PEACE JOURNALISM FOR JOURNALISTS
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 2 Aug 2009
Peace journalism has emerged, since the mid-1990s, as a new, trans-disciplinary field, of interest to professional journalists, in both developed and developing countries, and to civil society activists, university researchers and others interested in the conflict-media nexus. It offers both a set of practical plans and options for editors and reporters, and a basis for developing evaluative criteria for the critical analysis of war reporting – all derived from, or at least attentive to, propositions about conflict, violence and peace from Peace and Conflict Studies.
I have been at the forefront of this work since running a peace journalism summer school at Taplow Court, an agreeable stately home in the south of England which serves as the UK cultural centre of a Japanese Buddhist group, the Soka Gakkai International. The principal speaker was Johan Galtung, who coined the term, peace journalism; among the invited guests, Nick Pollard, then my newly-appointed boss as Head of News at British Sky Broadcasting.
Galtung listened to Pollard’s presentation with mounting impatience. At the end, he said: “What you say is very interesting. But what is more interesting, is what you do not say”. To home in on the unarticulated subtext of a speaker’s remarks is a hallmark of Galtung’s Transcend Method for conflict work.
He posits a dialogue with a “major person” from the government of a country involved in a conflict, where “a high level of verbal agreement”
emerges, both as to the causes of the difficulty and on what needs to be done to improve the situation. “But there is no acceptability in the sense of acting upon that consensus. There is unarticulated resistance” (Galtung and Tschudi, 2001: 218).
The Taplow encounter could serve as a pattern for many an attempt to bring journalism and Peace and Conflict Studies to bear upon one another. The very concept of peace journalism effectively problematises mainstream reporting as ‘war journalism’. For there to be any point in calling for something new, there must be something intrinsically wrong with what we have now. For many practitioners, this is unwelcome and, indeed, counter-intuitive. It is commonly assumed, Jorg Becker tells us, that communication is, in general, an agent of peace: better jaw-jaw, as Churchill said, than war-war.
But that reckons without the structuration and instrumental logics of mass media technologies, institutions, norms and practices. “The representation of violence in the mass media is part of the universal violence of the media themselves” (Becker, 1982: 227). Such propositions draw resistance from many journalists because they feel at odds with founding assumptions of their professional practice; assumptions that retain their power precisely by remaining unarticulated.
By causing them to be articulated, and simultaneously calling for improvements that can be presented as feasible and reachable for professional editors and reporters, peace journalism can emerge as a rallying point for change. It does not always help to introduce it, at the outset, by name.
So, for instance, our series of activities and publications for professional journalists in London, which ran from 2001-2005, was called, simply, Reporting the World, and took the form of a more inclusive proposition: to join a critical discussion about the reporting of particular conflicts, with input from those with visions for peace, and some who are working on the ground to mitigate, alleviate and transform the conflict in question (material stored at www.reportingtheworld.net).
The exercise led to some fruitful dialogues, and the publication of a handbook, reporting and reflecting on the discussions and also called Reporting the World, which codified the peace journalism model into the following set of questions to ask of any piece of conflict reporting in UK media (with obvious adjustments able to be made for media elsewhere):
* How is violence explained?
· How does the explanation arise from the way violence is reported?
· Does it offer a classic ‘blow-by-blow’ account?
· Or does it cover the workings of structural and cultural violence on the lives of people involved?
· Does it illuminate the intelligible, if dysfunctional processes which may be reproducing the violence?
· What are we led or left to infer about what should, or is likely to happen next?
* What is the shape of the conflict?
· Is the conflict framed as ‘tug-of-war’ – a zero-sum game of two parties contesting a single goal?
· Or as ‘cat’s-cradle’ – a pattern of many interdependent parties, with needs and interests which may overlap, or create scope for integrated solutions?
* Is there any news of any efforts or ideas to resolve the conflict?
· Is there anything in the report about peace plans, or any image of a solution?
· Must these aspects of a story wait until leaders cut a ‘deal’?
· Do the reports of any ‘deal’ equip us to assess whether it is likely to tackle the causes of violence?
· Do we see any news of anyone else working to resolve or transform the conflict?
* What is the role of Britain; ‘the West’; the ‘international community’ in this story?
· Are ‘our’ stated goals of intervention the same as our real goals? Do we get any exploration of what the unstated goals might be?
· Is there anything about interventions already underway, albeit perhaps undeclared?
· Is there any examination of the influence of previous or prospective interventions on people’s behaviour?
· Does it equip us to assess whether more, or less, intervention might represent a solution, or to discriminate between different kinds?
Experience of working with journalists from the majority world reminds us that many there start out with a different view of their role and responsibilities in reporting conflict; one that can make peace journalism more accessible. One prominent reporter who took part in peace journalism training in Indonesia, Maria Hartiningsih, from the country’s biggest newspaper, Kompas, sounded a keynote:
“To report is to choose, and the journalist must take responsibility for those choices … ‘Every journalist has the ideology in here [tapping her chest], and me too’, she said. ‘My ideology is to contribute something for peace, to contribute something for justice’” (in Lynch and McGoldrick, 2001).
There is no possibility of agenda-free reporting, in other words. It’s an insight inscribed in the notion, floated at UNESCO a generation ago, of a world information and communication order, and the call for a new one. This was articulated in a landmark report, Many Voices, One World, written up by the Irish academic, Sean MacBride. In it, he remarks:
“[For] many journalists, researchers and politicians, particularly in the developing countries … emphasis should be on the need to place events and issues in a broader context, thereby creating awareness and interest… they believe that news and messages essentially can never be neutral … in developing countries, the concept of news appears to need expansion to take in not only events but entire ‘processes’” (page 157).
To intuit this point, as many educated professionals in the majority world may do, from general experience, is to clear the way for a vote in favour of peace as their agenda, if only it is possible to implement it. To report process requires the exploration of backgrounds and contexts, and it is only if they are included in the ‘frame’ for apprehending events such as episodes of violence that space opens up to discuss integrated solutions. Hence the first Reporting the World questions: how is the violence explained and how does the explanation arise from the way it is reported?
In other examples, the London-based think-tank, Conciliation Resources, launched its own training program by carrying out an extensive consultation, involving senior journalists from 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, in 1999. The key finding:
“Whether employed by state-controlled broadcasting corporations or editing weekly or daily newspapers surviving on street-corner sales, most of the journalists involved said that they believe they have a vital role to play in the prevention and resolution of conflict. For many, the question was not whether they should be fulfilling that role, but rather how they could do so”.
And a group of 23 Eritrean and Ethiopian journalists, convened under the auspices of the Heinrich Boell Stiftung, drew up “commitments and pledges” to – among other things – “practice investigative journalism to identify the seeds of conflict” and “contribute to the management of conflict by pointing out peaceful alternatives and by stressing that force is never a solution”.
Whatever the form it takes, these experiences show it is possible to say what peace journalism would entail, in a register that journalists themselves can use and understand: and put into practice. All the studies, applying these models to develop evaluative criteria for content analysis of conflict reporting, show there is some peace journalism. So there could be more.
Becker, Jorg, 1982: ‘Communication and Peace: The Empirical and Theoretical Relation between Two Categories in Social Sciences’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 227-240.
Galtung, Johan and Tschudi, Finn, 2001: ‘Crafting Peace: On the Psychology of the TRANSCEND Approach’ in eds D. J. Christie, R. V. Wagner and D. D. Winter D. D., Peace, Conflict, and Violence, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, pp. 210-222.
Lynch, Jake and McGoldrick, Annabel, 2001: ‘Peace journalism in Poso’, Inside Indonesia No. 66.
MacBride, Sean, 1980: Many Voices, One World: Report of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, Paris: UNESCO.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Aug 2009.
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