- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

The fragmentation of the family is one of the most important issues confronting America and the world and the press has a responsibility to aggressively cover this expanding story, author and syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher told the 20th World Media Association conference yesterday at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington.
Press coverage of family issues has improved and "it's now on the table in American discussions," Mrs. Gallagher said. But the press fails when it repeats unsubstantiated assertions as facts or allows issues to be framed in a way that makes traditional values look stodgy or repressive.
Those who support the institution of marriage are often portrayed as "bigoted" against single persons or unwed parents, while those who support cohabiting without ceremony are presented as broad-minded and inclusive. Similar framing of the national debate occurs in discussions over whether legal marriage should be extended to homosexual persons, she said.
Thousands of studies show that marriage benefits children, men, women, families and society far better than any other social arrangement, she said. "Marriage is not just a piece of paper. Marriage is a powerful social institution that is very, very important for the well-being of children and of societies … and should be protected and maintained."
Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Washington Times, said newspapers have a particular responsibility to get the story right. "There are many pressures on the family that our grandparents and even our parents could hardly have fathomed," he said, and "in addition to reporting the news fairly, without fear and without favor, the newspaper has a responsibility to show its readers that they are not alone in a world that seems increasingly hostile to many of the values that made societies come together in the first place."
These traditional values include family, faith and community, he said.
Television's role in the family must be studied "because television, by its very nature, is home media," said panelist Jong-Won Ha, professor of mass communications and journalism at Sun Moon University in South Korea.
Television is a source of news, information and entertainment, and can bring family members together to share interests and foster unity, Mr. Ha said. "On the other hand, it may regulate their modes of behavior, reduce affection between family members and limit their social activities in the real world."
The press can best serve the public by reporting positive family issues, said William Devlin, president of the Urban Family Council of Philadelphia, which works with families in inner cities.
"It's easy to tell bad news, but you have to be creative to tell good news," he said.
In addition to family coverage, the 200 journalists, professionals and academics at the conference will discuss the role of the press in covering international security, weapons of mass destruction, religion in society and world peace. The Washington Times Foundation and the UPI Foundation co-sponsor the three-day conference, which ends today.


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