14 November 2010
The media’s role in supporting social peace
The role of the media in supporting social peace was the topic of a recent seminar held in Cairo at the Association of Upper Egypt, where a number of journalists and media figures took part. The seminar was the brainchild of the young media workers on the cultural dialogue programme of the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services (CEOSS).
Saad Hagrass, editor-in-chief of ++al-Alam al-Youm++, began by saying that the media today has a vital role to play in enhancing dialogue among the various partners in the community, with the purpose of achieving social peace. This should be no mission impossible, he said, since a significant group already co-existed peacefully.
However, Mr Hagrass noted, the media has betrayed the ideal of social peace and contributed towards discrimination and hatred of the ‘other’, all under the guise of freedom of expression. “Spreading hatred is no freedom of expression,” he said, “neither is kindling sedition.”
The media, according to Mr Hagrass, has today become part of the event of stirring social sedition, making it thus necessary to put in place measures that would, instead, allow it to support social peace. Prominent among these measures, he said, is passing—and implementing—a law to criminalise discrimination.
Another law ought also to be passed if the media is expected to play an effective role in enhancing social peace. “We need a law,” Mr Hagrass said, “to allow the free accessibility and flow of information, without which it is impossible for a journalist to ensure the veracity of facts.
“The code of journalistic ethics must be implemented, with the Journalists’ Syndicate acting as watchdog over instances of violation of this code,” Mr Hagrass said. A conference organised by the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARED) group was twice banned from the Journalists’ Syndicate, he reminded, once through violence and another through a vote.
“This urges the necessity of training journalists on citizenship values,” he concluded.
The prominent writer Yusry Fouda referred to the fact that, in itself, the media reflects a realistic image of society, especially where the ‘non-familiar other’ is concerned. Journalists, he said, lack the very rudiments of professionalism. The situation thus, according to Mr Fouda, requires harsher penalties against irresponsible journalistic deeds that, knowingly or unknowingly, threaten the nation’s peace. And if journalists are fined for such deeds, the fines may be used to implement training courses for the journalists in fault as well as ten other trainees to correct such transgressions.
“Media work in Egypt has turned into a form of thuggery,” was how Charles al-Masry, managing editor of ++al-Masry al-Youm++ described the situation. Using strong words, he condemned the media for spreading hatred of the ‘other’ and using religious rhetoric to inflame hostile sentiments. Through printing questionable incidents and dubious debates on thorny issues, the media, he said, worked as an important factor in breeding sectarianism.
Mr Masry welcomed the recent decision by the Media Ministry to close down channels that spread extremist religious thought and broadcast on the Egyptian satellite Nilesat even though, he said, the decision came too late. Much damage has already been done.
The media, Mr Masry said, has become part of the problem of the curtailed social peace. But it is hard for the media to be a part of the answer, he said, since journalistic institutions seek financial profit to the detriment of social benefit. The only real and full answer to the predicament, according to Mr Masry, would be the secular State where religion and State are entirely separated.
The journalist and writer Amina Shafiq could not agree more. The difficult equation, she said, was how to attain both professionalism, a beneficial social agenda, and profit. “If press institutions manage to place social peace on their agenda, I am certain our country would change. This is not impossible, she said; we can take our cue from another, albeit different issue, that of female genital mutilation commonly known as female circumcision. At one point, no-one thought our society could do anything about it; the custom was so deeply ingrained in the community. Today, she said, and thanks to the media campaign against the practice, we are heading towards its demise. It’s just a matter of time, she insisted.