Nobelist tells media to focus on rights, responsibility

BY AKEMI NAKAMURA

and ERIC JOHNSTON

Staff writers

KOBE — The media should give more time and space to exposing dictatorships and international human rights violations, a Nobel laureate said Wednesday on the final day of the 51st World Newspaper Congress.

Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in literature and president of the International Parliament of Writers, criticized the media, saying editors devote plenty of time to the “Monica Grand Prix” in reporting events such as the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the O.J. Simpson trial, but pay less attention to the serious human rights struggles in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

Soyinka, who now lives in exile in the United States, said the media often copies verbatim the proclamations of governments that deprive people of freedom of expression.

Noting that this year is the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Soyinka urged leaders of the international newspaper industry to promote the establishment of democracy and universal human rights. “If the media (do) not act with a sense of responsibility toward the world, how can the world even begin to know toward which areas of need it must reach out?” he asked.

Bengt Braun, president and CEO of the Swedish newspaper publishing house Tidnings AB Marieberg, was elected president of the group. WAN represents more than 15,000 newspapers from 90 countries.

In his inaugural address, Braun proposed a seven-point action plan. The main points include improving global press freedom, increasing newspaper readership and increasing WAN membership. In addition, he said he hopes WAN members will increase personal involvement and develop cooperation with other organizations.

Braun stressed at a Wednesday evening news conference that the top priority over the next several years would be given to press freedom and establishing economic independence for newspapers.

At the editors’ forum, Jan Schaffer, executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, noted that the greatest challenge today’s editors in the U.S. face is growing public distrust of the media. “Citizens are skeptical of journalistic standards, such as privacy, fairness and truth. They are also angry at journalistic methods, including the use of paparazzi and ambush interviews as well as journalistic motives. Many believe newspapers are profiteering from violence, scandal and sex,” she said.

Referring to a recent study conducted by the Pew Center, Schaffer outlined how U.S. newspapers have shifted over the past two decades from straight reporting of news informing citizens of their government’s actions to a marketing vehicle for light news and entertainment.

“Coinciding with these trends is a fundamental erosion in the public’s confidence that journalists are accurate, credible and fair,” she said.

Hanoch Marmari, chief editor of Ha’artz, a newspaper in Israel, also told the forum that readers are not always right. Sometimes, he said, editors have to confront them and hold on to their ideology. “Many of our readers feel more like shareholders than readers, and they feel they have a right to complain,” he said. Despite an often confrontational style, Marmari said Ha’artz is expanding its share of the market precisely because it is not bending to readers’ whims.