Media hostility: “Journalists have a duty to report truthfully, impartially, and without bias.”
Media hostility to religion and religious minorities was one of the topics examined at an International Forum on Peace and Human Rights 9th April 2023, this year held at National Taiwan University in Taipei.
A leading sociologist of religion, Massimo Introvigne, one of the main organisers of the forum, reported on it in the online magazine Bitter Winter 17th April,
“We noted, in particular, that groups stigmatized as ‘cults’ (or ‘xie jiao’, in Mandarin) are among the most discriminated, slandered by the media, and persecuted.”
One of the speakers addressing this topic at the forum, was Peter Zoehrer, journalist and executive director of Vienna-based Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF). In a presentation titled “Religious Liberty Problems in Japan after the Abe Assassination”, he pointed out,
“The bias and inaccurate reporting by mainstream media about the Abe murder is concerning. As a journalist who has been reporting on state- and media-sanctioned discrimination against religious minorities for decades, I have observed that the ‘presumption of guilt’ seems to be the guiding principle in reporting on such issues. Unfortunately, getting journalists to adopt the principle of ‘presumption of innocence’ is challenging, as objective reporting in these areas doesn’t sell. However, it’s crucial to maintain journalistic rigor, balance, fairness, and objectivity while reporting on any issue.”
The spread of misinformation as media caves in to commercial interests, assuming that biased reporting sells better, is not the only sin the media commits on a regular basis, according to Zoehrer. Or could it be economic gains that also make editors / journalists embrace dubious sources of information? Zoehrer, a member of Reporters Without Borders since 2010, was clearly critical of Japanese reporting standards,
“Upon reflection, the mainstream media has failed in two significant areas. Firstly, it has relied on rumours and secondary sources with obvious vested interests to destroy the Family Federation / Unification Church, rather than building a case on primary sources. This approach ignores the principle of journalistic responsibility and ethical obligation to report impartially on all perspectives.
Secondly, the media has failed to scrutinize the motives and political agenda of the Japanese Communist Party and the Anti-Unification Church Lawyers Association regarding their campaign to destroy the Family Federation / Unification Church. It’s essential to question their underlying motives and examine their political agenda in this matter, as this could influence their campaign against the church and impact the accuracy of their claims.
Journalists have a duty to report truthfully, impartially, and without bias. By failing to maintain journalistic rigor, the media has undermined its credibility and contributed to the spread of misinformation. It’s crucial that journalists adhere to the principles of ethical conduct and journalistic responsibility when reporting on sensitive issues such as religious minorities.”
Peter Zoehrer is certainly not the first to put the spotlight on Japanese media standards.
Massimo Introvigne, founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), comments on the disastrous consequences of an irresponsible media,
“Mobs are not created spontaneously. The Unification Church in Japan has powerful opponents, and they spread suggestion to the media, manipulating many into believing that, rather than a victim, the Church was somewhat responsible for Abe’s death. Contagion spread the suggestion, and an anonymous mob was formed, where individuals not knowing each other followed a group mind, insulted, threatened, and in some cases committed crimes, feeling protected by being part of a crowd or by hiding behind their phones or computers. […]
Many of those who placed threatening phone calls, which were recorded, to the headquarters or branches of the Family Federation, started with sentences such as ‘I read the media’ or ‘I watched TV’. Through the typical process of mob psychology, they believed what they heard, persuaded that the media by definition ‘tell the truth’. Not only did they believe they had become instant ‘experts’ on the Unification Church, they also felt ready to ‘do something’ and take the law into their own hands.” (The Abe Assassination and the Unification Church in Japan: How to Create a Mob, an article by Introvigne in the online magazine Bitter Winter 1st Sep. 2022)
Introvigne points out that the decision to hold this year’s forum in Taiwan, was made out of solidarity with the freedom-loving country at a time of severe bullying from its large neighbour on the mainland. The International Forum on Peace and Human Rights was organized by CESNUR and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).
The forum was part of a fact-finding tour of the island nation from 5th to 11th April. The events received the support of local organizations like Taiwan Human Rights Think Tank, the New School for Democracy, and Citizen Congress Watch. An international delegation of experts on human rights and religious freedom included scholars from Europe and the USA. Conferences were held at two other universities as well.
Bitter Winter reports that other topics delved into at the 9th April forum included “the consequences of the war in Ukraine for religious liberty, the improper use of taxes to harass unpopular religious and spiritual movements, and specific problems in Eastern Europe, Russia, China, France, Belgium, Japan, Italy, and other countries.”
Peter Zoehrer reports that the program generated a lot of interest, with positive media coverage, meetings with parliamentary leaders and well attended events.
Text: Knut Holdhus