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Values in the media lift our hearts and minds

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 7:09 p.m. MST

Viola Davis, right, in a scene from "Won't Back Down."

20th Century Fox

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Editor’s note: This is third installment of a year-in-review series featuring six core areas of emphasis for the Deseret News. Those six themes are listed at the end of this story.

As the values in the media reporter for the Deseret News throughout 2012, an aspect of my work I thoroughly enjoyed was the opportunity to write about movies that not only shined a bright light on vexing social problems, but also offered rays of hope and practical solutions for a better tomorrow.

Three films in particular — two documentaries and a drama — stand out in my mind for their ability to persuasively spur social awareness.

At the Sundance Film Festival in January, I screened a documentary called “Finding North” that magnifies the plight of 49 million Americans — including 17 million children — who are underfed.

“The foundational premise of ‘Finding North’ is that one in six Americans doesn't get enough to eat on a regular basis,” I wrote. “(The film) highlights the herculean work of churches, charities and food banks to ameliorate the effects of hunger in America. However, directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson contend food insecurity is a problem so pervasive in the U.S. that the only tenable solution is a grass-roots movement aimed at sparking greater government involvement.”

A couple months later, the documentary “Bully” spurred me to take a long look at the emotionally destructive nature of bullying among adolescents and teens. In that article, Lori Jones, the counseling and guidance coordinator for Canyons School District in Utah, shared with me five practical suggestions parents can employ to curb bully behavior:

• Keep kids off the Internet late at night when cyberbullying runs rampant.

• Help children discover their strengths, and build on those.

• Listen to your children when they talk about their problems.

• Brainstorm with your children about solutions to end the bullying.

• If game planning doesn't beat the bully, contact school administrators.

Then in September, I interviewed Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty for my story about “Won’t Back Down."

The film is an inspired-by-true-events drama in which parents and teachers join forces to improve the performance of a failing public elementary school.

“Equal educational opportunity is the civil rights issue of our time,” Flaherty told me. “If there is one thing we would love to accomplish with this film, it is to establish what Dr. (Martin Luther) King called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ when it comes to giving kids equal educational opportunities. There is a very short window where we can impact kids' education — you can count the number of years on one hand that will largely determine where a kid will end up.”

For me, covering “Finding North,” “Bully” and “Won’t Back Down” illustrated how the Deseret News' emphasis on values in the media can broaden discussion, shine a light on difficult issues and provide potential solutions to difficult issues.

Areas of emphasis

The Deseret News focuses on six core values:

• The family

• Excellence in education

• Values in the media

• Faith in the community

• Care for the poor

• Financial responsibility

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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