A panel titled "Media and Values" which took place in Melbourne on the weekend (Saturday April 2, 2011) witnessed the detailed examination of the media and its biases by local and international journalists and academics. Organized by the Australian Intercultural Society and The Fountain Magazine, the conference was held at the Sidney Myer Asia Centre in Melbourne University and was attended by 300 participants, including the Aydin Nurhan, the Turkish Consulate General, Jose Alvarez, the State Director of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Andrew Crisp, Assistant Commissioner of the Victoria Police, academics and university students.
The panel commenced with Professor Greg Barton from Monash University who introduced the panelists to the audience. The first speaker was Jon Pahl from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, USA who discussed whether or not the media can be moral. He illustrated how rethinking 'sacred space' and other commitments of historic religious traditions might help orient the media to something beyond mere market values. He compared shopping malls to sacred places of worship and the pilgrimage we take to get to this 'sanctuary'. He expanded on the notion of the sacred space by discussing the 6 circles of sacred space in the Hizmet Movement. Through his analysis of the movement, Pahl concluded that sacred space cannot be market drive because it is and should be moral driven.
Radhi al-Mabuk from the University of Norther Iowa, USA emphasized the role of media in reporting of morals and values in today's world, highlighting the Fountain Magazines emphasis on values and forgiveness. He mentioned how unfortunate it was that there was very little mention of forgiveness, love and compassion in the media. He mentioned his surprise when reading Fethullah Gulens book titled 'Love and Tolerance' and seeing 61 references to forgiveness being made. He highlighted Gulen's notion on forgiveness as a return to ones essence, becoming alienated with one's self and in doing so, finding one's self. He concluded by mentioning the importance of interfaith dialogue where oppressed, marginalized groups work together with encapsulated, superior groups and accept all other groups through dialogue.
Peter Barnett, former director of Radio Australia addressed the issue of media from a global perspective including personal observations from the Watergate scandal in Washington which he covered as the ABC White House correspondent to report on the obstruction of justice. He mentioned the Tunisian revolution and how activists used social media to organize the uprising and helped spread the events minute-by-minute as they unfolded. As the author of Said Nursi's autobiography "The Guardian of the Flame," Barnett explained how Nursi, the 19th century Turkish scholar, was aware of the power of the media and how he stressed on the importance of inner jihad (inner spiritual struggle) to counter the power of the media. He concluded that the media are guardians of individual freedom and that they need to take this responsibility seriously.
Hakan Yesilova, the editor of The Fountain Magazine, outlined the aims and objectives of The Fountain magazine, focusing on the morals and values in the media and the need for interfaith dialogue in this modern day and age. Yesilova illustrated the power and influence of the media in everyday life, how out of the 100,000 words a person hears daily, over 97% of it is from media organs such as television, radio, computers and print media and only 1% was from formal education. He mentioned the power of the word in the bible (John 1:1) and in the Quran (Rahman 55:1-4). He reflected on how the year 1979 was a time when the world changed. A change Fethullah Gulen endorsed through the magazine initiative Sizinti which came out to address the needs of the youth and reach out to the world with a helping hand. He concluded by mentioning the importance of the media in finding the right wavelength to address their audience.
Barney Zwartz, the religious affairs editor from The Age newspaper discussed his decade old experience in covering issues concerning Australian Muslims and Islam for The Age newspaper. Barney mentioned how his experience in reporting Muslims was different now compared to when he first started journalism three decades ago. He argues that Muslims are not alone by being stereotyped and that the media has a take on all religions. He argued that the media representation of Muslims is not false, but rather unbalanced. The fact that the media fail to mention the sacrifices and the good work Muslims do within their communities is what makes media representation of Muslims unbalanced.
As a journalist, Barney prefers to put a human face to ordinary Muslims and report on them and their lives. He prefers to report on interfaith, focusing on similarities instead of differences. He explained that the media was not hostile towards Muslims, they were merely ignorant. He spoke about the dilemma that reporters like himself face when undecided on an issue only to find that Muslims are undecided among themselves. "How can we claim who speaks for Muslims when so many claim to do so?" he questioned. Zwartz concluded saying he was hopeful that a new generation of Muslim leaders are emerging, youth who are comfortable with the country they are living in and the media they consume. He said the media was also comfortable with them.