Religious, political, media and academic leaders from all over the world gathered last week with just one goal, to affirm and build human dignity. The event was the International Interreligious Federation for World Peace assembly, which had adopted as its central concern, "establishing a cultural peace."
Following a panel discussion on the impact of the media on our culture, I was asked whether the press could contribute to the culture of peace?
In other words, can the media develop those thoughts, principles and actions that might lead a populace to reject violence.
I responded with a question. Should the media even consider contributing to the culture of peace?
After all, societies have been turned to hell by the efforts of journalists to spread personal messages. For example, the genocide in Rwanda was sped along by the hateful rhetoric disseminated in that country via short-wave radio.
"Are you saying that it is a terrible thing for the press to embrace world peace?" stammered my new acquaintance. "Shouldn't the press take a role in promoting moral education for youth, strengthening marriages and families and overcoming barriers that divide people?
"The question," I responded, "is whose morality should the press promote? Yours? Mine?" I explained that the credibility of a free press depends upon reporters refraining from passing along any sort of individual message. This impartiality has empowered the press as "the fourth estate," or as an honest watchdog of the government.
For the democratic journalists, facts, not propaganda, are the goal.
That said, I do not believe that the democratic free press ought to completely abdicate its moral responsibility.
First and foremost, the media can promote tolerance and multicultural understanding simply by depicting different cultures.
Outside organizations like the United Nations can support the free press in their professed goal of facilitating knowledge and understanding. By proxy, U.N. agencies can build peace by building public awareness of various cultures and human rights violations throughout the world. By aiding independent news agencies in Third-World countries, various U.N. agencies can help erode the cultural assumptions that nourish intolerance and violence.
U.N. agencies can also supply equipment to independent media outlets in oppressive or war torn areas. Thusly, can the media convey to the rest of the world such horrifying realities as the forced amputation of perceived threats in Sudan or the prevalence of genital mutilation in Afghanistan. Since providing accurate reporting can be quite difficult in authoritarian states, this awareness can galvanize international pressure and facilitate change.
In such a manner, the United Nations and the media can, and should, work together to nurture those conditions necessary for the respect of human rights and peace.