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While I was serving at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, one of the youth asked a member of the Universal House of Justice his views on the best career choice. I remember he used the example of someone who decides to make a living as a street-sweeper, doing so in order to maintain a clean and pleasant environment for the community. He continued on to say that it wasn’t important what career path we chose to pursue, as long as we used our work to serve humanity. Abdu’l-Baha sheds light in this regard:
In the Baha’i Cause, arts, sciences and all crafts are counted as worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise. 1
After returning home to Ballarat, Australia after my year of service and with the above words in mind, I started thinking about how I could use my passion for writing not for my own material progress, but to empower others to act towards a better world. At that point, I had already commenced my degree in journalism, but I wanted to ensure it was indeed the right career choice that would allow me to serve humanity to the best of my ability. I knew that journalism can act as a vehicle for change, but what are the circumstances under which it can contribute towards the proper functioning of society? I came up with three main points, all of which are interwoven:
A Mirror to Society
In the Tablet of Tarazat, Baha’u’llah states:
In this day the mysteries of this earth are unfolded and visible before the eyes, and the pages of swiftly appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world; they display the doings and actions of the different nations; they both illustrate them and cause them to be heard. Newspapers are as a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech; they are a wonderful phenomenon and a great matter. 2
We know that when we read newspapers, watch the news, or listen to the radio, we see the world in a way that would not be possible if the media did not exist. We better understand the world in which we live – a world filled with greed, injustice, social ills and prejudice but also with phenomenal examples of community, love, fellowship and generosity. Essentially, the world is more interconnected than ever before, and it is thanks to the media that we are able to witness the disintegrative and integrative forces taking place around us, and question how we want to contribute to the latter. It is always heart-warming to hear a positive news story and to know that people are doing their part to advance their communities. This allows us to delight in one another’s accomplishments and gives us the courage and inspiration we need to become agents of change in our own neighbourhoods.
Connecting the World
Baha’u’llah says “let your vision be world embracing.” Whether it’s social media, print media, digital media – there’s no denying the fact that it is the media which paints a dynamic picture of the world for us and really allows us to see the earth as one country. It is a blessing that so many people are exposed to this picture, enabling them to shape their thinking along the lines of Baha’u’llah’s injunction, even if they’re unaware that they’re doing so.
However, it is of paramount importance that this picture is as accurate as possible. This brings us to the final point:
If the above points are to be effective, the media needs to have truthfulness as its foundation. In the same tablet mentioned above, Baha’u’llah provides a warning:
But it behooves the writers and editors thereof to be sanctified from the prejudice of egotism and desire, and to be adorned with the ornament of equity and justice. They must inquire into matters as fully as possible in order that they may be informed of the real facts, and commit the same to writing. Concerning this wronged one, what the newspapers have published has for the most part been devoid of truth. Good speech and truthfulness are, in loftiness of position and rank, like the sun which has risen from the horizon of the heaven of knowledge. 3
In today’s 24/7 news cycle, it is becoming increasingly difficult to “inquire into matters as fully as possible.” Time is always a factor for those working in the media, and the reporting of fact is becoming more difficult. The demands placed upon journalists to churn out dozens of stories a day, edit them, caption them, add photos and file them, is unlike anything they’ve experienced in the past. Furthermore, the likes of #fakenews, gossip and infotainment are more frequently finding their way on the social media platforms, on our television screens and in our newspapers, and the need for the media to act as a vehicle for change is being overlooked.
But the Writings tell us what we need to do in order to rise above the current trends, not just in the media but in whatever field we choose to pursue. When I think about this, I reflect on how I should strive to embody truthfulness, not only in my personal life, but in my work as a journalist. Abdu’l-Baha counsels us:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired. 4
I don’t think that being truthful, however, means being devoid of tact, judgement, or kindness; the power of utterance is profound, and thought should be given as to how we tell the truth.
As to manner and style, Baha’u’llah has exhorted ‘authors among the friends’ to ‘write in such a way as would be acceptable to fair-minded souls, and not lead to cavilling by the people’. And He issues a reminder: ‘We have said in the past that one word hath the influence of spring and causeth hearts to become fresh and verdant, while another is like unto blight which causeth the blossoms and flowers to wither.’ 5
While reflecting on three characteristics of the type of journalist I’d like to be, I’ve asked myself, “If journalism is a vehicle for change, what kind of change would we hope for?” Ultimately, I believe it’s the unification of humanity, starting in our own communities. So I’ll close with these words of the Universal House of Justice that highlight how journalism can contribute to this process:
… the code of conduct of the press must embrace the principles and objectives of consultation as revealed by Baha’u’llah. Only in this way will the press be able to make its full contribution to the preservation of the rights of the people and become a powerful instrument in the consultative processes of society, and hence for the unity of the human race. 5
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