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EUME-Africa ILC Discusses News Media’s Responsibility

Africa/Europe/Middle East—A session of the International Leadership Conference 2020 was devoted to the theme “Assessing the Role of News Media in the Global COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond.”

The online webinar on September 12, 2020, was organized by the International Media Association for Peace (IMAP), a UPF project.

It was the seventh of nine webinars jointly held by UPF Africa and UPF of Europe and the Middle East, featuring prominent speakers from both regions.

The speakers at the IMAP webinar were:

Dr. Thomas McDevitt from the United States, the chairman of The Washington Times newspaper

Juan Señor from the United Kingdom, the president of Innovation Media Consulting

Aka Saye Lazare from Côte d’Ivoire, the president of the National Television and Radio Company

Dr. May Chidiac from Lebanon, former minister of state for administrative development

Mamadou Gaye from Côte d’Ivoire, the coordinator of IMAP Africa

The moderator was Rita Payne from the United Kingdom, the former Asia editor of BBC World News and the president emeritus of the Commonwealth Journalists Association.

Dr. Thomas McDevitt, referring to the theme of the webinar, asked whether there really is opportunity in this crisis. Will people really find hope, and, most importantly, what is the role of the media?

Our world is facing huge disruption following the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. It is most important that journalists cover this situation well.

Dr. McDevitt said that in his decades of working with UPF co-founders Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, he has come to appreciate their insights. For instance, speaking before some 80 members of the US Congress in 2016, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon made a statement that is pertinent to the time we are in now: “We look at this world and see unspeakable, inarticulate misery happening all over the world. It is impossible to solve these problems with just human power. What do we do from here on forward? We need to start a movement and an awakening that accents the existence of the Creator, a higher realm of truth and insight.”

Dr. McDevitt said we are witnessing a new global Great Awakening that requires a new mindset. We should have a comprehensive view, beyond politics, economics, or military matters. Moreover, we need new leadership, especially that of women. He referred to the evangelical historian and philosopher Os Guinness, who said, “Contrast is the mother of clarity.” The necessity of a new view of life centered on the highest ideals of true love, transcending the barriers of race, religion, culture, and national boundaries, is now becoming more evident with each passing day. This is equivalent to, or even greater than, Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity, he said.

In 1978, Reverend Moon launched the World Media Conference, in 1975 the Sekai Nippo newspaper in Japan, in 1982 The Washington Times in the United States, and in 1989 the Segye Ilbo newspaper in South Korea. In February 2020 the International Media Association for Peace was launched under the banner of UPF, and it has focused on interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values. IMAP was launched, at Mother Moon’s behest, with the mission to address the current crisis in media credibility, media standards and ethics, and the seemingly never-ending upheavals and innovations in journalism.

Dr. McDevitt explained that IMAP seeks to provide professional development and networking opportunities to media practitioners around the world. It also encourages the development of a responsible global media industry that is highly trusted, independent, prosperous, and accessible to all. There is a strong commitment to encouraging news media to shine a light on dialogue, collaboration, conflict resolution and, most of all, solution-oriented thinking to promote human development, God-given human rights, social well-being, freedom and responsibility.

Juan Señor, the president of Innovation Media Consulting, gave insights from the book 2020 Reimagining the News, a special edition of the Innovation in Media World Report published on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. It is based on many years of research and media-consulting experience.

Mr. Señor listed some findings of  the research:

Manage what you can control. What is out of control should be treated as superfluous.

Trends that used to take much time to become the norm now take less time to do so.  The massive migration of readers from print to digital, and the migration from ad revenue to reader revenue, are just two examples of this.

Trust in the social media has dwindled.

Journalism cannot be done merely from home in times of lockdown. It happens in the field, by being an eyewitness to events. Face-to-face journalism, not Facebook or desktop journalism, is what creates journalism worth paying for.

Even though print has come very much under pressure, it should not be given up as long as a digital first revenue has been established.

The rise of fake news, e.g., in political campaigns, is being stopped. The trusted news media are fact-checking and exposing it.

Journalism is valuable and must be paid for. This moment must be seized; if not, it will be lost forever. Journalism helps to make life-or-death decisions in times of the pandemic. This is the time to invest in journalism and to sell it confidently. Up till now we have been selling volume and ads, instead of journalism. In this pandemic, we must change or die.

Aka Saye Lazare gave some context about the health crisis in Ivory Coast, where the authorities acted quickly and vigorously to fight the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic surprised the whole world with its speed and magnitude. The media, which often play the role of watchdog, faced many challenges. However, once the effect of shock was over, all categories of media in Ivory Coast fulfilled their duty of informing, reassuring, and sensitizing the population about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, they also had to deal with another pandemic, i.e., fake news. Every day, the media would report from testing centers and hospitals about the health situation, which gradually made the people understand the reality of the pandemic.  The media played a key role in fighting the pandemic alongside health and government authorities. Never before have the media around the world been unanimously mobilized to defend the same cause.  People have become much aware of the importance of the media. In conclusion, Mr. Lazare said that the media can also be partners in all initiatives that are taken to promote peace and social cohesion.

The next speaker was Dr. May Chidiac, who said that she was taken ill by coronavirus, from which she has almost entirely recovered. She also mentioned the difficult situation journalists had to work in, due to health precautions, when covering the devastating explosion  in the harbor of Beirut on August 4.

Mrs. Chidiac said that freedom of expression, media independence, and open deliberation, rather than information control, are the core principles of a functioning democracy. In times of great uncertainty, the media are needed more than ever, as the public will turn to sources they can trust to make informed, and sometimes life-saving, choices.

Media development and government responsiveness are strongly linked.  The media have to check that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.

In times of crisis, news media, data journalism, fact checkers and investigative reporting save lives. Journalists have been facing unprecedented professional challenges, as well as the so-called first “dis-info-demic.” Trusted media sources should not merely ignore misinformation but counter it by thinking who their audience may trust and by providing expert and transparent news.

Mamadou Gaye said that the media throughout history have played a major role in promoting both evil and peace. The media must be in the forefront to promote the projects of Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, which offer solutions to the problems of today’s world. The current crisis has exposed the greed and  selfishness of countries and human beings. Dr. Moon, however, is teaching that there is no future without living for the sake of others and, more importantly, without involving God. To conclude, Mr. Gaye appealed to the media to access the recently published book titled Mother of Peace, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon’s memoir, in order to better understand her dedication, sacrifices, and total investment in promoting interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values.

Question-and-Answer Session

Asked about the role of social media, Juan Señor, who has conducted a global study of the impact of social media, said that the social platforms should be held accountable for what they publish. Actually, they are media companies and not merely distributive platforms. They should be treated as publishers and be held accountable for the confusion and fake news they have spread. Human beings are responsible for publishing disinformation and slander, misinformation, and so should digital platforms.

Final Take-Away Messages:

Dr. Thomas McDevitt quoted the founder of The Washington Times and UPF: “Before you are a journalist, you are a human being.” What matters is your moral character, your ethical orientation, and your sense of truthfulness. This is essential in every discipline, especially in the media. 

Dr. May Chidiac said the media have to cover the pandemic in a professional way to keep the public well informed and in good spirits at the same time.

Aka Saye Lazare said the role of the media should not be neglected, especially when it comes to promoting peace. Journalists themselves should be sensitized to become conscious and responsible partners, especially in countries where there are frequent political crises. Journalists in Africa  should make sure that organizations such as UPF can give the tools to support politicians on the road to peace. Mr. Lazare said he is looking forward to the day when UPF organizes a summit in Ivory Coast on the media and peace. Many journalists in Ivory Coast are actually willing to defend peace and should know about the vision and the projects of the Universal Peace Federation, he said.

To go back to the executive summary for the Africa-EUME ILC, click here.

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