who but our leaders can we put our hopes in?

It is only natural that when we give a few select individuals the power to lead, we expect them to lead for the better. But the leader of a nation only holds responsibility to their national constituencies. For now, we do not have elected global leaders explicitly responsible for solving crises that are increasingly global in scope. Thus, national leaders need to go beyond their mandate in order to address global issues, not only on moral grounds, but also from a pragmatic perspective – because those issues affect their countries. How can we then ensure that national leaders step up to global challenges? How can we hold them accountable to the long-term welfare of the world?

Going unchecked, an immense power is prone to abuse. We typically think of abuse as corruption or oppression. But it can also take the more insidious form of neglect: neglecting issues that will affect the population only with a delay – issues that will affect people too young to vote, or issues that will affect mainly people yet unborn. 

This is where the journalist comes in, to serve as a watchdog over those who might hold the key to solving the world’s most vexing issues. It is not a journalist’s job to appease the government in power, but to question whether every step taken is serving the public’s interests. It is a journalist’s job to inform the public of any wrongdoing by the government, and ensure that the right issues are given priority. 

Journalists play an important role in promoting better global governance simply by reporting a story to the public, and alerting them to breaches of trust, when leaders are not serving their long-term interest, and effectively fail to deliver on their mandate.

There are times when leaders decide on a course of action that they think will address an ongoing problem – and in the process violate some of their citizens’ most basic rights, or even commit crimes against them. But leaders can also fail in their duty to stand up to crises by neglecting their global mission in favor of short-term interests or for political gains. This occurred when the elected leader of the US, one of the world’s most influential nations, declared his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, putting collective efforts to deal with climate change in jeopardy. We cannot expect every single elected leader to readily go beyond their mandate and forsake their immediate interest for a bigger cause. But journalists, with the help of public pressure, can push those in power to take action – not only for the short term, but for the long-term.

Perhaps the world is still haunted by the image of a dead Syrian boy washed up on the beach in 2015. The photo and subsequent news reports incited an international outcry and forced most European countries to change their stance on the refugee issue. Through stories like this one, the media can highlight the plight of people directly affected by the crisis and harness the power of public emotion towards collective action, demands or resistance, ultimately leading to changes in policy.

The media can also track the progress of international agreements to solve ongoing crises. Reporting should not stop after an agreement has been made, but ensure that execution follows and continues over time. Extensive coverage on the countries that pledged to the Paris agreement, for example, is needed to ensure that their leaders will remain true to their words, and effectively take measures to stop further temperature increase.

Given the importance of the media in spurring the leaders’ decisions to address the most crucial issues, while complying with the rule of law and respecting human rights, journalists need to maintain a consistently critical stance toward leaders and continue to monitor events unfolding in the world. By doing so, the media can increase the chances that leaders will live up to their moral obligation. Without often realizing it, journalists play an important role in promoting better global governance simply by reporting a story to the public, and alerting them to breaches of trust, when leaders are not serving their long-term interest, and effectively fail to deliver on their mandate. 

In turn our leaders owe it to the public to let journalists do their jobs in informing the people. Any crime against media workers by any governing individual or institution – and, worse, impunity for those crimes – should cast a serious doubt over the intentions of those holding power. 

After all, as the saying goes, journalists are there to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted – not only within the boundaries of one country, but on a global scale.

Amanda Siddharta

Amanda Siddharta is a journalist. She is currently the Jakarta-based contributor for a range of media outlets, including South China Morning Post and Reporting ASEAN. She is also the 2017 Southeast Asian Press Alliance Reporting Fellow. Previously, she wrote for Tempo Magazine, an Indonesian publication that focuses on investigative journalism.