By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – In this digital age, media must consciously carry on their responsibilities “to deliver truthful and transformative news and to speak truth to power” and veer away from political propaganda and fake news. Three interfaith theologians and a lawyer stressed this necessity during a forum sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Dinner Dialogue (IYDD) of the Unification Theological Seminary on December 3, 2018.
A vibrant and deep dialogue on truth and interfaith took place at the Oak Room that meant to put some sense in today’s noisy, oftentimes blurry messages in the mainstream and social media.
The panelists, Dr. Charles Chesnavage, Dr. Andrew Wilson, Dr. Lounne Rouse, and Atty. Lara Gregory, Esq. presented informative and insightful inputs on truth and interfaith building in the city. Moderating the panel was UTS student Marivir Montebon who also represented the OSM! online magazine and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York.
Who controls media controls the message
Dr. Chesnavage, the first speaker, presented the increasing control of media in the hands of a few big businesses. Pre-WW II era had 50 corporations in control of media, which narrowed to six in 2000.
“A free press is a sign of democracy. But because it is in the hands of the few, democracy is endangered. The media becomes a propaganda machine that inflames hatred, like the case in Rwanda, or during the WWII, it became a mouthpiece of a pro-fascist rhetoric. Today, we see the emergence of fake news or alternative facts,” said Chesnavage, UTS professor teaching .
Dr. Andrew Wilson, meanwhile, reiterated the point of Chesnavage, by saying that the mainstream media has delivered a lot of propaganda and misleading reports that have become politically divisive or maintained the narrow parochialism of different religions.
Wilson is the director of Scriptural Research and professor of Scriptural Studies at UTS. He authored a book titled “World Scriptures: A Comparative Study of all Scriptures” which is a comparative study of the various world religions.
The Interfaith Community
Pastoral care and counseling professor Dr. Lounne Rouse, for his part, cited the challenge for media to report the truth at all times, and in that it “should be transformative in the right direction.”
“Reporters must make sure that they are gathering facts and reporting them as they are, instead of making an opinion. Reportage too must be motivational, so that it moves people to act responsibly,” he expounded.
Maleaka Queano, a participant in the forum, said that on the ground, there had been several activities where interfaith collaboration has occurred, especially on immigration issues but were not actually covered by media.
“We go to rallies or prison camps in order to support people who have immigration issues which involves various religious groups and people of color. But this does not land in the news pages,” she said.
Chesnavage responded by saying that there may be an “outrage fatigue” on the ground which could have caused non-reportage of political actions.
Montebon, for her part, said that interest groups need to be specific in their messages in calling for political action from the public or officials, instead of continuously towing propagandistic lines. “Messages must be specific and have calls to action. That is the way to land in the news,” she said.
Wilson, for his part, added that in this digital age, the interfaith community needed to rethink of ways to be covered by media in order to put forward a message of unity and understanding.
Speaking the truth to power
Atty. Lara Gregory, meanwhile, said that it has always been a challenge for media to speak truth to power, citing cases of beleaguered Turkish journalists and Rappler, a Philippine online magazine, which has continuously reported on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines at the time of Pres. Duterte.
“The media is for the governed, and not the governors,” she said, quoting one Supreme Court decision in favor of the New York Times in releasing a news report regarding the Vietnam war.
Gregory, a Philosophy graduate and Manhattan-based immigration and Supreme Court lawyer, cited that communities in New York have always been an expression of interfaith and cultural diversity, with Queens accounting for the most diverse of social groups.
New York is an interfaith community where cohabitation, tolerance, and hospitality exist, each individual has the responsibility to serve the community and to think critically instead of simply accepting what media has reported, Gregory said.