Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Media, Religion and a Culture of Peace

WACC-SIGNIS European Television Festival of Religious Programmes

Kristiansand 19 May 2007

Extract from paper by Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway and President of The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights

I am sure that contributing to peace is a priority for all of us. Working in media it is important always to have focus on how your work may affect tensions, conflicts and strive for peace.

In the contemporary environment, dubbed as information age, media has a central role to play. The comparison of religion with media studies is a fairly new phenomenon which has increasingly become of immense significance. One intention of this issue is to argue that transnational media and cultural studies must develop sophisticated understanding of religion, a topic it has by and large ignored. The issue is still very polarised as those with secular leaning might want to detach religion from mainstream public affairs considering it as personal matter. On the other hand some believe that religion transcends over a wide array of aspects and that it is as much part of the modern life where one witnesses a proliferation of religious movements in and through modernity itself.

Religious communities are not merely organized by concrete texts and stable sets of traditions and practices. Rather, in their modern (or postmodern) manifestations, the world religions continue to be tightly woven into the fabric of daily life for billions of individuals. This happens in ways that have radically transformed various aspects such as the advent of nationalism, mass-culture and mass-politics, and most recently the electronic mass-media. For many of the world's geographically dispersed peoples, as well as for those living in particularly media-intense environments, communities of religious belief are now often sustained via mass-media channels: television, radio, CDs, film, and the Internet.

These developments have been obscured by the media that tends to follow certain patterns that helps produce and sustain a culture of intolerance and spreading of war. Many media watch-dogs and scholars like Johan Galtung have proposed that media so far has been playing a negative role by promoting and endorsing values of war like disposition, thereby engendering a culture of violence. Media has got an immense potential but if it is being manipulated for wrong purpose, the affects can create destruction. The debate now centres on the question of harnessing its power for the better and to foster strong values of tolerance and peace....

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