International Youth Conference: Breaking News, Making Headlines
Headlines. Breaking news. News updates. These are expressions that have become part of our daily vocabulary in this age of information. As the providers of information, media today have the vast power to influence—power that they must understand and use responsibly. Recognizing the importance of the media, Seeds of Peace feels the need to understand the dynamics of the media and to analyze how the power they possess can be positively channeled.
In light of that, Seeds of Peace held a weeklong conference in New York City addressing this vital issue. Throughout our conference, we have been actively participating in hands-on workshops, interactive debates with prominent members of the media, and proactive research. We questioned the role of the media and concluded that their main objective is to provide facts on the basis of which we can make our own choices.
Every day, journalists worldwide risk their lives in the quest for truth. They challenge the limits of freedom of speech in delivering information. By doing so, members of the media educate audiences about important issues and heighten awareness of their audience’s rights and responsibilities.
It might be expected that an organization like Seeds of Peace would ask the media to advocate peace, but we wish to dispel this misconception. We believe in the neutrality of the media at all times; news should be factual and not carry an agenda.
As objectivity is crucial in covering news and reporting facts, the media need to keep this fundamental principle in mind at all times. The consequences of not adhering to neutrality would deflate the integrity of media and have possibly devastating effects. Therefore, we believe that it is important for the media to follow certain guidelines. The media need to use factual terms only, and not those that might inspire excessive emotion in the audience. Certain terminology will stereotype and implicitly take a side in a conflict. Furthermore, it is important for the media to be level in all of its reporting and avoid sensationalism or exaggeration of facts, which will inevitably incite the audience and might cause outbursts of emotion and irrational reactions. Honesty and impartiality will ensure measured and appropriate reactions by the audience.
As part of their responsibility, the media should not let their audience completely influence the news that they report. Otherwise, it would determine what angles the media might take on an issue or what issues they might cover. By not exclusively covering what the audience wants to hear or in the way they want to hear it, the media will be closer to their goal of fully educating and informing their audience. This will ensure fairness and honesty in reporting.
The media need to strike a balance between the business aspect and the ethics of reporting, in order to respect the need for truth and honesty in media coverage. We understand that the media is an industry, but it is necessary to separate entertainment from fact coverage. Accurate news is the utmost priority of responsible media, and thus they need to avoid letting the demand for revenue influence their practices.
It is important for the media to make every attempt to report to the widest and most diverse audience possible, and make available and accessible its coverage to all, despite social or economic disparity among those who want access to the media. If as many people as possible are kept informed, they can use the education that media will provide to become more responsible global citizens. In addition, the media need to cover all aspects of every conflict. Equality of coverage means equality of representation, and thus fairer reporting.
It is essential for the media to be honest, factual, and unbiased. They must not submit themselves to unnecessary censorship that would inhibit truth in reporting. Omission of facts because of personal or professional bias will only obstruct proper and balanced reporting. Furthermore, reporters and editors in the media, the people who make it work, need to verify all facts before reporting, and not report unverified information under the guise of truth. No matter what the reason for this, it is very important for the media to avoid untruthful reporting at all costs.
In addition, we believe that the media should be free from the yoke of different governments and influential groups. Media that are independent from prejudices will act as a means of effective representation of the masses. This can add to their honesty and objectivity. In our opinion, the role of the media is not to tell people what to think, but to tell them what to think about.
We suggest that media personnel try to develop a sense of cooperation among themselves. This cooperation can bring forth fruitful results in several regions of conflict. They can set up organizations, which will not only provide platforms where journalists can get together to reflect, but also lead to greater understanding of conflict. Mechanisms can be set up enabling journalists to contribute to each other’s journals, newspapers, and other sources of information, which can establish a feeling of awareness in the general public.
While we do feel that the media can play a very powerful role in influencing public opinion, we believe that the public should also take up its responsibility. A responsible audience should be engaged, curious, skeptical and willing to examine. In order to obtain credible news, the audience should avail itself of different points of view and explore various sources of media. People should make an earnest attempt to critically analyze and judge the news presented to them by utilizing different media outlets. They also should be responsive to media reports and stories through letters to the editor, questions, and comments, so that they are able to decipher the truth.
These guidelines are especially relevant in today’s environment where we are exposed to so many different sources of information, and are able to receive news as it breaks from all over the globe. This declaration is a living document. We young people caught up in four of the most intractable conflicts in the world, consider this the first draft of what we hope will evolve into a lasting, interactive partnership between the media and their audience.