- - Monday, February 3, 2020

Journalism isn’t the most admired profession, and its practitioners certainly wouldn’t win a popularity contest. But in the category of inquisitiveness, they’re off the charts. News hounds are dogged in their pursuit of truth, and for that they deserve kudos. Where journalists go off the rails is with their tendency to skew coverage of events to reinforce preconceived notions of how they think the world ought to be. It’s time they set aside their personal prejudices and get back on track.

The clarion call to clean up reporting has sounded and, happily, ears are perking up. As millions try to escape the deadly effects of the coronavirus in China, some 500 intrepid journalists flew against the grain and landed in nearby Seoul, South Korea, in order to explore means of building a more informative and ethical media industry for the 21st century.

No reporter’s notebook could record the breadth of discussion flowing from the conference theme: “Establishing a Global Environment of Interdependence, Mutual Prosperity and Universal Values — the role of the Media.” Still, one task central to rejuvenating journalistic ethics stood out: Media professionals have an obligation to maintain objectivity, free from flavoring with their personal views. There are two — or more — sides to every story, and formulating news articles to favor only one perspective is tantamount to putting a beefy thumb on the scales of public opinion. That’s deceitful.

For example, seldom has the American press corps been so willing to violate basic journalistic ethics than in coverage of President Trump’s impeachment trial. Media figures cried foul over the U.S. Senate’s vote to deny testimony of additional witnesses while glossing over the fact that the president’s accusers opted to forgo the testimony in the House, where constitutional precedent directs. False or misleading content, the stuff the president calls “fake news,” isn’t really news at all — it’s propaganda.

With never-Trump bias oozing from major media outlets, it’s no wonder that a recent Gallup poll found only 13 percent of respondents trust the media “a great deal,” and only 28 percent trust them “a fair amount.” If credibility is to be regained, news media must escort viewers and readers through various angles on issues in order to present a fuller understanding of events. It’s simply a matter of fairness. Equity is easy when reporters remember to treat subjects of their scrutiny with the same dignity they would expect for themselves.

The Washington Times, for one, has held fast its founding practice of printing honorific titles, such as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” It may seem quaint in 2020, but treating with proper courtesy all persons — those convicted of felony excluded — should never go out of style.

To be sure, conventional journalism is faced with growing temptation to cut corners. The explosion of social media has allowed anyone with a camera-equipped smart phone to assume the role of reporter. Few media mavericks embrace a standard of objectivity other than one of their own choosing. Journalism, though, is not expressionism.

The explosion of baloney in the cybersphere is triggering an inevitable backlash that could endanger the First Amendment. To wit, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has recently proposed criminal and civil penalties for anyone posting false information online about the voting process. How many follow-on laws would it take to realize George Orwell’s feared “Ministry of Truth?”

Sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, the three-day media conference ending Feb. 5 was held in conjunction with a more-extensive World Summit 2020, a symposium of pre-eminent political, economic and religious figures numbering in the thousands. The Washington Times serves as a media partner of the summit, the brainchild of Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, wife of The Times’ late founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Seoul may not stand out as a natural site for a journalistic renaissance. For that matter, neither does Washington, the press-palooza on the Potomac. Journalism faces the same set of challenges around the globe, and the forefront of progress manifests wherever its practitioners are bold enough to face them head-on.

Korea’s media conferees concluded their discussions with the inauguration of a new organization, the International Media Association for Peace. They also signed a resolution affirming “a body of world media that conveys accurate content, addresses challenges of our time, is based on the highest principles of ethical journalism, and understands that universal values are key elements of a world of peace.” It’s an encouraging start.

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