Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Journalists: Shapers of Perceptions
The Pope hates condoms and Muslims are terrorists. Right? Check the Internet or read the headlines before answering.
These concepts are less about truth and more about perceptions. These perceptions, in a way, are shaped by the media and consequently shape the public. Many of the problems between the Middle East and the West are (in part) perceived to be based on religious or cultural clashes. West v. East. Christian v. Muslim. White v. Brown.
Remedying these perceptions was the topic of “Us and They: Public Perceptions and How to Change Them” held Sunday, the second day of the Cairo Global Leadership Conference. Here, the speakers pointed to the media as both the cause and the cure for the status quo.
Roland Schatz, co-founder of Media Tenor International, and his colleagues pointed to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” news coverage, its culturally uniformed reporting and its reinforcement of stereotypes as furthering the gap between the West and East.
To counter this, the C-1 World Dialogue developed a strategy similar to a public relations campaign, only for cultures. Schatz, one of the co-founders of the C-1 dialogue, said to get positive news of interfaith relations above cultural clashes is possible by having larger and more newsworthy events for journalists to report on. When clashes occur, he proposed having mechanisms in place for the media, such as reliable sources available, to provide context to the situation.
There was some defense of the media by journalists present at the Sunday round table session.
“I feel very strongly that one has to be very cautious on relying on just the media to change perceptions,” said Jill Porter. “The press, in this part of the world anyway, often relies on opinion rather than facts and reliable opinion and this in turn reinforces stereotypes. I would suggest, to some extent, moving away from the focus on the media to shift the focus on education.”
Schatz also argued that cultures and religions need to educate their journalists, which the C-1 World Dialogue has begun to provide via seminars in Europe, Africa and the United States.
This discussion carried over into Monday morning’s press conference for the debut of the C-1 Annual Dialogue Report, which chronicles how trends in the media correlate to a society’s willingness to engage in interfaith and intercultural dialogue. The Reverend Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, director general of the C-1 World Dialogue and Abdallah Schleifer, AUC Journalism professor and a prominent member of the Middle East media, returned with Schatz to lead the press conference.
They were briefly joined by H.E. Ali Gomaa the Grand Mufti of Egypt, co-chair of the C-1 World Dialogue. Who had little time to chat with reporters from the AUC Journalism Bootcamp.
“We need profound change … to move religious discourse from aggressive and negative attitudes towards other religions, to the spirit of tolerance and co-existence,” Gomaa said in response to data in the report showing that 45 percent of Egyptians have negative perceptions of Christians.