Focusing on the good and building peace: is it a mission impossible when it comes to journalism?

Focusing on the good and building peace: is it a mission impossible when it comes to journalism?

We all know the difference between good and bad news. Bad news usually has something to do with failure, illness, death, an unsolved problem, destruction, etc. Bad news causes anguish and disappointment. Good news, on the other hand, shows us the bright side of life: instances of receiving a helping hand; serving and sacrificing for others; being forgiving toward someone or kind to other…at the bottom, searching for to heal some sort of wound.

We receive both good and bad news; however, it is evident, when we “browse the world” on our computers or when we consult a newspaper that we are inundated with much more negative content than positive content.

As journalist Susanna Wolf ironically explains, "'Only bad news is good news' is a motto in journalism. It refers to the principle that stories only sell well when they are based on a conflict or dramatic situation."

Flipping through a newspaper, we see no balance between news stories about solidarity in our communities and those that focus on conflict and bring about fear.

So, can we say that media describes reality adequately? Or would it be correct to say that it shows a distorted reality, where there seems to be only evil in the world?

The importance of striking a balance between good and bad news

There is bad news that needs to be communicated. We certainly cannot not know that a loved one has a health problem. We cannot ignore that a war is being fought in Ukraine or in Yemen (by the way, we are not much informed of this last war in Western media) or that we are in the middle of a pandemic. But the point, however, is: do we really only need to be informed about bad things that are going on?

It is not a matter of running away from negative situations, since being informed is a sign of active participation in family and society. Why, for those of us who are journalists, don’t we report on good news?

Around the globe every day, there are major important acts of solidarity: missionaries leave for distant lands just to alleviate the suffering of underprivileged peoples and preach the Gospel; new care homes pop up to help children; prostitutes are rescued from the street through human trafficking centers; men and women risk their lives to bring food and water to war zones. There are peace initiatives to foster human integration¾there individuals getting over their addictions¾there are countless stories of forgiveness. Why not give more prominence to this sort of news, which could bring hope and inspire people?

Valuing the good does not mean downplaying the seriousness of negative situations, but rather helps us to see the good in mankind.

Promoting peace through information

In addition to the kind of information reported and striking a balance between good and bad news, the way in which news are conveyed is also important. Take, for example, the issue of war, which is unfortunately always topical. Language often shapes our world. It transforms thoughts and perceptions. Glasser, former president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Communication (AEJMC), warned against some of the dangers of putting the press on a pedestal, commenting on the news disseminated in his country about the war in Iraq twenty years ago: "Now, as always, the language of war cleans up, mistakes, and falsifies motives; it celebrates aggression and glorifies death; it demonizes 'them' and deifies 'us.' What’s worse, the language of war demeans debate by leaving little room for dissent and disagreement."

As Professor Norberto González Gaitano of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross notes in his work Journalism and Conflict. A Reading of Journalistic Activity in Light of the Encyclical Pacem in Terris , journalists "must constantly try to interpret facts so as not to make themselves complicit in the propaganda strategies of the contending parties. Wars are never clean, despite attempts to diminish the terms to justify the cruel¾or even brutal¾actions they entail or simply to falsify their motives: expressions such as "selective elimination," "liberation" for invasion, "friendly fire," "collateral effects," "coalition of the willing," "axis of evil," "resistance" for terrorism, etc. hide the reality. At other times¾and it happens often when there are still no casualties, blood, or destruction to show¾journalists focus almost obsessively on the ritual of the technological display of weaponry¾as if dazzled by the morbid fascination of evil¾evil that is presented at that moment only virtually and is therefore harmless."

If one is engaged in the field of information, it is a pity to give more importance to sales than the truth. In order to consider this job a genuine "service," one must be first and foremost concerned with the common good.

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