Monday, September 20, 2010

Bernard Margueritte

During the third annual Caux Forum for Human SecurityICF President Bernard Margueritte gav

e a keynote speech on Media and Civilisation, arguing that “the crisis of the media is but a part of the global crisis, which is not only an economic crisis but a crisis of values, a crisis of civilisation.Yes we are facing a big crisis of the media. We are losing our credibility if not our dignity. We are even experiencing growing economic difficulties, with one newspaper closing after the other. My contention however is that in fact the crisis of the media is but a part of the global crisis, which is not only an economic crisis but a crisis of values, a crisis of civilisation. But now the media have to be not so much a part of the problem than a part of the solution. What do we need to move out of the global crisis? First of all a thriving, authentic democracy, with a dedicated citizenry; secondly a world of mutual understanding and respect. There is no way to achieve those goals without honest media, serving the citizen and helping to build a new covenant in the world. I am not mainly telling that the media can help build a new, more human civilization. I am making the point that without the media, without honest media dedicated to truly work for the good, there is no way to change society. You can simply forget about it!

 

Of course, there are always a lot of possibilities to achieve positive developments in many parts of the world but you will not change the substance of society. It’s a little bit like practicing charity. You can improve the life of thousands of people, but the misery of millions is still there.

            During the past week in Caux, during the fascinating session organized by Angela Mattli, we had the opportunity to discuss in depth during four workshops (and 6 hours) the situation of the media. I will not go back in any detail to this. We know some of the problems the media are facing. Globalisation is pushing toward a concentration and uniformity of the media. As Paul Krugman, who received the Nobel price in economy, wrote in “The New York Times” most of the people in America for example get their news from a conglomerate he calls pleasantly:

 “AOLTimeWarnerGeneralElectricDisneyWestinghouseNewsCorp”. And Krugman wonders if this is not a threat to democracy. We see the triumph of the rule of greed and consumerism, and consequences are sensationalism, superficiality, and trivialisation of our agenda. We forget that if we are a business, it is certainly not a business as usual: we are there as citizens and human beings addressing other citizens and human beings. It is a blessing but also a responsibility.

Indeed we devote more and more time, effort and money to deal with events of little significance, bypassing what is truly important for society. It seems that some people would be happy to have a democracy without citizens, but this cannot work! This is not feasible!

Moreover, instead of uplifting the mind of the people, we drag them down presenting TV News, where you have 95% of bad, tragic, hopeless news, as if there was no positive development in the world and no one to work for the good.

Are we therefore asking too much from the media, when we want them to be a decisive factor of change, promoting the civilization of love, of respect for the dignity of the human person in all aspects, of building a new worldwide covenant?

First, the media have already had such a positive effect sometimes in history. Speaking two years ago at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Georgia Congressman John L. Lewis praised the American press for its coverage of the Civil Rights movement, calling the press a “sympathetic referee in the struggle for social justice” and adding: “without the press the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings”. In this very house the hero of Solidarnosc and former president of Poland, Lech Walesa, was kind enough a few years ago to pay tribute to the media: “thank you to all the media people, particularly to foreign correspondents”, he said, adding: “the media people who accompanied us were doing not only their professional duty, they did what their heart told them was right…Therefore, I would like to thank you, reporters and camera crews. You too contributed enormously to the changes that began over 20 years ago and transformed the world”.

Sometimes we have also great articles, capable of shaking the minds of the people. One of those was for me the huge article (almost two pages of big format) written in July 1996 by Geoffrey Lean (who is in the house) and Yvette Cooper. They demonstrated what kind of tragedy Thatcherism and neo-liberalism has been for Britain.  This was an eye-opener not only for Britons but also for all. Two years ago, when the crisis was just starting, Gerard Mermet wrote in “Le Monde” an article under the title: “How to use the crisis for the renewal of society”. He saw in the crisis “an historic chance to transform the world and make it a better place to live”. We need, he argued, more solidarity. We need to invent a new model of consumption. The current one is but a desperate attempt “to fill a growing existential vacuum”.  This is the time to rebuild the system “and to make the lives of the people enriched because more autonomous and more responsible, the planet more durable and healthy, the social relations more relaxed”. Mermet ended his article with the words: “Vive la Crise!” (Hurrah to the Crisis!) and we could agree with that, if not for the suffering it is bringing about for millions and millions of our fellow citizens of the world.

I like to point out here to three more fundamental articles, who- in my view- were able to break new ground. Already in 2002 Rob Corcoran wrote under the title “An Honest Dialogue between Communities” in the “Industrial Pioneer” (unfortunately not published any more) a quite prophetic article. He expressed the view that the world will not change if people, for whom spiritual and humanistic values are important (and people of all religions to start with), will not at last work together to build a new civilisation. He showed how “the rich-poor gap (in America) is a threat to national security” and how we should look for long-range goals and not short term benefits. A year ago Laurence Caramel wrote in “Le Monde” a report that was able to shake the consciences. She showed that in Brazil, the State of Acre decided to respect a new indicator called “le bien-etre durable” (sustainable quality of life). According to usual indicators Acre is absolutely down to the bottom; they do not have high-rise buildings nor super-markets. Yet people are happy. The neighbouring State of Bahia choose the path toward intensive development. They planted eucalyptus trees for the paper industry. They got much richer rapidly, but after 15 years the soil is ruined and there is no underground water. There is immense poverty and no sign for improvement. Acre preferred the slow growth path of ecological production of fruits and plants for cosmetics and pharmacy. They continue to grow and the environment is flourishing. Thanks to Laurence Caramel’s report a contact has been established between the people of Acre and professors of economy at the University of Lille, who are developing this new indicator of “sustainable quality of life”, much more useful than the stupid GDP or even the UNDP indicator.

The media indeed can make the difference and in some occasion are already doing that. After all, as said the sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein in an interview for “Le Monde” (also eye and mind opening), the crisis of today can be compared to nothing less than the fall of the medieval, feudal system. As it was then, he argues, deciders will try for a few years to save the current system and will fail, while “the more clever people already understood that what we have to build is something completely new”.

So, the media can make the wake-up call. Granted, we have still a long way to go. But there are positive signs. I will not go here at great lengths about it. Let me say simply that we see at every ICF meeting a growing awareness among media people that we have to do better. Even the public is changing and understands more and more that by watching the serious program, and not the sensationalist one, by reading the honest newspaper, and not the superficial one, they are making the call and shaping what the media can be. The results of a survey made in the USA by the Pew Foundation among the audience of 43 TV stations were published under the title: “Quality sells”. It says a lot. Even some media owners do recognise that without honest media empowering the citizen we are facing the decay of democracy that will bring a tragedy for our society but also of the media in the process. The technological progress is also pushing toward better media. People are now inundated by news, from the Internet or a multitude of TV stations. They don’t need the newspaper for getting the news. But they are desperately looking for the MEANING behind those news. And that can be given only by better quality, honest newspapers, the only ones, who will ultimately survive. The call among the public for positive news- and not only bad news- has already permitted the creation of some excellent groups like Reporters of Hope in France, with a press agency online collecting every day positive activities in all aspects of life from all parts of the world.

Instead of a conclusion allow me to read to you the Call to the Media, adopted by the participants of our workshops last week. Hopefully it can be a smooth transition to what we do this week:

 

Call to the Media

 

We, the participants at a conference in Caux, Switzerland, (July 2010,) dealing with the role of the media in creating a multicultural, inclusive community urge the media to restore the credibility and dignity of their profession.

We are living in a time of fundamental crisis, which is not only economic but a crisis of civilisation itself. This is the age of a pseudo-civilisation of materialism, consumerism and hedonism. We are convinced that the media should play a crucial role in helping to find the way towards a new, enlightened civilization. In fact, without honesty, open mindedness and dedication to this cause in the media there is very little chance that we would emerge from this current global crisis.

To realise this goal, we need not only a strong community of citizens and a thriving democracy, but also a world of mutual respect and understanding. We are deeply convinced that without honest media, conscious of their proper mission, we will not be able to establish a new covenant in the world, and we will not succeed in creating a civilisation of love, of respect for the dignity of the human person in all aspects.

The current crisis of the media is but a part of the global crisis. The media, however, can and must be a big part of the solution. By giving our citizens not only what they want, but what they need to exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities, we will help restore an authentic democracy. By going to the world, not only respecting the diversity, but rejoicing in it, not only tolerating the “other”, but trying to see reality through his/her eyes, not only promoting a dialogue between cultures, religions and communities, but also learning to get enriched by the values of others, the media will help us to move from a world of hatred and violence to a world of mutual understanding and peace.

We therefore call on the media not only to restore their own dignity but to embrace this new vision to help build a civilisation of love and a world of peace.