Toward a 'Faith-Based' Fourth Estate

On the lookout for a new "news paradigm?" Look no more! The World Media Association is on the case, as evidenced by a WMA-sponsored forum in our nation's capital this week.

Pre-event publicity for the RSVP Forum, entitled "Needed: A New Paradigm for News," certainly asks the right question: "Are media giving people the kind of news they need?"

Perhaps not, but any journalistic gathering that also questions the continued relevance of "the media's traditional role of reporting 'facts' (sic)" sounds more than a little dodgy -- even in our current celebrity-fixated, spin-obsessed, single-sourced, 24/7 news environment. After all, while it's a truism that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, have we finally reached the point where facts are no longer "relevant?" Is it really time, as the WMA asks, "for media to become 'guide dogs' instead of 'watchdogs?'"

Jan Schaffer, Executive Director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, along with Dr. Jannette L. Dates, Dean of the Howard University School of Communications, and United Press International Editor-in-Chief Michael Marshall, will explore those questions in a discussion moderated by WMA Executive Director Larry Moffitt.

But when I tried to question Schaffer before the event, she seemed oddly reticent. In fact, she turned downright surly when asked just one question: "Do you know what the World Media Association is?"

"It makes absolutely no difference to me!' Schaffer shouted. "I was asked to speak on the future of news and I will. Clearly you have a point of view!"

Taken aback, I told Schaffer I was just reporting a story, and then reiterated my question.

"We can't engage in this conversation," she sputtered. "I gotta go right now--bye!" Then she hung up.

What made Schaffer become so unhinged? One can only surmise, since she never returned subsequent phone calls. But here's a few clues: the forum will take place in the auditorium of the Washington Times, the money-hemorrhaging conservative daily controlled by the self-styled Messiah, Reverend Sun Myung Moon; the event is sponsored by a Moon front group and moderated by longtime acolyte Larry Moffitt; and Schaffer's fellow "Featured Panelist" Marshall, editor of the Moon-controlled UPI, is a devotee who once promised to "follow forever" Moon's teachings.

Reverend Moon's followers claim the Washington Times, UPI and other messianic media holdings are independent. The official public relations line -- presented as fact as far back as in a June 15, 1987 Time magazine profile -- maintains that the ownership of the newspaper resides with "a group of Korean investors affiliated with the Unification Church." But it has always been obvious that 'investment' in the Times really meant a subsidy. News World Communications, the privately held parent company of the Washington Times and other Moon media outlets, was never obligated under the law nor willing to disclose its financial secrets. But it is not secret that Moon's top Church officials were also executives of the Times and top officials of the Korean CIA.

According to a report by Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR) "the Moon organization functions as a highly integrated unit; each component may maintain the appearance of independence as a means toward larger ends. And former top Church official Steve Hassan told FAIR he believes that the "Times" is a "Trojan horse" within the conservative movement, and that "Conservative politics is glad to have a voice through the 'Times,' but ultimately it has nothing to do with conservatism. It has to do with fascism."

The FAIR study concluded, "The 'Washington Times' is a creature unique in American history -- a newspaper of national influence owned and operated by foreign nationals of demonstrated malevolent intent to American political institutions. But the paper and its backers have not yet received the scrutiny they deserve."

And how independent is the once-proud UPI? As Moon noted on Nov. 30, 2000, shortly after buying the news service, "The best way to become famous will be to write articles about Rev. Moon. The media organization that employs the reporters who write such articles and publishes them will be respected around the world. UPI was purchased just as it was about to collapse, and it is being supported now. UPI can write such articles." Or as the Rev put it on another occasion, to establish "the journalism of the Kingdom of Heaven" one first needs "the wire service of the Kingdom of Heaven..."

So what is the World Media Association? Judging from its mission statement, the WMA seems innocuous enough: "an international consortium of media professionals and opinion leaders who envision a more peaceful world that values a high standard of personal ethics, intercultural and interracial cooperation and the active participation of all people in shaping the twenty-first century."

The WMA embodies this vision through various activities, including "disseminating the clearest and best ideas available on communication freedom and ethics" - something this week's forum seems intended to do.

But a glance at the Reverend Moon-authored "Mission of the Media" page on the WMA's web site, yields a little more insight. There Moon notes, first and foremost, "the importance of responsibility in media." Urging journalists to 'be moral and righteous," Moon says, "Democracy cannot be exercised without a free press. And a free press cannot be truly free unless exercised with moral responsibility."

Nor can the media "be apathetic to the trend of decreasing credibility," Moon adds. "We as founders, owners, writers and broadcasters of the media must ...recover the public trust, draft an accurate account of history and gain the approval of God--creator and final judge of us all."

"The media is at a crossroads. On one hand, if you try to limit press freedom by some legal means, you will most likely destroy it altogether. On the other hand, a media that can rampage at will, out of control, will always be in danger of losing its sacred public trust, with the same resulting loss of press freedom. The only workable answer to this dilemma is self-imposed integrity and discipline."

Moon further posits, "Media in a global age should move beyond "functional journalism" toward "value journalism" -- and away, presumably, from those pesky things called facts.

"The news media do not completely fulfill their mission simply by giving their audiences a factual account of the news. Rather, through commentary and criticism, the media must awaken their readers and viewers to an awareness of truth and lead the way in elevating society's spiritual and moral values.

"Merely reporting the facts of the news will be much too elementary," explains Moon. A more important role of the media is "to determine how to interpret and evaluate the facts, and thus provide the direction in which the audience is guided.

Talk about a new news paradigm!

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