BNC Panelists: Coverage of Race Relations Needs to Improve

In Summary

This article was submitted by Hannah Fields. Fields is a student at Stillman College and a finalist in BNC's inaugural HBCU Journalism Project.   

Celebrated author and activist James Baldwin’s motivation for writing was ambitious and intentional: to “change the world.”

“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it,” Baldwin said in a 1979 New York Times article.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, the ethical code of journalism is to seek the truth, minimize harm, be accountable and transparent. When journalists write, they must expand the world’s view of reality without changing it.

The Black News Channel held a Virtual Media Day on Oct. 28, where panelists discussed core issues in modern media coverage. There, journalist and New York Times columnist Charles Blow, said Baldwin used “bearing witness” to achieve this mission. Blow said journalists must bear news as an objective witness of the facts to the audience, and this advice applies to how media cover race relations.

Blow believes news media have to stop showing race relations as arguments between two races, but as an issue of power.

“It positions what is happening on the racial lines as two equally positioned sides disagreeing about something, rather than there being power in that equation that puts one group of people at a disadvantage and other people at an advantage,” Blow said.

Some agree that power is the real root of race relations. Palestinian Stillman student Roulan Abunahla said the American media underrepresents and often misrepresents Palestine’s power disadvantage in the Israeli-Palestinian power struggle.

Journalism’s effect on race relations in American affects Abunahla because she sees how Western media deals with her ethical issues.“We need some people who can well represent Palestinian people so they can tell the story from the other side, because most people know the story from the Israeli side,” Abunahla said. “So, some people can think about the whole situation and decide if Palestinians are always the bad people.”BNC’s Virtual Media Day panelist Nayyera Haq, chief foreign affairs correspondent for BNC, said different communities have different experiences, and race relations in media should be about knowing these other groups.“It is recognizing and appreciating the history that comes with being a part of these communities, exploring it, understanding it and looking outward and saying ‘OK,’ ” Haq said.

Media coverage of race relations around the world can affect how people understand international communities in America. For instance, Nigerian Stillman students Ogogho Osemwegie and Ekhorose Aghahowa said all Nigerians are not “scammers” – a stereotype derived from spam emails in the early 2000s. Osemwegie and Aghahowa want the media to represent who Nigerians truly are: hardworking and accommodating people.

Aghahowa said the media needs to stay neutral because it is hard to change the first impression.
“If there is a consistent portrayal of Nigerians being bad people on media,” she said, “it becomes very difficult for Nigerians to say ‘this is who we are.’ We are not who [news media] say we are.”

Osemwegie said news media need to have complete details when reporting on races and cultures they’re unfamiliar with. The onus, Osemwegie, said is on news media to do their job: research.

“You have to dig [for facts] yourself,” Osemwegie said. “Like, search it by yourself before you can get the full detail.”
Journalism’s impact on race relations in America is different for each race that makes up the U.S. In some cases, it extends for international visitors or citizens to their countries’ fight against power and representation about their unique qualities.

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