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In a Conflict-Ridden World, Media's Role Examined


The world today is riven by conflict in the form of full-out wars, ethnic clashes and terrorism. In addition, extremist factions in many countries are trying to spread their ideologies through the Internet. Recently, media experts and journalists gathered to explore whether the role of media should include not only telling the truth but also promoting promoting peace.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions between North and South Korea, and conflicts in South Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, not to speak of al-Qaida's bid to attack the United States - all fill the air waves.

The continuous barrage in cyberspace further complicates the situation.

Today, anyone can craft a message and send it around the globe with the push of a button.

The concern about messages of hate on the Internet inspired several institutions in Washington to sponsor a seminar with media experts and journalists.

Sheldon Himelfarb, of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the Internet is both good and bad. "The bad news is let us look at what is being made," he said.

The seminar focused on whether the media can play a peace-building role by countering hatred with positive messages.

Marvin Kalb, a former television correspondent, is now an analyst at the US Institute of Peace. "I myself think it is going to be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible because I am not sure if that is what a journalist does for a living," he said.

Frank Sesno, Director of George Washington University's School of Media, was blunt. "I don't think it is your job to promote peace. It is your editor's job and it is your job as a journalist to promote all the ideas, comfortable and otherwise, that constitute the story," he said.

Sesno said both mainstream and non-traditional journalists can promote understanding by just doing their jobs, without bias. "Declare fully and flatly that it is our job to take you places where you have not been before, intellectually, emotionally, geographically, ideologically and expose you to this. Sometimes [it can be] uncomfortable and unconventional. I really think that will serve a very large purpose," he said.

But Dan Froomkin, senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post, an online newspaper, said journalists today can do some reporting to promote peace. "It is no coincidence that most wars start after a campaign of demonizing our opponents. So if you can put a human face on people, it advances peace. I think good journalism and certain aspects of the Internet, including social networking, really do a great job of that," he said.

The panelists compared today's media to a rain forest, full of both poisonous and medicinal plants.

The consensus was that a journalist has to be impartial, and so the word media must be well defined, to separate news reporting from other media, such as documentaries and blogging.

They said a journalist's job is to deliver information and let people draw their own conclusions.

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