Integrity in media essential for Truth and Reconciliation

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 17, 2019

Last week’s column celebrated the Stoney Nakoda First Nation’s move from an oral-only culture to an oral-and-written one. But more conservative oral-only proponents at Morley are quick to point out how the colonizers’ print culture has contaminated school textbooks and the media with falsehoods about First Nations heritage and history. A variation on “fake, fake, fake” in current political rhetoric in general?

Yes! And if we are ever to experience the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, we must recommit ourselves – all of us in the media and communication – to integrity. This brings to mind correspondence I’ve had over the years with our Calgary coffee companion Keith Newman, peacemaker and former television producer, about the International Communications Forum’s Sarajevo Commitment of 2000 “pledging signers to the highest ethical and performance standards.”

The gathering of 167 editors, writers, heads of journalism schools, and other media professionals from 21 countries culminated in a formal commitment to integrity and public service. Although the commitment bears on all areas of publishing, broadcasting, public relations, and art and entertainment, it has a special relevance for journalists and columnists.

Here are extracts from that agreement:

WE, MEN AND WOMEN OF THE MEDIA...met here in the bruised, historic and beautiful city of Sarajevo, pay our homage and respect to the millions of humanity whom we inform, entertain and educate.

We look back on a century of brilliance and which we split the atom, but left families, communities and nations divided.

We accept that we in the media, whilst talent and technology enabled us to reach the lives of almost every last person in the world, were not able to create the climate in which problems were solved, conflicting groups and interests reconciled, and peace and justice established.

Now that we confront a new century, many of us, hoping that we interpret the views and feelings of the vast majority of our colleagues, would like to establish a commitment, an undertaking, a pledge, to all those who will live and love and work in these coming hundred years.

We shall inform you to the best of our ability, with clarity and honesty, with independence of mind, of what is truly happening in the world at the level of the individual, the family, the community, the nation and the region. We shall present the facts and explain the facts, and some of us will aim with modesty to interpret them. As we succeed in doing this, we believe that you, the people, will be enabled to make the right decisions, to elect and appoint the best leaders and to build a fair, just and compassionate society.

We seek a world in which everyone cares enough and everyone shares enough so that everyone will have enough; a world in which the work and wealth of the world are available to all at the exploitation of none.

We working to raise up and not to drag down. We shall challenge our politicians to work for the next generation and not the next election, encourage our governments to make agreements which are effective in people’s hearts as well as on paper; and stimulate our business, industrial and labour leaders to meet the material needs of humankind with fairness and equity.

We shall combine freedom with responsibility, talent with humility, privilege with service, comfort with sacrifice and concern with courage. We realise that change in society begins with change in ourselves.

We undertake to apply and demonstrate in our own lives the values that we hope for, and often demand, in others. We shall confront hypocrisy, oppression, exploitation and evil, firstly by our own clarity and straightness and then through the means by which we reach our audiences.… We shall aim to be truthful and free of guile, selfish ambition, perverted behaviour and deception.

We shall not cease to strive until...every human being [is] enabled to live a life of satisfaction and purpose....

THANKS, KEITH, for bringing this to our attention. Now, since every last one of us reading this column also is a communicator – professional or otherwise – we may be asking how we can implement these high ideals. What can we do to affirm and not demean each other, and, in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, what can each of us do to give voice to the highest values of our humanity – orally and in print? Well…?


© 2019 Warren Harbeck

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