Sunday, June 15, 2003

Meeting in Dublin from 8 to 11 June, 2003, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) attracted 1200 delegates from 85 countries representing some two thirds of the world’s daily and weekly press. At a Round Table on “Media under Threat - Press Freedom Challenged” William Porter was a Panel Speaker with the subject “Sensationalism and the Erosion of Journalism”. His was the only subject, among eight speakers, dealing with threats from within the media rather from outside it, such as state oppression and economic and political pressures. Hence it was a sensitive issue for the audience of editors and senior journalists.

Porter’s talk was reported in The Irish Independent, Ireland’s largest circulation daily, under the headlines “Industry warned of insidious threat of sensationalism”. The item read as follows:

‘Sensationalism is a less evident but more insidious threat to press freedom than posed by dictatorships or those who seek to silence journalists through violence, a world summit of newspaper executives heard yesterday.

‘But William Porter, President of the International Communications Forum, stressed that this was a threat which those working in the industry had the power to tackle. He was addressing the annual World Newspaper Congress … the summit of over 1,100 publishers, editors and executives [to be] addressed by Bono and the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister).

‘Mr. Porter told the opening session on press freedom of the damage which can be caused by internal ownership pressures and built-in mindsets.

‘Questioning the tendency to sensationalise stories, he reminded delegates of the exodus of journalists from Northern Ireland when the conflict there ended. One television producer working there had commented, “You can photograph war but not peace”.

‘He reminded delegates that newspaper audiences do not consist of violence-loving, sex-mad, moronic idiots but of reasonable, hardworking, fami1y-loving, decent people. “It is for them that we should fill our pages” he added.

‘Mr Porter said that one of the easiest subjects to sensationalise was crime. “Many of us in senior positions have bemoaned the Presence of violent crime”, he said, “at the same time we have been falsifying our company accounts, using deceptive advertising to sell our products arid entertaining all our contacts and ourselves in an unnecessarily lavish lifestyle” And he hit out at those who described a difference of opinion as a “row”, a mild indiscretion as a “scandal”, a close win as a “resounding victory” and a sporting defeat as a “humiliation”.’ (end of story)

During the course of the Congress Porter met with some fifty of the delegates including Sir Anthony O’Reilly, Chairman of the Independent Newspapers Group. Gavin O’Reilly, President of the National Newspapers of Ireland, Timothy Balding, Director General of the WAN, Gloria B. Anderson, President of the World Editors Forum, Andres Garcia Gamboa, President of the Inter American Press Association; to mention a few.

Porter also attended a session of the Irish Senate and met with Senator Martin Mansergh, who had advised Irish leaders in the negotiations leading up to the Peace Process, which ended armed conflict in Northern Ireland. Additionally, he had a valuable meeting with Father John Littleton, spokesman of the Irish Priests Association.