BTA News

BTA Is Special Guest at Conference of Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies in Tokyo

The Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) was the only non-Asian news media invited by Japan’s Kyodo News agency as a special guest at a conference in Tokyo within the 52nd Executive Board Meeting of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA). The conference was titled, “News Agencies in the Era of Digital Innovation”.

The OANA has 44 members from 35 countries, which provide two-thirds of the news information in the world, the organization’s website says.

BTA has an active agreement with Kyodo News since 1964, which the heads of the two agencies, Kiril Valchev and Toru Mizutani, agreed should be renewed because it envisages the exchange of news and photos by regular post.

Valchev gave a speech at the opening of the conference as News Agencies World Congress President and Secretary General of the Association of Balkan News Agencies-Southeast Europe (ABNA-SE). He took part in the forum’s second panel, dedicated to the funding of news agencies.

In his speech, Valchev said that ditigal innovation makes journalists, media, and news agencies even more necessary. Journalists are a reliable source of information since their main task is to verity that information, unlike bloggers, influencers, and commenters on the Internet. The media bear editorial responsibility, unlike social media. News agencies always cite their source of information, provide a context and background, and do not make assessments.

Still, news agencies need to change in such a way as to use digital innovation intelligently, Valchev noted. That can happen in eight ways: developing funding models, including to finance the fight of real news against fake news; continuing to observe professional standards, such as placing facts before assessments and not distributing propaganda; making better use of social networks, including to reach young people; using AI as a tool for creating and distributing real news; investing in the training of personnel, because new technologies can only assist journalists, not replace them; investing in the digitalization of the news agencies’ archives; building a working network for cooperation between national news agencies; and cooperation between the regional associations of news agencies, such as OANA, EANA, and ABNA-SE.

Following is the full text of the BTA Director General’s speech:

“Dear respected hosts, dear colleagues and friends, thank you for the invitation to be a special guest at the 52nd Executive Board Meeting in Tokyo of OANA – the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies which brings together 44 news agencies from 35 countries, responsible for two-thirds of information circulated throughout the world, as indicated on the OANA website.

This is an honor for Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), which in February celebrated 126 years since the distribution of its first news. Currentlу, BTA is the President of the News Agencies World Congress because four years ago in the Bulgarian capital Sofia BTA organized the world congress of news agencies on the future of news. BTA is also the Headquarters and Secretary General of the Association of Balkan News Agencies-Southeast Europe (ABNA-SE) and a member of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) and MINDS International – a global network of leading news agencies collaborating in new media business on top executive level.

The conference’s theme is ‘News Agencies in the Era of Digital Innovation’.

The first question we need to answer is whether digital innovation is making news agencies unnecessary.

Are journalists needed at all, when every person feels that he is a journalist when he takes pictures on the street and writes a comment on the Internet?

Aren’t social networks replacing the media?

Will helpful artificial intelligence do the work of news agencies unhelpful?

The answer is that digital innovation makes journalists, media and news agencies even more necessary.

Journalists are a credible source of information because their main task is to verify it, unlike bloggers, influencers, commenters on the Internet. Journalists are ‘sensei’, as they call those in Japan who have the knowledge and experience to teach others.

Media have editorial responsibility as opposed to social networks.

News agencies always refer to a clear source of information, do not make evaluation and give context and background.

That’s why digital innovations do not make journalists, media and news agencies unnecessary.

But news agencies need to change in such a way that they use digital innovation smartly.

What does this mean?

First, let’s develop funding models.

One of the two panels of this conference, in which I will also participate, will be dedicated to this: “How can news agencies diversify revenue streams?”.

We need to find the balance between information as a human right and information for sale on the market. Because every human has a right of knowledge, including a right of education and right of free and non-limited access to the information… Everyone – men or women, Christian, Shintoist, Buddies, Taoist, Muslim, young or old…

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami says that the two worst sins are lying and muteness. Should we remain mute when someone lies unless someone else pays us to tell the truth?

We have to find a new way to finance the battle of real news against fake news, which is free of charge.

Because we know that ‘a lie has no legs, but unfair wings’, as the Japanese proverb says. But in Bulgaria we say that ‘a lie has short legs’, which means that the truth always becomes clear.

And we have to find how to treat lying with more truth without depending only on customer’s money, but also without media bans, social network restrictions and suspension of the Internet and mobile applications, because it is possible for a short or a long time, but never forever.

Second, we must continue to follow professional standards.

We have to continue to provide facts before evaluations because this is the standard of real news agencies.

But we must not forget also that the tongue is worse than the sword, as another Japanese proverb says. So, we must do very responsibly and ethically our work.

It is also important not to spread propaganda, especially this which supports wars and the violation of human rights.

Third, we should better use social networks, not fight for money with them.

News agencies must be present everywhere on the Internet and in all forms – short news, photos, video, audio, infographics…

And since the topic of the other panel in the conference is “How can news agencies reach younger audiences?”, we should specifically note that we have to provide real news for young people with new formats and technologies.

BTA is a good example with its presence not only on Facebook, X and LinkedIn, but also on Instagram, Tik Tok and Threads, which are used by the young.

Fourth, we should use artificial intelligence, not fear it.

AI has great potential for fake news, but also for real news.

News agencies can use them to improve their work: transcriptions, subscriptions, translations, creating of data basis.

Using new technologies, we can orient people in the ocean of news and the best way to do this is to publish more news about science.

Fifth, we need to invest in training the people who work in news agencies.

Before we develop artificial intelligence, we must develop natural human intelligence. AI cannot replace the live reporter at the scene of events because artificial intelligence works with knowledge already accumulated in the past, but cannot reflect the news at the moment. New technologies can only complement journalists, not replace them.

But we have to educate journalists how to use AI.

Sixth, we must invest in our archives and especially in their digitalization.

This will allow us  to better present the background and context of the news. BTA has a paper archive from 1898 until the transition to electronic format and it is currently digitalizing it to make it easier to use.

We meet in Tokyo when Sakura – the blooming of the cherry blossoms – begins, which is associated with a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, because the transience of the blossoms, their beauty, and their volatility have often been associated with mortality. We must make sure that our news from today does not die like a cherry blossom, but is preserved for tomorrow.

Seventh, we need to build a workable network for the cooperation of national news agencies.

This means publishing news from our countries not only from global agencies, but supplementing it every day with news exchanged by national agencies. Artificial intelligence can help us with this, but we need to build capacity with editors as well.

This is important because the news agencies are responsible to give people from all over the world the opportunity to understand each other. Knowing each other and comparing to each other is not only an opportunity for profiting by using each other’s good practices, but also a guarantee for peace. We may not agree with each other (including we can disagree with some statements in this room as well), but we must respect each other and find a way to live in peace together without starting wars. Peace should not be the result of war but of more information about each other.

We need to orient people in the ocean of news so that they do not drown in it, or this will be the same death that censorship drought of news brings to the right of information.

An example of such responsible work during the past 60 years is the cooperation between Kyodo and BTA, which is a continuation of the excellent relations between Japan and Bulgaria.

But we need to expand this cooperation with a daily exchange of news, as well as visits by journalists to get to know each other and share experiences.

Eighth, we need cooperation between regional associations of news agencies such as OANA, EANA, ABNA, etc.

The future of true news depends on cooperation between news agencies from different regions of the world.

Following the example of successful Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi, we need to make ‘keiretsu’ – a system in which independent agencies work closely together.

More diverse information will also enable more on-demand sales, which is an opportunity to diversify revenue streams.

I have listed eight opportunities for news agencies to respond to digital innovation. I will stop at eight because I know that in Japan it is a lucky number, since the hieroglyph for eight ‘八’ is open at the bottom and thus can bring endless happiness and good luck.

We are staying responsible to finding the endless happiness and good luck for the news agencies.

Japanese writer and Nobel Prize winner for Literature Kenzaburo Oe says that ‘to reach the top of Mount Fuji, you must take the first step.’

Our first step is to work together to implement digital innovation and news agencies will be on the top.

Once again, accept my respect and many thanks to Kyodo for hosting all of us. Keep the spirit, dear friends!”