In journalism classrooms, students are taught that the ideal journalist is a watchdog of society, a voice for the voiceless.
In recent years, however, journalism educators and practitioners in the western world have realized that idealism and good desires are not enough.
In 1994, 5,000 journalists of color gathered in a Unity Convention in Atlanta for representation in the newsroom, since then both the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), had resolved to pave the way for plurality in the newsroom.
ASNE called on every newspaper in America to match the proportion of minorities on its staff to the percentage of minorities in its community, by the year 2000. Since then, ASNE has devoted the lion’s share of its budget to affirmative action hiring, training and retention programs. It also has required all member newspapers to report the percentage of minorities on their staffs every year.
Ten years later however, not all the goals had been achieved. So in August 2004, a 7,000-strong convention of journalists of color was held in Washington, D.C. to denounce the fact that only one out of every ten journalists covering the White House came from a minority group.
While western media have realized the importance of pluralism, the Asian media have yet to even consider it as an ethical issue.
What is Pluralism and why is it important?
According to Harvard’s Nieman fellow Diana L. Eck there is a distinction between diversity and pluralism: Plurality is simply the existence of diversity; but pluralism is one’s active participation in it.
Pluralism, as defined in the social sciences, is a framework of interaction in which groups show sufficient respect and tolerance of each other, that they fruitfully coexist and interact without conflict or assimilation.
In an authoritarian or oligarchic society, power is concentrated and decisions are made by few members. By contrast, in a pluralistic society, power and decision-making are more diffused. This results in more widespread participation and a greater feeling of commitment from society members and thus, results in better outcomes.
Pluralism is, therefore, arguably one of the most important features of modern societies and social groups, and maybe a key driver of progress in science, society and economic development.
While the western media is far from attaining a desired level of plurality, the Asian press can at least take a cue from their effort. Among these, is the “Pluralism checklist for reporters” devised by the Society of Professional Journalists:
• Have I covered the story with sensitivity, accuracy, fairness, and balance to all the people involved?
• What are the likely consequences of publishing or broadcasting this story? Who will be hurt or who will be helped?
• Have I sought a diversity of sources for the story?
• Am I seeking true pluralism or using “tokenism” by allowing one minority person to represent a community or a point of view?
• Have I allowed preconceived ideas to limit my efforts to include diversity?
• Am I flexible about the possibility that the focus of my story may change when different sources are included?
• Have I developed a meaningful list of minority sources who can bring perspective and expertise into the mainstream of daily
• Am I letting place names (the south, the west of X-city) become code words for crime and other negative news? and,
• As I seek diversity, am I being true to my other goals as a journalist?
Considering that countries in Asia are riddled with ethnic strife, the media can become a key instrument in achieving a pluralistic and therefore, peaceful society. This effort should begin in the newsrooms, wherein the editorial staff should strive to have a greater awareness and understanding of the diverse cultures within their own country and their geographic region.
Rachel E. Khan