Codes of Tolerance for Journalists and the Media

When you watch the news on TV you are subjected to an endless flow of negative news. After the hourly news we often see a cheap US television series featuring shootings and violence flicker on the screen.

On the internet, violence and hatred propaganda is available without any filters.

In this way, our children are inundated with violence and ruthlessness on a daily basis. Can this remain the societal norm without any consequences for their little souls and their emotions?

As early as 1993, the Chicago Declaration on Global Ethics criticized, “Mass media spread ideological propaganda instead of accurate information, misinformation instead of information, cynical commercial interests instead of truth.”
“Only bad news is good news” – nothing indicates the perver- sion of our system of values more drastically than this sen- tence. Particularly in the media, which depict events in world politics every day, this is a fatal development.

Information degenerates into commodity, oriented only on the profit of publication, ratings and circulation, instead of truth and objectivity.

The news must be “marketable.”

Violence turns into fascination for the masses and the marketing of horror is etched into the principle of information.

Against the background of radical Islamist attacks, in particular, terrorism and the media form an insidious symbiosis. While the terrorists expect great attention through the mass murders they commit, the media expects a maximum market share through dramatizing their reports.
We are at a turning point. The level of reporting even by the public service broadcasting institutions has become too much inclined towards violence.

Once again we need to take more responsibility in order to advocate for a better world, which can be shown in part by the media. The fixation on bad news has become over extended.

Today, beautiful stories featuring humanity and heroes of tolerance appear to be more interesting than the hundredth shooting or a disaster with always the same, interchangeable pictures.
This kind of journalistic reporting is comfortable, unpretentious and actually also rather boring. With the many bad news reports provided by the agencies, the editors can fulfill their quota without much consideration and effort. The rest remains for sports and the weather forecast.
On the internet, a new trend is emerging toward a balanced mixture of good and evil, as the user behavior of young people is changing. Every Facebook friend can post – “What’s on your mind” – their own stories, photos and videos, or they can review interesting content from friends. With “Like” buttons they show their friends what they like. It is striking that the good prevails over the bad news. Actually, the Facebook users prefer to show their beautiful, intact world; celebrating, laughing people in the most beautiful places of the world, dogs, cats, babies, gourmet food, or funny quotations. It’s rare to see post after post filled with endless catastrophes. Also, on YouTube and Instagram funny videos are predominant. Facebook, other social networks and websites make it very clear that people are not only interested in bad things, but in personal, fellow human, or funny things.
Stories are first generated in the minds of the journalists. They can find only what they are looking for. If we focus our journalistic radar only on scandals, wars and disasters, we will see only these negative stories. The responsibility of the journalists, therefore, begins with each individual. At their conferences, the editors should consciously search for best practices of tolerance and respect, make room for them in the media and thus present the world as it really is: evil and good, and no fake news but love news.
Helen Thomas (1920–2013), the Grand Lady of the White House Press Corps, said: “Journalists have the extraordinary potential for seeing the world as it is. Our task is to report the truth. If we only concentrate on the bad news, we miss many good stories with a human touch,” she said. Thomas warned to be more careful in choosing future words, “Too quickly the media use stereotypes,” she explained, “and thus miss a differentiated analysis.”
The media must report on the abuse of power, scandals, war and violence, because they are also part of our reality. However, at the same time journalists should not forget the beautiful and colorful world of peaceful coexistence and reconciliation. Balanced coverage corresponds to the ethos of a responsible journalist and to the truth. It also touches our hearts more than the endless repetition of violence.

  1. We need a change of awareness in journalism. They should no longer primarily regard themselves as “critical” and therefore negative reporters, but rather as realistic narrators of interesting stories, almost like a storyteller. These stories can be positive or negative. The almost manic search for the next scandal and the consequent fame of the discoverer obstructs the view of many truly good stories. The fixation on forest fires, plane crashes, wars and demonstrations is simple, but it is increasingly less competitive than digital offers.
  2. We need a step-by-step change in journalistic practice, away from the shocking journalism of violence, and toward an explanatory journalism of conflict. Images of horror have a key function: their emotional effect opens the awareness for the view behind the scenes. Here, the media must always reframe, question and explain. Only through such synergy can the media achieve an effective de-escalating impact in the shaping of public opinion, rather than remaining merely the showcase of violence.
  3. Editorial conferences should include in their editorial mandate an obligation to search for positive human stories of reconciliation, respect and tolerance and to give these an adequate place in reporting. A possible formulation could be, “The editors are committed to the principles of the UN Charter and also search for human stories of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual respect. Only in this way is balanced journalistic coverage guaranteed and a distortion of reality avoided.”
  4. Every editor should also insert examples of tolerance in their reports and tell colorful, rather than black-and-white, stories. Mental excisions that eliminate all positive elements are best avoided, as these simply make the report sound particularly critical.
  5. Program planners for documentaries, TV films and series should respect their obligation to provide balanced coverage.
    They should also check whether or not enough good stories have been published.
  6. Publishers and the governing bodies of the TV stations should discuss and define ethical principles with the editors, including stopping hate-propaganda in social media.

Best practices:

  1. The German Press Council issued guidelines for a fair and balanced coverage as early as 1973. Paragraph 1 states, “Respect for truth, protection of human dignity and the truthful transmission of information to the public are the highest commandments of the press.” Paragraph 10 states, “The press renounces the disparagement of religious, philosophical or moral beliefs.” Paragraph 12 states, “No one shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex, disability, or belonging to an ethnic, religious, social or national group.”
  2. The Berlin based German publisher Axel Springer obliges all editors upon their employment to commit themselves to a free and rule of law-governed Germany with a social market economy, to the European unification, the reconciliation between Germans and Jews and against totalitarianism. Strong publishers with a political sense of responsibility can take their editors up on their political obligation to commit themselves to the basic values of tolerance and peace within society.
  3. The “International Federation of Journalists” represents more than 500,000 journalists. It awards a tolerance prize, which aims to promote reports on tolerance in the media and honors balanced coverage (www.ifj.org).
  4. The “Global Inter-Media Dialogue” reports annually on intolerance and discrimination in the media. (www.intermediadialogue.org)
  5. The book Die Friedensmacher (The Peacemakers), by journalists Petra Gerster and Michael Gleich, focuses on peo- ple from various regions of conflict. They examine who has been active and successful in enhancing reconciliation and tolerance, as well as who knows the art of peacemaking. It contains many examples of best practice, collected from all around the world by the initiative “Peace Counts.”
  6. The “Cinema for Peace” foundation organizes gala dinners in Berlin and other cities at which films, as well as actors and actresses who are committed to reconciliation and peace all around the world, are honored (www.cinema forpeace-foundation.com). “Cinema for Peace” is also the name of a cinema that I supported in Jenin in the West Bank. It brings the art of film and conciliatory approaches to peace into this violent-prone region. In 2016, the building was sold and the cinema closed unfortunately. In this Palestinian city, an Israeli soldier mistakenly shot Ahmed Khatib, who was only 12 years old, in 2005 because the child had been playing with a toy gun. Khatib’s father donated the organs of his dead son to the children of his enemies and thereby saved their lives. The 2008 documentary film The Heart of Jenin, by the German filmmaker Markus Vetter and the Israeli Lior Geller, recounts this touching story. It is an example of best practices in the promotion of tolerance in films. (www.cinemajenin.org)
  7. Mo Asumang is a Champion of Tolerance with German and African roots. She is a TV moderator, actress (in Roman Polanski’s film The Ghostwriter she plays the US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice in 2010) and filmmaker. In her debut direction Roots Germania (2007), which was nominated for the renowned Grimme Prize, she addressed the subject of rac- ism for the first time. Her documentary film Road to Rain- bow (2010) questions equality in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. Her new award-winning film Die Arier (The Arians, 2014) does away with the abuse of the term and speaks with true Aryans, in Iran.
    She meets German Neo-Nazis and leaders of the self-appointed “White Aryan Resistance” and the Ku-Klux Clan in the USA. At the 14th Phoenix Film Festival in Arizona, the film won two prizes: the “World Cinema Best Documentary-Award” and the “World Cinema Audience Award.” At the Turkey-Germany Film Festival in Nuremberg, the film was honored with the “Öngören Prize for Democracy and Human Rights.” As ambassador for the initiative “School without Racism – School with Courage,” Mo Asumang discusses the insanity and non- sense of racism with young people, from a fresh perspective.
    The documentary “Watani – My Homeland”, co-produced by Dr Hubertus Hoffmann, shows the escape of a family from Aleppo to Goslar in Germany. The father was a commander of the Free Syrian Army, kidnapped and killed by ISIL. The mother and four children started a new life in Germany. This movie was nominated for the Oscars and won the German Television Award in 2017 (www.watanifilm.com).
  8. The distinguished Al-Azhar University in Cairo launched a new satellite channel that is directed against the corruption of Islam by extremist preachers. This channel should also reach non-Muslims in Egypt and abroad.
  9. Lindenstrasse (Linden Street) is the oldest soap opera in Germany. It is produced by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR, West German Radio) in Cologne and it repeatedly addresses issues of xenophobia. Its producer, Hans Gei- ßendörfer, was thereby able to bring an important contribu- tion to respect for one’s fellow human beings into the German living rooms.
  10. In January 2012, the Turkish TV station TNT broad- casted a series on the Shoa and the suffering of the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the first time in a Muslim country.
  11. Exemplary action has been taken by the two major pri- vate German TV stations Pro7 and RTL. On National Toler- ance Day, Pro7 broadcasts films addressing the topic of cul- tural diversity. RTL has donated an annual media prize for young people who report in films on the integration of for- eign classmates. The RTL Com.mit Award is supported by the RTL editor-in-chief and the Minister of State for Integra- tion (www.rtlcommit.de).

From the book “Love is Tolerance” by Hubertus Hoffmann