UBC-TV NEWS – April 14, 2014
Last Friday, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration in collaboration with The Center For Media and Peace Initiatives along with The Society of Professional Journalists (NJ Chapter) conducted their 3rd Annual Conference on Media & Democratic Governance.
This year’s topic of discussion held at the Center for Urban and Public Affairs was; “Seeing Through the Spin; Sorting Fact from Fiction in Public Information.” UBC-TV NEWS was invited to speak on the issue of sorting fact from spin around the world.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Uchenna Ekwo, Ph.D, President of The Center for Media and Peace Initiatives. CMPI is an independent, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the promotion of conflict-resolving media practice around the world. Their mission is to continuously provide learning opportunities for journalists, citizens and civil society activists on conflict-resolving journalism, conduct, research and engage in transformative mediation. They design, produce and manage an innovative program of high quality seminars and conferences that promote sharing of knowledge and information, create opportunities for learning and contribute to the development of people and organizations at all levels. They function primarily through training of media professionals. Hence, the purpose of today’s panel. Their intent is to foster more critical journalism devoted to peace building and holding practitioners accountable for ethical journalism. The media system they are building supports peace, dialogue, nonviolence and democracy. Which is why Dr. Uchenna Ekwo asked the panel; “How do diaspora journalists influence the conversation both in their home countries and in the United States?
Rudolf Okonkwo a Nigerian journalist and writer for SaharaTV stated that he uses social media and the natives of his country as sources and first respondents to incidents within Africa. After he checks the facts he then safely reports on these incidents utilizing the freedom of speech that is constitutional law here in the United States. Created in April 2011, SaharaTV is the broadcast outlet of SaharaReporters, a groundbreaking online news medium commonly referred to as the “Wikileaks of Africa.” A fiercely independent media enterprise, SaharaTV, is an advocacy and watchdog journalism outlet for the free and unfettered exchange of thought and opinion. Their goal is the advancement of a progressive generation of Africans and people of African descent who are fully informed about their government and the political forces that determine their future. More importantly they seek to empower those Africans who are prepared to act in the pursuit of justice and human rights. He continued by explaining that because SaharaTV is based in America they can speak on African affairs without the repercussions Africans would recieve by speaking on national issues and political affairs. Rudolf concluded his introspection by stating; “SaharaTV in a few occasions has been the lead media outlet inwhich other outlets have rebrodcasted our stories and images as a source for their coverage of African news. We believe we are making a difference because we are able to report the stories that normally would not be discussed or covered in either mainstream or other African outlets.”
With that said the moderator Dr. Uchenna Ekwo turned the mic over to UBC-TV’s own host Amelia Moore asking her; “As an American journalist what do you say to the issue of fact verses spin? Amelia responded by stating: “In order to understand what is going on in media today you have to understand the evolution of journalism. Social Media; the age of tweeting, instagram, facebook and blogging has transitioned fact based journalism to sensationalism. Their impact is seen even in the news. I was taught that journalist were the unbiased voice that had a constitutional responsibilty to report the facts and tell the truth.” She continued by stating; “We as journalists are the foundation of the First Amendment. Our freedom of speech and ultimately our voice is based on fact which gives everyone else the liberty to say whatever they want because we are the prescedent that substantiates the purpose of the law. Governance. Our first admendment enables outlets like SaharaTV to create a voice for the voiceless.” She went on to explain that along with the inherent advantages of technology and social media there is an potential danger as well. The risk of fabrication. As journalist it is our obligation to let those who indulge in social media (who for the most part will ultimately be our first respondents to any news situation) their responsibility to report fact. She continued by explaining that bias in the media is being determined by many different factors. A prime example is advertising bias through content branding. Content branding are articles that look and feel like stories but in actuality are elaborte advertising campaigns with a set message and mission. Another factor is corporate bias. This is when certain brands or businesses are positioned favorably despite their endeavors due to their influence within the market place or media outlet. Another bias is mainstream. The popular opinion of the people/trends and the avoidance of offending anyone or anything that has the popular control of main street and the mainstream. Understanding that any offensive comment or remark could ultimately effect the acceptance of your brand/media outlet. The question then becomes how does the reader/viewer discipher if what he/she is reading/seeing is fact or fiction? Amelia answered; ” We at UBC-TV especially UBC-TV NEWS challenges our viewers to be part of the truth. To utilize technology similar to SaharaTV and report their news. By utilizing second screens to continue the conversation of what is being reported on our news we can influence our viewers to be an active participant and voice with the inner workings of their community/country. They know its true because they are delivering and conversating the facts. UBC-TV understands the the urban experience and lifestyle is multi-cultural. We intend to cover those untold stories, to expound and further understand the diaspora of the the urban community. Ultimately transcending race to culture.”
The panel concluded with Alexander Ostashko, Editor-in-Chief of Context-Prichemomoerie News Agency based in Odessa, Ukraine; explaining the condition of media in the Ukraine. His speech delivered in Ukranian and translated in english by Dr. Olga Zbarskaya, (a Director at CMPI) said that the media affairs in the Ukraine are effected by two major factors. The first being cultural. Most of the southeast Ukraine speaks Russian and in Crimea they are ethnic Russian majority. Although the Ukraine got it’s independence in 1954 the fall of the Soviet Communist in 1991 had an impact on the Ukraine and the influence of the Russian culture within the country. Loyalty to a specific culture is primarily depending on the geographical location within the country.
If you look at the map above the West and Northwest region (top half) of Ukraine primarily supports the Ukraine lifestyle and culture. Whereas the East and Southeast region of Ukraine lives the lifestyle and culture of Russia. This cultural divide has recently sparked a political divide within the county that has invoked the potential of a civil war. The challenge of this cultural divide as it relates to media is the perspective/slant the media outlet delivers to the people to appeal to their cultural beliefs.
The second problem with factual reporting is the actual media infrastructure (or lack thereof) within the Ukarine and Crimea. The question of control is a real issue. The entity that controls the media controls the message. There are not a lot of outlets and the most powerful outlets are controlled by Russia. He explained that the need for other outlets is critical for unbias reports but that it takes money to create those new outlets. The message of his challege resonated loudly when it came time to write this blog. In my research I found a listing of 103 online publications only 3 were based in Crimea, 4 in Odessa, yet 23 were based in Kiev. How can an independent country get unbiased reports on their country when the ratio is 7-1 or 5-1 for every news outlet they read is based and written by a country that wants to control their country?
Alexander concluded his speech on the challenges of media in Ukraine by stating the most pressing issue is that of veracity. He went on to say that stories/reports are being fabricated to influence the people and drive their reactions or actions within the country. This statement was poignantly supported by the recent resignation of an anchor for RT.com. RT anchor Liz Wahl said she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin.” (March 5, 2014 reported by www.FreeBeacon.com) You can watch her statement: http://youtu.be/55izx6rbCqg
The question posed to the panel; “How do diaspora journalists influence the conversation both in their home countries and in the United States?” may not have been fully answered with complete resolution and critical analysis within the time constraints of the panel. However, it was evident that the attendees of the conference were influenced to continue the conversation which ineviatbly is the role of any consumate journalist. So in the end our resolve for the day was; mission accomplished.