|One of the reports produced by MDI|
Reading or watching news reports on conflicts, immigration, minorities and other controversial and sensitive issues, I often wonder whether journalists do more harm than good.
Journalism can be one of the best tools for change and can play an important role in the fight against ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. But it can also exacerbate divisions and tensions, and fuel fear and hostility.
We have seen extreme examples on how the media can incite hatred and violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. But most of the time, the media’s unhelpful coverage of minorities and sensitive issues is unintentional. It stems from ignorance, sloppy journalism and lack of time. Many stories on immigration in the UK or about Roma in Europe, for example, don’t quote immigrants or Roma, but only experts and members of the public or groups objecting to them. Not surprisingly, these stories lack important information and empathy. Over-stretched journalists simply don’t have the time to search for the right people to interview - and the 24h news cycle and ever-faster pace of social media are exacerbating the problem.
I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who has worked on these issues over the past 15 years – and made a huge impact: the amazing Milica Pesic. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Media Diversity Institute, a charity which promotes responsible journalism as means to lessen inter-group conflict, increase tolerance, encourage dialogue among individuals and groups coming from different backgrounds and support a deeper public understanding of ethnic, religious, sexual and gender diversity. They do this through research and professional media training.
“Responsible, ethical journalism is thinking journalism. It provides fair, accurate, informed and reflective coverage of events and issues that are important to people and society," said Pesic.
MDI was born out of the wars in the Balkans some 15 years ago. Pesic, worked as a journalist for TV Serbia during the 1980s and early 1990s. After refusing to participate in the propaganda machine created by the Serbian regime, she was sacked from her job. Horrified by the unprofessional and unethical way the media fuelled the conflict by increasing tensions between ethnic groups, she decided to setup MDI as a way to prevent the media being used in this way.
From initial work in South East Europe, MDI took its expertise to the volatile Caucasus region, and then to the Middle East and North Africa, and South East Asia. Over the last few years, MDI has brought its experience from more troubled regions to address tensions in increasingly diverse Western European societies.
In our highly divided and divisive world and our rapidly-changing media landscape, organisations like MDI are more needed than ever. But I am wondering how to extend these ideas and training to the millions of people on Twitter, FB and other social media…