MANILA: As storytellers, journalists’ most powerful tool is their credibility.
By Simrit Kaur Amar Singh
“In a world of spin and rhetoric, whether we are believed or not depends on that sole attribute,” Dr Shahidul Alam, founder and director of the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy told a forum for Asian journalists on Monday.
To emphasize the point he drew an analogy between present day media players and the world’s great communicators – Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad.
“They were people who had powerful ideas and wanted to change things. Why were they successful? Because they had delivery skills and content relevant for their times,” he said in his talk on news media, citizenship and social justice.
Dr Shahidul warned that when journalists reduce things to the most common denominator, they leave out the richness and uniqueness of a story.
The forum titled “The way forward for Asian Journalism,” was held at the Ateneo de Manila University to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism.
Dr Shahidul said in corporate media, the bottom line rules and advertisers call the shots. They are followed by shareholders and subscribers with the general public at the bottom of the pecking order. “We need to subvert this hierarchy,” Dr. Shahidul added.
He recalled an incident during the 1988 floods in Bangladesh when he took pictures at a warehouse where the victims had taken shelter.
“I was taking photographs of some children and realized that one of the boys, who was blind, was also eager for his picture to be taken. I asked myself, why was it so important for this blind boy to be photographed? I realized that it was because he wanted to be recognized as an individual in his own right, not a statistic,” Dr Shahidul said.
He connected social justice with media literacy – the ability to analyze and decode information given out by governments, advertisers and even activists.
“Media literacy empowers people and advances democracy. People choose governments and it is the media’s responsibility to ensure that it is not a blind but informed choice.”
Dr Shahidul linked citizen journalism to the concept of being a global citizen. The media needs to move beyond consumption and celebrity to confront readers with other peoples’ realities and describe the interconnectedness of all our lives, he said.
“Stories are about people, we need to bring back the equation to people, remind ourselves about the poor and the marginalized, and understand the commonalities and humanness we all share. That is what news media, citizenship and social justice is all about,” Dr Shahidul concluded.