Liveblogging "Media as Global Diplomat" — Seizing the Moment

Posted on May 12, 2010

ITVS Staff writer Eric Martin posted to 'Beyond the Box' live from the Newseum during the day's proceedings: 

The third “Media as Global Diplomat Summit” got underway at the Newseum on a bright Washington DC morning, with a mix of some 250 dark-suited power brokers and quick-typing bloggers filling the room.  The question of the day:  how can those working in conflict resolution and public interest media “seize the moment” presented by new technology and new stakeholders?

Hosts from ITVS and USIP, which co-presented the summit, opened the session by framing the day.  USIP president Dick Solomon described how “traditional notions of public diplomacy have not kept up with [new] technologies” while his colleague Sheldon Himmelfald brought to life a media world where children consume 12 hours of media every day, in a multimedia presentation that contrasted cognitive scientific data with video clips of Ohio militia calls-to-arms and optimistic journalistic partnerships in Burundi as opposing forces in the battle of peace and hate.  ITVS Sally Jo Fifer announced progress in the form of the International Documentary Exchange Act, recent legislation now moving through Congress that would support a two-way media exchange between the U.S. and other countries based on the work of the ITVS Global Perspectives Project.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay moderates the day's second panel, featuring Ford Foundation's Orlando Bagwell, CPB President Patricia Harrison, filmmaker Geeta Patel, Rachel Goslins of the Presidents Council on the Arts and Humantities, and Al Jazeera's Riz Khan.

The first panel, “The New News,” got underway against the backdrop of a clip from the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, funded by ITVS and slated for broadcast on P.O.V. in the summer of 2010.  Panel moderator Jamie Tarabay, the NPR correspondent who was part of the news team that won a DuPont-Colombia Award for coverage of Iraq, contrasted the age of controlled information depicted in the film with the explosion of today’s media environment, challenging the panelists to reconcile the possibilities and realities of 21st century media.

“Can you take people to an unexpected place?” asked panelist Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, emphasizing that this should be a central part of the journalists mission no matter what the medium.  For panelist Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, that sometimes means including "voices that advocate violence, sometimes they need to translated and explained—we need to have a discussion around them.”   

Veteran broadcaster Marvin Kalb emphasized the importance of breadth and context, but defended the independence of the journalist as paramount.   “Is our job to promote peace or war?  My answer to that is no.” What journalism must do instead , he said, is push us to search deep and wide for what is truthful, not simply rely on sources that reinforce our beliefs.  “There’s so much chatter in the world today that we end up eating at smaller and smaller tables.” In response to a tweeted question from a blogger in Egypt about the failure of U.S. mainstream media to criticize the invasion of Iraq, Huffington Post correspondent Dan Froomkin agreed that “No  one has done a better job for propagandizing for war than the traditional media,” outlining his vision of media mission “To hold the powerful accountable, to connect people, to tell powerful stories and tear down falsehoods.” “We have to put the pendulum back in the middle,” added panelist Riz Khan, Al Jazeera English senior news anchor, reminding the session that the “Internet is still primarily an English language medium”.  Until that changes, he said, until places like China, Pakistan and the Middle East have more ownership of the conversation, the potential of new media as a neutral meeting ground will be limited.

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