Students of the Department Christliche Publizistik (Christian Communication) at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, have drafted a “Readers’ Charter” as part of their online course, Entertaining Angels Unawares – Forced Displacement and Migration in the Media.
The course, held November 2021 to February 2022, was a joint project with WACC and the Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR).
The charter included suggestions such as checking whether articles come from reliable sources, not relying on one particular source of information, avoiding gathering and sharing uncertain information from personal blogs and social media, and being aware about existing biases in the media.
The students drafted the charter when they were challenged to produce a “readers’ code of ethics” during a discussion on the portrayal of migrants in the mainstream press and social media led by Sara Speicher, WACC Deputy General Secretary, and WACC Europe President Stephen Brown.
Speicher said she and Brown had underscored “the need for readers, particularly in this age of digital communication where misinformation can be shared so fast, to stop and think about what we’re reading before we react to it.”
Brown said the charter “isn’t a catalogue you have to follow in a prescriptive sense,” but rather a list that “reminds us of the things we need to keep in mind, as we look at images and headlines and the effects these have on our perceptions.”
Students weighed in on the value of such a charter. Some felt a code of ethics was “too prescriptive,” may add to distrust of the news media, and lays the responsibility for truth on the reader, not the journalists.
Others supported the idea, saying it encourages readers to be aware of what they’re reading and prevents them from falling for fake news. They noted that with social media there is an increased risk of reading and spreading misinformation and disinformation. “We have to be careful what we read and believe on social media,” one said.
“What is most important to me is who owns the media,” said another student. “It is very important to be aware of who is controlling the media because they choose how to present the story.
Another stressed the role that news media play in shaping one’s perception of the world.