By Li Xiguang
If the media’s role is simply to report the newsworthy stories, what if such stories breed hatred between nations or fuel divides of a society? Many years ago at a seminar at Peking University, I talked to a US reporter about the social responsibility of journalists. She said, “It is not my job to promote peace. My job is to report the truth. It is the job of the foreign ministry to make peace.”
But looking at the ongoing wars around the world, I would argue that journalists do have a social responsibility for promoting peace and love among peoples of different cultures and ideologies.
In the last two decades, I have attended numerous international conferences. Speakers and participants at these conferences are always talking about peace and dialogue. No one calls for war and conflict.
At the conferences, our voices are rational and peaceful. But when we look at the newspapers and listen to our sound bites in the press, the conferences seem filled with biased stories, comments and even hate speech. Those peace-loving dialogues and viewpoints at the international conferences were not reported in the press. In the media reality today, it is always “you or me,” not “you and me.”
The media is a big player in inciting hatred, riots, wars, and separatist movements by demonizing certain groups of people.
Bad journalism forces people to war by selected reporting and even made-up news. Bad journalism causes mistrust and suspicion between different peoples by relying upon unreliable sources and reporting incomplete and biased stories. “Everyone is biased. You cannot blame the media alone,” a friend told me, defending the media.
But where do our biases come from? We are not born with them. When we are little kids, we are always warm and friendly. But when we are grown-up and being informed by the mass media, we become suspicious of other people. Our biases and suspicion of other people often come from the mass media.
A genuine free press and good journalism is characterized by a free flow of information between you and the people or the culture you don’t like.
The point of such journalism is to follow the thought and the logic of your imagined enemy through the mean of communication to discover new facts and new thoughts.
There should be a variety of news products and viewpoints appearing in the same newspaper or the same satellite channel rather than on different media platforms. Only diverse and opposite viewpoints appearing in the same media can help societies, nations and the international community live in harmony with differences.
Good dialogue requires that the media and the journalists patiently listen to and report completely the voices of the people they don’t like.
You cannot have a genuine dialogue until you live in harmony with the people who think and talk differently from you. As Confucius said, “Honest people live in harmony with different values while dishonest people live in conflict with the same values.”
Considering the prevailing and deeply-rooted ideology and biases against other people and other ideology, do the media have the courage and the wish to move beyond their audience’s accepted stereotypes of others? Can the media promote a tolerance and acceptance of a totally different culture, or dissidents within their own culture? Should the media promote their own culture and values as a set of universal values?
Facing poverty, diseases and wars, our enemies are not other people who live differently from us.
Our enemies are ignorance, intolerance, misunderstanding and our mistrust of others.
Using our value system as the criterion for political correctness, our media are fictionalizing our imagined enemies with demonizing stories, analysis, comments, opinions and cartoons.
In many cases in recent decades, media have become a catalyst in breeding hatred and fueling divisions, violence and war.
The author is dean of the Tsinghua University Center for International Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org