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A group of journalists recently were brought together by the Baha’i International Community (BIC) to explore how the work of media organizations and practitioners can lead to constructive or divisive outcomes, and to consider the role media can play in contributing to the progress of society.
In the opening remarks, Saleem Vaillancourt, the moderator of the event, stated: “The stories we tell shape the world we live in.
“The media can contribute to creating consensus, building unity, generating knowledge and shared understandings, and in doing so, it can help people find lasting and effective solutions to the problems they face.”
Mr. Vaillancourt quoted a passage from the Baha’i writings about the function of media in the advancement of civilization:
The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers … reflect the deeds and the pursuits of diverse peoples. … They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behooveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity.
Participants examined these concepts in the context of different social settings. Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist for The Atlantic magazine, explained how journalism that highlights communities’ attempts to overcome challenges can “help people see and visualize and imagine another way of interacting.
“When people feel there is no hope,” she continued, “they can give up or become cynical. … If you do good journalism around attempts to solve problems, people are much more engaged than by problem journalism alone,” referring to forms of journalism that discuss problems without exploring solutions.
“The solution in the story doesn’t need to have worked,” Ms. Ripley added. “Just the community trying to solve its own problem shows agency. And that engages people across all sorts of demographics.”
The care with which people are viewed and depicted in news stories was explored by Temily Tianmay, an academic and journalist from Malaysia. The evolution of the media, she argued, lies in the ability of journalists and news outlets to promote human dignity.
“The lens of human dignity allows us to build unity in new ways,” she said. “If we view every individual as a dignified being and a source of insight — how will we treat not only our sources, but also other journalists who may approach their work very differently from ourselves?”
The role of journalists as protagonists in the betterment of society and the degree to which they are embedded and active in the communities on which they report was also discussed during the gathering.
Nwandi Lawson, a former journalist with CNN, stated: “We have to recognize that [journalists] are social actors. We are part of our society. We have an obligation to search out the truth.”
The discussion, titled “The Media, the Narrative, the People & their Leaders,” was organized by the BIC in light of growing interest about how to release motivation for significant social change — an area of conversation that is also being fostered by Baha’i Offices of External Affairs in different countries around the world.
The Baha’i Office of Public Affairs in the United States has been promoting discussions on how the media can assist a society to transcend polarization on societal issues. Offices in India and the United Kingdom have been stimulating conversations on how the media can cast light on the power of religion to contribute to social progress and, at the same time, constructively report on how religion itself can become more effective at achieving its highest aims. In Jordan, the Baha’i Office of External Affairs has been examining the role of journalists in promoting justice, and in Australia, the focus has been on how the media can contribute to greater social cohesion.