- The media was today accused of being biased and insensitive in its reporting of racism and human rights issues, at this World Conference on Racism, in Durban.
In a heated question and answer session with over 200 international media practitioners, specifically
focusing on the impact and role of the media in racism, journalists were consistently accused of: biased reporting. The media, many said, was giving in to political pressure especially regarding the Middle East, misleading, uninformed and insensitive in its reporting on minority rights,
over focused on optimising profits, and superficial.
In the session, which was facilitated by Riz Khan, formerly the producer of CNN's programme Q and A, and now, in his words an "unemployed journalist," with a high-powered panel which included the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, Rev. Jesse Jackson, UNICEF Global Ambassador Harry Belafonte, Special U.N. Rapporteur Ambassador Abidi Hussein and Aidan White the President of the
International Federation of Journalists, speaker after speaker said the media overplayed what was considered politically correct, at the expense of more significant issues.
As usual, the High Commissioner for Human Rights did not mince her words and categorically
stated, "There is such depth, richness and diversity here yet, from the outset, the media has been obsessed with the issues of the Middle East. It is concerning that the media might not have the courage to turn from stereotypical views, and reporting only what is politically correct. The media is today seen as a product and there is a preoccupation with the concentration of power. Current affair programmes are on a slippery slope downward."
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She said that this bias was unbecoming of practitioners who were supposed to be objective in their coverage of events, and gave the example of minimal coverage given to armed conflicts regarding Africa and people of African descent. Said she, "When White populations are displaced and killed the media leads in the focus. This is not the case when the same injustice is meted out on black people." In a quip that roused all the participants present, she said "who has gotten apologies for past atrocities, only the White people. Black people haven't."
Rev. Jesse Jackson in a biting remark stated "we are still seen as three fifths human, do we really matter as human beings? The U.S. media has done a great injustice to the American people by focusing too much on the Middle East. There is so much more going on in this conference. The U.S government was bad mannered. They sent a low-level delegation, hardly sat down, then left. This is bad-mannered and unbecoming of a leading nation."
Kenneth Deer, a Mohawk Publisher and Editor from Canada accused the media of turning a blind eye to the existence and plight of indigenous peoples, and to the real discrimination they experience. He said, "this discrimination of indigenous peoples is reflected in their low levels of education, and even their
under recruitment in media agencies. There needs to be a diversity of media staff that is
reflective of all peoples," he said.
Maria Victoria, the President of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters said that despite the fact that Black people make up 60 percent of the population in Brazil, only 10 percent of the media practitioners are black. She also pointed out that blacks in media productions are stereotypically portrayed as "criminals, misfits and bandits."
Most commentators underscored the role of the media as ideally a mirror that reflects what goes on in the world, a mechanism through which truth is
channeled. In defense of the media Abidi Hussein said, "smashing the mirror is not the answer". Aidian White, the President of the International Federation of Journalists said "It's not journalists and the media that have organised this conference, nor the arguments highlighted by the agenda. It is not right to blame journalists when governments create the story, our role is to get the story. The independence of
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journalists is compromised if they don't scrutinize every group, keep their distance and maintain their integrity." He however agreed that in reality the integrity of many journalists has been compromised. Said he, "There is need for training, and I believe the answer is to improve the conditions
under which journalists work. We need to strengthen the professional arena before we blame the journalist."