By Dr. Jerry Komia Domatob
Diplomats, journalists, civil society leaders, university professors, and students from diverse fields converged at Rutgers University Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration for the 5th Annual Conference on Media and Governance to focus attention on the growing challenges and responsibilities of universities and the media in democratic societies
Participants analyzed and presented issues, challenges and possible policies which might foster media’s functions in democratic systems. Attendees listened to perspectives, commentaries, developments and discussions on hot-button matters of today and projected into the future.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Danilo Yanich of the University of Delaware’s School of Public Policy and Administration traced the media’s role in past and present arguing that it needs to adjust to the evolving era.
The University scholar used contemporary political developments in the United States especially the media coverage of the ongoing presidential campaigns to illustrate the failure of the media to uphold truth and verification of facts.
Specifically, he cited Donald Trump; the Republican presidential candidate whom he said had mastered the art of manipulating the media to his own political advantage to the detriment of truth and informed analysis of policies. Examining the media’s roles notably information, education, entertainment and enlightenment and economic maximization, Prof. Danillo expressed regret that the quest for profit had undermined the central mission of the news media in the United States.
Sudanese Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Sudan to the United Nations, Omer Dahab Mohamed decried the digital and technological divides that continue to widen between the North and South despite complaints from less endowed poorer countries in the Southern hemisphere. In discussing media’s role in the global arena, Mohamed noted that as one of the leading institutions which impact people everywhere, the news media must work towards fairness and responsibility as well as report with objectivity, fairness, and integrity.
The Sudan top UN diplomat explored distorted transnational media narratives that undermine emerging countries and reignited the debate on new information and communication order that raged in the 80’s among young and older democracies. Mohamed was forceful in rejecting sensational and unethical journalism that often prove counterproductive to the realization of the effective democratic governance.
Alcorn State University’s Mass Communication professor, Dr. Jerry Domatob stressed the importance of ethical and professional journalism, which demands high standards in all governance processes.
Dr. Domatob emphasized the importance of fact checking, editing, fairness, and objectivity as major norms that enhance topnotch journalism. He argued that information manipulation, unwarranted propaganda, hoaxes, lies and falsehood jeopardize journalism’s role in democratic and any form of governance. He warned against distortion, self-serving propaganda, and shameless puffery.
In a presentation, “contemporary Issues in Media and Democratic Governance: an Independent Research-based Insight”, Rutgers University Mass Communication professor, Dr. John Pavlik underscored research as a vital component of effective journalism. Dr. Pavlik noted that the new technologies are major tools which journalists can use to promote their craft. He however, observed that it was crucial for interested parties to be quick learners since the new technologies transform at phenomenally levels.
Dr. Quintus R. Jett, the Research Director, Citizen Alum Project, Office of the Chancellor presented an interactive online course which sparked student’s interest, sharpened their leadership skills, increased their curiosity and empowered them to tackle ambiguity. Students lauded the program as a major learning tool with potential pedagogical paths into the future.
Interim Dean, School of Public Affairs and Administration, (SPAA) Rutgers University Dr. Greg Van Ryzin welcomed all attendees and spoke of the importance the school attached to community engagement. He told the audience that media and academy shared common responsibilities, stressing the focus of the university towards making its graduates and students at all levels to be relevant and engaged in contemporary society. While acknowledging the successful partnership between Center for Media & Peace Initiatives and Rutgers’ SPAA, Prof. Van Ryzin also paid tribute to the late Michael Gershowitz, a former professor in the university who played leading roles in the establishment of the Annual Conference on Media and Democratic Governance.
Earlier in his opening statement, Founder and President of Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, New York, Dr. Uchenna Ekwo framed the agenda of the conference focused on “how the knowledge media can contribute to the renewal of universities at a time that both the media and universities face tremendous challenges in terms of renewal and engagement of societies they serve”.
He maintained that the media and universities shared common roles as traditional bastions of knowledge interested in seeking the truth, conducting investigation, and sharing knowledge in society. But, what kind of knowledge becomes the basis for political and social decision-making processes, Dr. Ekwo queried?
The CMPI president posed several questions for conference participants to tackle including the definition of what is 21st century scholarly knowledge? What do we mean by publicly engaged scholarship? How relevant is university education today in relation to the worth of university degrees today?
In the words of Dr. Ekwo “universities need to make sure that they respect research. People need to understand the new role of universities as agents of change in the diffusion of verified knowledge as well as instruments that help design and implement curricula and foster dialogue within and across cultures”. On the other hand, Ekwo continued, the media as defender of ordinary people is a fortress for the marginalized in society.