Saturday, May 21, 2011

Peace Journalism and the apocalypse

Should a peace journalist—or any responsible journalism organization—publish the rantings of a lunatic?

Peace journalism is imbedded in the fundamentals of good journalism, beginning with double checking and verifying what is published. I believe that since we can’t verify the hallucinations of an 89-year old attention seeker, we shouldn’t give them credibility by broadcasting and publishing them.

In my recent PJ courses and lectures in Uganda and South Africa, we talked at length with professional journalists about not giving credence to rumors. (There are many examples I cite of out-of-control rumors that have led to violence and mayhem). It seems to me that talk about the end of the world is the biggest (and silliest) rumor of all.

I have stressed that reporters and editors should always consider the consequences of their reporting. By hyping this apocalyptic gossip, journalists have frightened thousands, elevated an obscure pastor into an undeserved place in the limelight, discredited millions of more reasoned religious Americans, and given more ammunition to media critics.

One can’t deny that the story is compelling. The question that journalists should be asking themselves is: was spreading this absurd story worth the price?

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